While trying to be an obedient member of World Team Quarantine, I’m watching lots of television news, with hands washed to surgeon specifications.
And when I see people banging pots-and-pans salutes to health care workers, this former University of Minnesota medical center spokesperson feels gratitude that at last the world is understanding what nurses, doctors, pharmacists, custodial and culinary staff, respiratory and radiology technologists, and many more must do to save as many lives as possible during this sort of pandemic.
It’s also been heartening to see millions are at last realizing what some (who not that long ago too many have barely noticed, much less appreciated) are doing to keep us fed, fueled, electrified, watered, internet-connected, and generally safe. Grocery clerks in particular are starting to get recognition and pay increases that were nearly unimaginable six months ago. So are truck drivers, both long-haul and local delivery.
As an oil and gas trucker’s daughter, I’m especially happy to see that the men and women who bring us our pasta, gasoline, Crown Royal, disinfectants, diapers, baby formula, prescription drugs and so much more are being seen as more than the raucous character Jerry Reed played in the old “Smokey and the Bandit” movies. Or much worse. The truck driver shortage in a time of virus spread, as well as massive online shopping, also may have something to do with the recent positive recognition.
There was at least one other time in the not too distant past when the work truck drivers do was accorded respect. During the 1973-’74 oil crisis, my father was delivering gasoline to stations in the Milwaukee area. He required police escorts on more than one occasion during the worst of the crisis. A few times, people waiting on long lines to fill up applauded him as he turned into the stations. When he was unloading the fuel, some came up to him to shake his hand (any gasoline slick notwithstanding) and offered to buy him a cup of coffee. But when the crisis ebbed, the lines disappeared and the only thanks my dad usually got was from station proprietors for being on time and not spilling gasoline all over the delivery aprons. (And if any of the relatives of Thor Leighn of Racine, Wisconsin, are reading this, the five-pound boxes of wonderful chocolate Mr. Thor gave my dad every Christmas are still much remembered).
He wouldn’t have done anything else
A few months before my father died, I asked him if he had liked being a trucker. Even when he was a long-haul driver for 10 years before retiring at 58 because of his heart issues. I can still remember what he said, how he turned almost poetic when recounting some of his life. He said he wouldn’t have done anything else, though the 10 long-haul years were very tough and to his mind, the deregulation of the trucking industry made things hard for ordinary drivers.
But he said, “You know I went to college for a while after I got out of the service, but I loved being outside. I liked seeing the beauty of this country, how you could see so many changes within one day’s drive. I liked it when kids pumped their arms to have me beep my horn. I liked helping people stuck on the sides of roads during snowstorms. I felt as if I made a good living (with generous stock shares and premium-free, high quality health insurance for a whole family included in his benefits) for not having a degree and being a hobby artist. I think I made good contributions to society, especially in the days when we were required to wear clean, pressed company uniforms and were considered the knights of the road.”
‘They’ll take us for granted’
He then sat still for a while and said, “The day will come when this business will become more dangerous just because there will be so many more trucks on the road. We’ll be importing more things from abroad and people will take us for even less than supposed dirty, drug-taking thugs. They’ll take us for granted. Or they’ll take us for necessary nuisances. God help the country if something like a World War II happens again. Because we’ll be needed and there may not be enough of us to do the work.”
Well, this might not be a conventional world war. But no one needs me to say that this is a war the likes of which we’ve not seen for a century. And if most of us are going to make it to a world not marked by so much intense social distancing, we will need people like my father. Along with so many others who don’t earn a king’s ransom yet do their best to make it possible for most of us to be on World Team Quarantine without unreasonable difficulty or discomfort.
These people are the ones who, if you will, permit the rest of us to get on the road again.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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