As White House celebrates, I’m picking up produce with a ripped-up T-shirt for a face mask

Updated Apr 27, 2020

The following came in via phone Wednesday as dispatches from the road from a longtime independent owner-operator, a food hauler who’s been busy in recent weeks running nationwide. They wished to remain anonymous.

stack of disposable face masks

Last week I picked up a load of berries in Compton. For a face mask, which I was required to wear at the Los Angeles Produce Market, I cut up a T-shirt and put over my face. This week in the Bronx, I used my cut-up T-shirt again for the same reason. I’ve been on the road for five weeks straight. I’m as busy as I’ve ever been hauling loads of food. I’ve been back and forth from one coast to the other — and into the cities, like New York, where the outbreaks are worst.

How do we get masks out here? I doubt cotton is stopping this stuff, if it’s as bad as they say it is.

When I got cancer a few years ago, I told myself “life isn’t normal anymore.” Well, life’s not normal anymore, and we need access to the new necessities like face masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes. This isn’t just about taking care of us, the drivers. This is about caring for every individual in this country, because we come into contact with people everywhere.

I’ve heard some of the big fleets were able to buy tractor-trailer loads of masks and hand sanitizer, using their contacts. And ATA pulled off whatever it takes to get on the front lawn of the White House and have a big happy show about how much we love truckers.

They want to pat us on the back, but don’t pat too hard, because we might have what you don’t want.

I’m about to walk into a store. Do you know how many people who aren’t drivers are going to be in there? How many things am I going to touch to get a Pepsi? Who’s walking in behind me and going to touch the door handle after me?

I would put gloves on and do it — if I had gloves.

Some truck stops out here have been nasty. Imagine walking into one of those, touching all the handles, going to the bathroom, buying a cup of coffee, and then not being able to walk out and clean the steering wheel with a wipe or hand sanitizer.

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They say this stuff can live on surfaces for days. Think about how often we touch our truck and touch our face.

I get it. It’s logistically hard for them to do anything for independents. We don’t have terminals or driver lounges and a lot of us don’t get home very often.

We’re out of sight, out of mind. They don’t think about me and Ol’ One-Truck Transport. It’s not that they don’t care. I’m sure they do. It’s just not on their radar.

I don’t blame them for not thinking about us. But at the same time, how are we supposed to do this?

I don’t have the answer. My solution would be to get masks and sanitizer into the hands of all these small trucking companies out here. There’s so many, maybe a network like that could help get masks we could use when we have to stop somewhere or when we dare have to go onto the property of a shipper or receiver. Maybe it could help us score a bottle of hand sanitizer so we could clean our hands after stopping for something to drink. Or wipes to keep our trucks disinfected — and help prevent this thing from spreading.

I love New York. I love this country. That’s why I still want to be out here doing this. I got a note on my windshield yesterday saying thank you for what I do. And it made me feel cared for. They took some time for me so I can take time for somebody else.

I doubt they know I’m picking up and delivering their food with a ripped up T-shirt over my face.