Where’s a trucker supposed to eat?

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Erick Engbarth’s 2020 Kenworth W900 is coming up on its first year in service. The independent pulls this stainless-fronted dry van.Erick Engbarth’s 2020 Kenworth W900 is coming up on its first year in service. The independent pulls this stainless-fronted dry van.

North Carolina-based owner-operator Erick Engbarth is almost a year in on a five-year note with his 2020 Kenworth. He went a step down from his previous rig, an ’09 Kenworth, in terms of sleeper size.

“I only got the 72-inch sleeper,” he said. “To me it’s cozy, but I wasn’t planning on having to eat every meal in it. I’m just not the type that likes to eat in the truck.”

 He was running across Illinois, where the governor ordered dining rooms closed across the state, earlier this week and came to a Petro “with a really big restaurant. It was totally closed, with no carryout options or anything.” A grab-and-go Philly cheesesteak sandwich shop was open, though, so he got one of those instead — fair enough, he figured, yet back in the confines of the KW he worried about the strong smell of those onions: “Everybody’s going to think I have B.O.” He laughed. “It’s all right, I’ve got a bunch of those pop-up Renuzit air fresheners” now fully deployed.

Erick and his wife, Sandy Engbarth; she is dealing with closures as well. She works as a schoolteacher and has been utilizing online video platforms to stay instructionally in touch with students from their North Carolina home, Erick says.Erick and his wife, Sandy Engbarth; she is dealing with closures as well. She works as a schoolteacher and has been utilizing online video platforms to stay instructionally in touch with students from their North Carolina home, Erick says.

These are manageable problems, Engbarth knows, yet some readers worry about the long-term implications. Chicago-area-based long-haul driver Bob Stanton went so far as to write a letter to his governor urging the administration there to consider the ramifications for quality of life on the road. He urged consideration of a modification of the emergency order for dining rooms to close “to allow sit-down service at truck stop-based restaurants serving current CDL holders actively engaged in interstate commerce,” as we all know a vital part of supply chains in the midst of what we’re going through today.

“It’s going to be important to keep us healthy and able to keep working,” Stanton wrote. While he has been back home since writing the letter — this morning he was taking some time at the house to recharge — he made note of the fact that at the time of the writing he’d “been out away from my family for almost three weeks already, pulling store resupply loads trying to help restock for consumers.”

Stanton stated the obvious for the governor about the limitations of restful dining options for the average hauler — other than carryout, MRE, canned foods with minimal preps required. He noted reasonable restrictions of the exemption could be adequate to ensure levels of social distancing that might be adequate to mitigate the spread of the virus. By the very nature of long-haul trucking, as has been noted by at least one social media sage of late, many professional drivers have been social distancing since well before it was cool.

As Stanton put it, “Truckers are not the ‘twenty-somethings’ ignoring the need for social distancing and eating out for socialization. We’re hardworking folks trying to do our best in an already intense over-the-road lifestyle. We need to be able to get out of the truck occasionally for a hot meal.”

You can find a list Stanton offered for potential details of such an exemption.

As for Engbarth, he’ll just keep those air fresheners open for the next little bit, if not longer, as he heads back South toward Georgia and a stop-in at home in Lincolnton, N.C., for a few days. He was looking already at an uncertain year, given the cancellation of motorcycle-industry events he’s consistently worked over summers, not to mention a big series of winter events whose status could easily be up in the air.

He was supposed to be headed on a regular run to California — he otherwise pulls dry van freight direct for shipper/receiver customers between manufacturer and warehousing facilities — when the warehouse receiver shut the operation down and cancelled all loads incoming for the time being. The operation, Engbarth says, was responding to the California governor’s stay-at-home order for residents.

I haven’t talked today to my produce-hauling friends out West, but I don’t imagine that’s going to be much of an option for them. California’s order, as with so many others written in states and localities around the nation, does itself come with plenty caveats.

Another of those is Pennsylvania’s stopping “non-life-sustaining” businesses from operating. As NASTC President David Owen put it in a message to members today, despite the ominous-sounding, overblown headlines around this particular measure of the Keystone state, trucking is in fact “life-sustaining” as per the order: “As of last night at 8:00 p.m. the Governor of Pennsylvania has ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close until further notice. However, we wanted to let you know that this will not apply to you. In the transportation sector this mandate only applies to the transportation of people, not goods.” Owen offered up a link to a copy of the mandate, another to a piece from the gov’s website, and this chart showing which businesses this mandate applies to (transportation on page 3).

Like so many other owner-operators, Engbarth keeps on trucking while freight is still there, and keeping up what I’d wager has been good personal sanitation practice among the majority of professional drivers: “I always carry [high-percentage] rubbing alcohol with me, and I did buy some more disinfecting wipes. I might hit the fuel pump with them, though most guys use gloves when they’re fueling anyway.” What’s changed, he says, “is there’s a different vibe with everybody out here.”

Another view of Engbarth’s 2020 custom KW. He says he’s contemplated the necessity of working with his local bank to adjust financing if loads really fall off a cliff, though “as long as I’m still getting by I’m not going to be putting my hand out.” Read more about such options in this report by James Jaillet and Max Heine.Another view of Engbarth’s 2020 custom KW. He says he’s contemplated the necessity of working with his local bank to adjust financing if loads really fall off a cliff, though “as long as I’m still getting by I’m not going to be putting my hand out.” Read more about such options in this report by James Jaillet and Max Heine.

He likens it to the feeling he got after 9/11 happened, almost 20 years ago, and he was prepping to “leave out to California. You could tell on people’s faces that things had changed. People are talking to you and are watching you a little bit better.” He lauds some of the practices he’s seen truck stops adopt and wishes they were routine all the time. Rather than have ketchup packets or dispensers sitting out in common areas, for instance, at a particular Love’s location recently “you had to ask them for it, and I think that’s great. I’ll ask you for ketchup. I don’t mind. Some people are complaining about it, but hey, we all have to do our part.

“A guy’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to survive out here, just taking it day by day right now and thanking God you’ve got a load on your back and you’re going somewhere.”

Now, for those of you who are, unlike Engbarth, the type who does like to eat in the truck, anybody got a good recipe? I’m talking to you, Rob Goodwin, Chad Fowler, Tom Kyrk ….

Bob Stanton’s suggestions for technical details of a possible exemption to dining room orders:
**Truck stop-based restaurant = a food service facility located on the property of a business with fueling for large commercial vehicles and at least 5 parking spaces for coupled semi-tractor-trailer combinations.
**Sit-down service to be allowed for groups of no more than three persons where at least one holds a current CDL and is actively engaged in the interstate transportation of freight for-hire. Seating to be done to allow best social distancing practices to be followed. No alcohol service allowed.
**Allow for sit-down service at truck stop-based restaurants for on-duty police, fire, first responders or others engaged in support of critical infrastructure activities.

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