For the long haul
On Tuesday afternoon, Charles McCaskill sat behind the wheel of his 18-wheeler, as he waited on workers from Gibbs Patrick Farms in Omega, Georgia to load him up with kale and collard greens.
Normally, he might have been taking time to stroll around the grounds of this spot, one of the top vegetable farms in the Southeast, located between Tifton and Moultrie, and not far from Albany, where a major outbreak occurred early in the coronavirus pandemic
But this day he sat holed up behind the wheel of his Midwest Continental truck and waited, late into the night, until the work was finished.
“This place here I can’t get out of the truck,” he said. “A lot has changed. Whenever we go to places, we can’t get out of the truck and we can’t use their facilities. It’s like we have the disease.”
McCaskill said he and his fellow truckers have to avail themselves of “a little outhouse” installed to accommodate them.
There’s none of the shaking hands and chatting over paperwork. Instead, the trucker provides his cell number, backs in, and waits patiently until he’s ready to pull out, in this case to haul the kale and collards to New Jersey.
Oftentimes, McCaskill will transport ice cream in his refrigerated truck that he picks up from Blue Bunny in Le Mars, Iowa and will take it to grocery outlets all the way to California.
He’s been busy, but the overall picture has meant less traffic on the highways, and less congestion at the truck stops he’ll pull into and stay the night in the beds in his truck.
“We can get into truck stops late at night and there’s plenty of places to park in truck stops these days,” said McCaskill.
Married to the former Nedra Jefferson, and still youthful after 15 years on the job, McCaskill said he’s noticed a lot of the veteran truckers are thinking about calling it quits.
“A lot of the old-timers are saying to hell with this,” he said. “A lot of the old-timers, I’ve heard some of them say, if you’re up in your 60s and 70s why would you take a chance?”
Still, there are bright spots along the way, such as a huge digital sign in either Iowa or Illinois, McCaskill couldn’t recall precisely where, that announced “Truck drivers keep the nation going forward. Thank you, trucker.”
“That touched my heart, it really did,” said McCaskill.
Or the time a few weeks ago he was delivering in Ogden, Utah, and had to park on the street because he couldn’t go in.
“A middle-aged man was walking along by the sidewalk and he wanted to give me something,” McCaskill said, so he was treated to a Jimmy John’s gourmet fast food sandwich.
“He said he did so in appreciation for truckers,” he said.
McCaskill said he hasn’t noticed anything extraordinary pertaining to what he’s been hauling, although he did have a trip to pick up fresh chicken in Gainesville, Georgia canceled this week.
“I went there last month but I didn’t go this time,” he said. “Maybe there’s something there.”
McCaskill’s trips can have him hauling Anheuser-Busch beer out of Albany, Georgia, or Sargento cheese out of Wisconsin, or candy out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he’s headed after dropping off the kale in Jersey. And he’ll deliver to Walmart, or Safeway or other outlets where shoppers are in need of their frozen foods.
He’ll be able to enjoy a disc player and microwave that Nedra bought him during a recent 10-day stay in Apalachicola.
McCaskill has enjoyed the lighter traffic he’s facing. “I went through Atlanta with no problem,” he said. “I went through Los Angeles with no problem, and Crashville, with no problem,” referring to Nashville, Tennessee.
“Everything was wide open,” he said.
Still, not being able to get out of his truck and wearing masks and goggles wherever he goes can wear on him. He’ll sometimes shower in motels that have truck parking, rather than taking a chance at truck stops.
“You’re feeling kind of weary sometimes,” he said.
“I have no complaints about the freight,” McCaskill said. “I just hate being away from my family.”
He said he’s glad his wife is able to look in on his mother, Retha McCaskill, who being in her 90s, is part of the most vulnerable population.
“Momma doesn’t leave the house,” he said. “She just doesn’t leave.”