IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - While many of us are experiencing the pandemic through a local lens, Idaho Falls truck drivers have been exposed to restrictions, reactions and various health measures across the nation.
“When it first started back in March and April, it was obvious, stuff going on,” Blair Garner, Killpack driver said. “Traffic was a fraction of what it normally was, parking lots completely empty...you could drive past strip malls that were completely empty in the middle of the day. All the church parking lots, empty on Sunday. The traffic was just big trucks and families on vacation, that was about it. So that was huge."
Garner says the traffic patterns are returning to normal but it’s not quite what it used to be with so many people working from home now. He says he has seen a difference in Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Cleveland where there is less traffic now due to the pandemic.
"You could definitely tell the further East I went," Garner said. "Idaho, Montana, Utah, there wasn’t a big difference. But when you got into Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky, there is a major difference in traffic patterns. It was like, ‘Where’s all the people?’”
Garner says Killpack hauls potatoes and the company hasn’t been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“On the way back, used to be, we’d bring back all sorts of stuff, paper, whatever,” Garner said. “Now it seems to always be canned food and alcohol, stuff like that.”
Garner says he used to haul a lot of car parts, but he hasn’t had a load like that since the pandemic started.
He says truck stop showers shut down in March and the restaurants were closed for a very long time.
“I remember, I was just outside of Bismark, North Dakota, the first time I saw one that said they were open,” Garner said. “And I walked into it because I hadn’t been to one in months.”
Garner says he has travelled to Ohio and Kentucky where he says there are very few people not wearing their masks in public.
“You see [people not wearing their masks] more in the West than you do in the East, definitely,” Garner said.
Killpack Trucking long-haul driver, Calvin Frew, says every business he has frequented while on the road has a “Mask Required” sign in their window. He says maybe half the people inside are wearing masks but this varies either way in different states.
“We see a lot of folks that are worried about this COVID, because they are wearing gloves also,” Frew said. “They wear gloves, they wear masks, and they try not to touch anything. I’ve seen a lot of that.”
Frew says he and his wife, Charlotte, travel as far east as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He says they have met a high number of people who say they have had COVID-19.
“COVID is still a concern, but we see more people around here, now, in our area, that are suffering from that,” Frew said.
Frew says truck drivers can no longer shower on the road in some places. The Frews have sponge-bathed in their trucks for months and say they believe many of their co-workers who have caught COVID-19 have contracted it from the truck stop showers.
Frew says there are many places across the nation that are currently in lockdown and businesses are still closed in many states. He says he and his wife have been cooking their own meals on the road or relying on truck stop food.
Charlotte says the hoarding we have seen in grocery stores in Idaho is worse in other parts of the country and truck stop shelves were completely wiped out in some areas, with nothing left for sale except bagged popcorn.
In areas where restaurants were open inside truck stops, Frew says there were partitions up between tables and many tables were closed off with chairs lifted to keep with physical distancing measures. Some restaurants went so far as to remove tables to stay under capacity. He says they haven’t seen this in two to three months.
Frew says they travel to Michigan frequently and that state is in the process of shutting down again. Charlotte says the restaurants were closed in Michigan when she was there two weeks ago.
Frew says residents in hotspot areas like West Virginia and Michigan don’t seem to be following public health measures. He says they don’t see a lot of mask-wearing in these states. He says they don’t see much of the nation outside of truck stops and long-haul drivers.
He says truck stops are like large convenience stores and a lot of people use them. Frew feels there’s not much you can do to control what other people do, so he and his wife keep their 6 feet of distance, wear their masks, and use hand sanitizer when they get back in their trucks.
Frew says in Missouri, businesses are offering masks at the door, which is something he says he hasn’t seen in this area.
“We try not to associate with any people if we don’t have to,” Frew said.
During the protests and riots throughout the summer, Frew says they were stopped by demonstrators dressed in all black with black masks at intersections in Chicago.
“They’d just walk out in front of your truck and try to block you. We saw a lot of that,” Frew said. “We haven’t been taking loads to Chicago anymore. We won’t go there anymore, we have that option.”
Frew says he didn’t see any police trying to handle the situation in Chicago. He says he maneuvered around the crowd and turned off the roads filled with protestors.
“That’s their business, if they want to protest, that’s up to them,” Frew said. “But don’t block my rights to get where I need to, where I can unload and reload so that I can go home. I want to come back home.”
Frew says in Iowa City, there appeared to have been a large protest because a quarter mile of the freeway had been painted with graffiti.
Frew says protests were probably the biggest roadblock truck drivers saw in 2020.