John Mulrooney, also known as Papa John, has been on the road in all kinds of weather and has seen it all in his 40 years behind the wheel. With 2-1/2 years left to go before retirement, he is still out there doing his job. “This is all I have ever done. It’s all I know.”
These are different days, though.
Mulrooney left Newfoundland on March 28, and he was looking forward to returning home when parked near Campbellton, N.B. on Easter Weekend. But he was bound for Texas instead. Another driver refused to go.
The reality of his situation hit home when he Facetimed his five-year-old granddaughter who wanted to know why he didn’t come and see her anymore.
“It is hard out here,” says the S&M Trucking driver, fighting back tears. “I don’t think people really understand the gravity of what we are facing because of Covid-19. We are that much more alone.
“We can’t go home, sit down, put our feet up, watch television and make a cup of coffee. Life on the road is hard at the best of times, but during this pandemic it is worse. There is no interaction with people, we are alone, isolated in our trucks. When I get back, I have to self-isolate and I still won’t be able to interact with or hug my wife and family to make sure I don’t give it to them. I am not like some guys who have a camper parked in their backyards to stay in.”
He is grateful for the surge in public support for truck drivers. There have been strangers who have bought his coffee, and offered friendly waves and honks of the horn on the highway. A state trooper and Quebec police officer offered their own honks of support.
“But not all of us are delivering in places where we can park in truck stops. Sometimes, we are in small towns in the middle of nowhere with nothing around us. My wife puts on a brave front. She is worried about me I can hear it in her voice. She has her own health issues I worry about when I am gone. We both understand how it has to be when I come home.”
His life on the road used to be far more social, with truckers, waitresses and other truck stop staff sharing jokes during meal time. Downtime is usually spent in truck stop lounges, discussing the road and watching television. On nice days, there were even barbecues in truck stop parking lots.
Now every meal is carried back to the truck for reheating in the microwave.
“I love my hot sit-down meals,” Mulrooney says. “I haven’t had a hot homecooked meal in over three weeks. I can get take out burgers at fast food places, but I have never been one for takeout food.”
He wonders how much longer he can handle the stress under the current conditions.
“I talked to a couple of other truckers in the lot the other day. We all just stood there and cried. One guy hadn’t been home to see his family in nine weeks. He’s scared to go home because of where he has been,” Mulrooney says.
“As time goes on, and these conditions continue, there are going to be times of mental breakdowns. I don’t know how much longer I can take the stress. Somedays you’re like a powder keg. How do you explain to a five-year-old that you cannot come and see her?”
- Coronavirus Chronicles tell the trucking industry’s personal stories from the front lines of Covid-19. They are drawn from the ongoing coverage at www.trucknews.com.
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