Dewane Nerison was resting in his rig Monday at the Lancaster Travel Plaza like he’s done countless times before.
But Monday was different.
“Normally this truck stop would be packed by now,” he said shortly before noon.
The Ronks truck stop, located a half-mile east of The Shops at Rockvale along Route 30, was nearly empty.
As Nerison spoke, a man waved trucks away, telling drivers the restrooms were closed.
Chandra Bantawa manages the truck stop’s convenience store. But on this day he was managing potential customers, telling them if they wanted a bag of chips or a pack of cigarettes they would have to wait at the door as an employee retrieved the items. And customers paying with cash were allowed inside only to dip their money in a bucket of sanitizer.
Bantawa said he took the drastic measures in part because of his transient clientele.
“I think (it’s better) for all of us to stay home,” Bantawa, wearing a surgical mask, said.
‘We’re out here trying to do a job’
But for Nerison, and thousands of other truck drivers, staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t an option. Even without the threat of the novel coronavirus, many truck drivers spend a majority of their job on the road. For Nerison, 53, he said that means he sees his wife and three children about once a month. He said his last trip to his home in Wisconsin lasted only 44 hours.
When an LNP | LancasterOnline reporter caught up with Nerison at the Ronks truck stop Monday, he was about 40 miles away from his destination in Kimberton, Chester County, where he was scheduled to pick up roofing supplies to transport to Texas. His previous freight carried groceries.
“Everything you buy comes by a truck,” Nerison said. “We’re out here trying to do a job.”
‘Drivers have really stepped up ...’
Those in the industry will tell you a truck driver’s job is often overlooked and under-appreciated.
A seemingly minor inconvenience to the average motorist can affect truck drivers in a bigger way.
In mid-March, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation closed all 30 of the state’s highway rest stops — including restrooms, vending machine areas, and even parking — cutting off an important resource for truck drivers. Since then, all but two rest areas have reopened with more frequent cleanings.
And a growing number of truck stops are restricting some amenities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including access to showers, restrooms and dining areas.
“That’s not uncommon,” said Matt Rhoads, president of Lancaster-based trucking company Central Penn Transportation. Fortunately, Rhoads said, many of his drivers are usually back home for the day and often don’t have the same needs of many owner-operator truck drivers who travel cross country.
Rhoads pointed out that amid all the restrictions, some truck stops have waived fees for drivers to park, and some of his drivers have reported being given takeout from law enforcement and good Samaritans.
“Drivers have really stepped up to the plate,” said Kevin Stewart, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucks Association, which urged the state to reopen its rest stops. “Right now, truck drivers are a critical part of our recovery efforts.”
For Nersion, the truck driver from Wisconsin, there is one thing he’s noticed in the weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the U.S. that has helped truckers: “There’s not a lot of traffic.”