One trucker’s simple & essential request: ‘We need masks’

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It was, by today’s standards of COVID-19 comity, a simple email request with a straightforward subject line that said so much on so many levels: “We need masks.”

It showed up in my inbox at about 9 last night, after I had watched some Netflix, taken the dogs out one last time, and set the coffeemaker to deliver a freshly brewed pot at 6:45 in the morning. I sat down to tidy up my email one last time and I found this from Warren Potter, a 30-year veteran of the highway and company driver from Ottumwa, Iowa:

Warren PotterWarren Potter

“I delivered in Colton, CA (about 50 miles east of LA) yesterday and found out they have a required face-covering order in their county. Many drivers didn’t have face masks so had to improvise and make our own or not deliver our loads. I ended up cutting the top off a knit hat. It worked but at 80 degrees out it was miserable. I hear people are making homemade masks and a lot are not being used because hospitals and healthcare facilities won’t approve them. If there was a way we drivers could get them, we sure would put them to good use. I’ve attached a photo of myself in my makeshift mask and I bet you agree the cloth masks people are making would be far better. I have no idea how to get the word out so figured your media outlet might be able to help.”

That injected a bit of road reality into my evening. It was personal and to the point. No politics, no histrionics, no social media bravado, and blather. He had no axe to grind, no bureaucrat to curse, no conspiracy theory to spin. Heck, he didn’t even complain about the county requiring him to wear the mask.

Warren Potter in his MacGyvered facemask (Warren Potter photo)Here was a trucker on the road that wanted to do the right thing. And, he did it in the best MacGyver tradition. Potter admits it was not the most comfortable of solutions, but he did what he had to do when presented with a problem. Not to get too sappy here, but that sounds like a lot of truckers I’ve met.

In the past month, I’ve reported on rest areas being closed then reopened in Pennsylvania, a company working with a Coca Cola bottler and a bourbon distillery to make hand sanitizer for its drivers, and about Girl Scouts giving cookies to truckers in New Mexico.

I’ve written about a truck service company opening its parking lot to drivers, and about corporate officers getting out from behind their desks and back into trucks because there were loads to be delivered.

Sadly, I’ve also posted story after story about trucking events being canceled, ones that raise money for charities and ones that provide much-needed opportunities for truckers to meet, reconnect and talk about trucks. And, there’s been the continuing saga of truckers being denied service at fast food drive-thru windows.

Then came this from Potter when I asked for a few more details:

“I haul pork from Iowa to California and produce back to Iowa. Honestly, up until the facemask problem I have not seen many changes in my job. Some shippers and receivers are less likely to allow you inside their facilities but they always have provided porta-potties for us in that case. Truck stops are doing a great job. I primarily use Loves and Pilot/Flying J and have not had any problems getting showers or food at any of them. I do about 90% of my own cooking on the truck due to it being healthier and much cheaper. The biggest change other than less traffic is rest areas that have been closed for years are now open. Ones that come to mind are the ones both east and westbound on I-40 west of Flagstaff, Arizona.

“Thank you in advance for any help you can offer to get us masks. The place I delivered to was very nice about it but told us they were not allowed to let us enter the facility without a face covering per their county’s order. They said it could be anything from a T-shirt or scarf to a bandanna but our mouth and nose must be covered. Some of the less imaginative drivers went as far as to tape paper towels onto their faces. It was quite comical and sad at the same time. I wish I would have taken a few pictures of some of the stuff drivers came up with. There was an article that I saw that ladies were sewing cloth masks by the hundreds but nobody wanted them, I figured with the newfound love for us truckers it was a match made in heaven now that more places are requiring us to wear them.”

Potter suggested finding a way to make masks available at truck stops in southern California. Another possible good location, he said, would be the produce inspection facilities; all trucks must stop at them when entering California.

“If the drivers knew of a place we could pick one up or even buy one that would be great,” Potter concluded.

If bourbon distilleries can make hand sanitizer, I’m guessing the trucking industry and companies that support it will figure out how to ensure every driver has what they need while on the road.

And, then these show up in my Facebook newsfeed:

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David Hollis the editor of Truckers News and self-isolates in Upstate New York where masks are now required and he’s allowed out in public every other day. Tell him about what you’re finding during your time on the road at davidhollis@randallreilly.com