‘We’re Literally Making It Up As We Go:’ A Truck Driver Amidst A Pandemic

Jess Graham works for GTO Trucking in Snellville, Georgia. She’s been driving trucks since 2012.

Courtesy of Jess Graham

As many parts of life have slowed, our country’s supply chain hasn’t. And commercial truck drivers are a crucial part of that chain.

Jess Graham is an over-the-road, owner-operator truck driver working for GTO Trucking in Snellville, Georgia. She’s been driving trucks since 2012.

The coronavirus pandemic, she said, has sped up the pace of her job as food and medicine are being shipped at much higher volume. She’s doing about double her normal weekly mileage.

“It’s utter chaos, and we are just literally making it up as we go day by day, never knowing what to expect anywhere we go,” she said.

Read more: “What Now? Telling Stories About Work And The Coronavirus >>

Graham made the difficult decision not to return home until the pandemic subsides, to stay out on the road, because she lives with her grandmother and her 17-year-old daughter.

“I can’t risk bringing this to my house, whatever I may have come in contact with,” she said. “I can’t get grandma sick.”

“If I’m going to be quarantined, I might as well be quarantined in my truck and continue to work.”

She is doing what she can to be careful, she said, including sewing her own masks in her downtime in the truck.

“I wear a mask when I leave the truck, and I’m interacting with people. I limit my exposure outside of the truck,” she said. “I don’t just get out and wander around anymore.”

Graham said the pandemic has brought more uncertainty to daily life for drivers, who are dependent on businesses like truck stops for food, gas, showers and laundry.

Some truck stops have suddenly limited their hours and services in response to the pandemic. For example, she said some have closed their showers because “they’re not willing to take on the task of really cleaning the shower. So then they just close the showers down.”

“And a lot of them, it’s because they don’t have the staff to have to double down on the cleaning effort,” she said.

“We’re just out here, and without access to the basic things we need to just keep staying healthy and keep moving, it’s going to wear on us. It already is.”

It’s difficult for her to find things like cleaning supplies, too. First of all, it’s difficult for trucks to find parking in lots because many businesses don’t allow 18-wheeler parking and will boot trucks violating that policy. And secondly, she said, the stock on these items is low.

“The supplies that we need, the sanitizer, the cleaners, they’re gone. They’ve already been snapped up,” she said. “I don’t have time to just sit and wait for a Walmart to open at first thing in the morning and then wait in line. I have whatever time I have when I pass by that Walmart. But, for the most part, it’s not even worth stopping anymore.”

However, she said she thinks truck drivers are uniquely suited to this time.

“As a driver, it is in our nature to just haul that freight, just get it going. We can make sense out of miles. We can make sense out of traffic. We can make sense out of roads and maps,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what chaos is going on. We thrive in that next mile.

“I think we would struggle more if we were forced to be off the road and sitting.”

Engagement at WABE is powered, in part, by our collaboration with America Amplified, a Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded initiative to use community engagement in our reporting.