Truck drivers face added sense of isolation during Covid-19

by Arleen Lively

EDWARDSVILLE, N.S. — 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.

“We are that much more alone,” says John Mulrooney, referring to time on the road during Covid-19.

“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.

“It’s hard out here … I don’t think people really understand the gravity of what we are facing.”

– John Mulrooney, 40-year truck driver

“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?”

Rion Joules (right) says her family is used to the trucking life. “We will survive this.”

Families at home are separated from truck-driving loved ones at the best of times.

Rion Joules, who has been a trucker’s wife for over 16 years, doesn’t feel her husband Richard is in any more danger during these days of Covid-19. Like all longhaul truck operators, Richard drives in all conditions.

And he keeps in touch with their two teenage daughters when he can.

“I think they are used to this life,” Rion says. “They have never known anything different. I think if you ask them, they would say it makes them a little more aware of how careful he needs to be on the road, but he has been sick on the road before and we all survived that. We will survive this. I am a fairly capable person.”

“He has been sick on the road before and we all survived that. We will survive this.”

– Rion Joules

The driver and one of his daughters actually had to self-isolate in an apartment within the house after a recent trip to Ecuador.

“There was lots of stress and anxiety about getting back to Canada. I was concerned for my daughter, stressed about money and the prospect of staying until May 1st. At times we felt as though we were in some sort of reality TV show. To step back onto Canadian soil made me think, ‘Canada proud, proudly Canadian,” he says.

Richard is actually looking forward to working alongside fellow truck drivers despite Covid-19, and he expects few disruptions to his weekly runs to and from Newfoundland.

“Life with Covid-19 is now our new normal,” he says. “Schedules may get disrupted by the ferries, weather, any number of things. I can minimize the risk to myself, my family, co-workers and customers by washing my hands, don’t touch your face, wear your personal protection equipment when and where necessary, and social distance. Welcome to the world of trucking.”

The driver is also confident that his fleet, Eassons Transportation Group, continues to communicate with industry experts and will offer the information and equipment needed to remain safe.

Still, he wonders what will happen when he returns home.

“My daughter and I are going to have to talk to our work colleagues to see how they feel about where Richard is going and if that is a level of exposure that makes them uncomfortable,” Rion says. “The best thing for us to do is to keep the conversation going so that everyone knows what is going on.”

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  • i am retired now after 37 yrs on the road mostly canada coast to coast like john said there was times i had tears in my eyes.we never knew when i was going to be home thinking about my wife and2 boys at home not home on the weekends to take the boys to hockey or to play in the park. when i first started i had to bribe senior drivers to switch places for summer holidays so i could take the wife and kids fishing up in DRYDEN ONT.AND IF ANY WIFE’S KNOWS WHAT ITS LIKE TO BE A TRUCKERS WIFE IT’S MINE AND JOHNS I JUST SAY A PRAYER IN MY OWN WAY THAT ALL TRUCKERS WILL RETURN HOME SAFE. JOHN MULROONEY IS THE BEST FRIEND I EVER HAD WE ALWAYS KEEP IN TOUCH EVEN THO I’M RETIRED.and i always let him know if the leafs won or lost we don’t talk a lot for a couple of days til the shock wears off lol.i still go out driving and see a new shiny truck go bye and look over at my wife and she says don’t even think about it. I STILL MISS TRUCKING WOULD NEVER THINK ABOUT DOING ANY THING ELSE. and now john tells me he don’t have to shift gears any more why the hell did i ever retire god bless all you truckers if you see a red pick me up go bye its a retired bro ……………………………..

  • Warehouse sometimes make us feel like trash. Not always but sometimes. The general public treats us like crap cuts us off speed by like morons and act like there are no laws. This pissses me off. Why act like that. I would sooner be home than sacrifice my life to feed ungrateful people. To bad a truck is in front of you Calm down you will have a chance to pass.

  • Funny how I don t feel any of the anxiety,loneliness or anguish like the crying drivers in the story,I do drive a truck,I go to different places and interact with different ppl,but I don t cry nor do I worry,and I have always like loneliness,I truly love being alone and not having to talk to ppl,so this is like heaven for men…plus the idea of crying??? whatahell is that? we are grown man,not children,grown man don t cry.

    • Pretty cold. Glad you love your job and I thank you. But shut up… cry and one day you will too. I hope you and your family stay safe from this horrid virus.

    • Wow you must have been brought up by someone really cold. I to don’t care for people and love driving. However I miss and love my family so much, and I do feel isolated a lot more. Real men and women do cry, it’s called emotion. The fear that you could be A symptomatic and bring this home to love ones, leave to go to work and they get sick and pass. This used to be a brotherhood/sisterhood we all looked out for each other the “new drivers” don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. I hope you and your family stay healthy but have a bit of humanity and realize that everyone cry’s. Happy tears sad tears scared etc.

  • His story broke me down in tears… I feel so sorry for him and all the Truckers that are out there. My son is an OTR semi driver to. Hes with a trucking company that only stays out for a week at a time
    And I’m just so greatful that hes able to come home every weekend. Sometimes hell stay out for 2 weeks just because theres nothing for him to do at home. He keeps himself isolated in his truck as much as possible. He told me that he stopped at a Loves truck stop only to find the restrooms doors were all locked up.. He got really mad .I mean REALLY MAD. and he had to slide under the door to use the the toilet. Sorry but that is just B S.!! He left the door open for the next trucker to use it. They both had a good laugh..

  • I always knew whatever we eat,wear,drive,and whatever else comes to us by truckers. Please don’t get down. There are tons of us that realized what you do and are praying for you!

  • I commend you my friend..I just made 30 years driving myself last August and decided that was enough..I’m able to stay home and rest..with what’s going on now I feel guilty that I’m not out there anymore..that’s just how I’m built..some people think I’m nuts feeling that way..I say that there selfish..only now are people realizing who we really are???THE WORLD IS F……..

  • You can’t even get out of your truck any more, just to stretch your legs, because of the reports of people turning others into the police for not ‘ self-isolating ‘ . Like we don’t do enough of that ordinarily. Go to the shipper, check in, back up to the dock, wait until they call you. Get your paperwork, head for the receiver. Stop for pit stops, breaks, and your daily shutdowns. Get to the receiver, get unloaded, and leave. Hardly the most minimal of human contact. Isolation is hard on social creatures.

  • i have just completed 9 years of OTR. this has been my longest tour. i haven’t been on home since jan 2.
    its now april 21st. i talk to my circle of people via cell to get me through the day/night. i miss my wife. we are all under paid. i need a vacation, i need a vacation i need a real vacation!

  • My husband died 3 yrs ago. He was a longhauler for over 30yrs. I would hate it if he was out there now in this mess. Thank you for your service and Blessing to you and your families. We will get through this.

    Braindamage’s wife

  • My wife Helen who I have been married to for forty years has put up with my driving all that time and now I have 15 months left I wish the younger drivers the same run I have had with a good wife putting up with me

  • Articles such as this one, should be put out to the general public. Most people don’t realize that the life of an over the road trucker is not as easy as it appears. It is not just Covid-19. Unless you single, it takes a strong partner, to keep the relationship together. Missing the kids growing up; watching their participation in activities.
    Living in a truck, both eating and sleeping: this is not a hotel.
    The percentage return on investment for trucking, does not leave much room for a profitable lifestyle.
    You are not a cowboy any more. Now you are a survivor.
    Stay healthy…keep safe.
    And to all of the drivers reading this…THANK YOU!

  • Did a bit of this myself and it’s tough enough when u can come home on regular shifts but now this virus has taken over and u have to stay away from ur family and like the saying ,how to explain to ur grand kid who is to young to understand .Its tough out there. Stay safe Truckers

  • HANG in there YOU!!! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO !!!
    HANG IN THERE OLE BUDDY,ROAD WARRIORS, I Drove fuel tanker for 43 years and development ed leukemia, the doctor did 4 days of testing, walked into my room with results ,I SAID DO I HAVE CANCER ,HE SAID YES,I FIGURED IT OUT FROM THE TESTS THEY DID, DOC said I didn’t cry ,I replied that won’t make it go away,

  • I’m curious to know why these trucking stories do not show the diversity in the trucking industry. Let’s be real. If the trucking industry was a monotone as is being reported. This country would not be functioning.

  • My husband drives trucks, he is a flat bedder, it’s hard dangerous work out there, and now that this virus is all over the place it’s just that much more dangerous. We have friends that drive trucks, and I pray for their safety each and every day, especially my husband. You hear people all the time praising the first responders and dr’s , nurses, ect., but what about the ones that haul all the supplies they need, think about these truckers and the dangers they are in just trying to get the things people need everyday. Their lives are important as well. Thank you to all you truckers out there, stay safe, and know y’all have some recognition out there.