VILLA RICA, Ga. — “We’re on the way to Rancho Cucamonga with a load of chicken,” said East-West Express team driver Bob Hamilton.
That’s nothing unusual for Hamilton and girlfriend/team partner Kimberly Bishop. The couple does turnaround runs one after another, hauling chicken, flooring or carpet to California and returning with produce.
“We run three main routes, I-10, I-20 and I-40,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice to have a choice, so if there’s a weather event or problem on one route we can take an alternate without losing a lot of time.”
Hamilton and Bishop live near the current East-West Express terminal in Villa Rica, Georgia. “They’re building a new terminal pretty close to the old one,” Hamilton said. “It’s supposed to be ready by July or so, but I don’t know how the pandemic will affect the work.”
The team has seen some changes since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on U.S. shores, although the way they manage their team operation helps keep changes to a minimum. Hamilton explained, “It hasn’t changed as much for us as for some. We do most of our cooking at home and then portion it out and heat it when we’re on the road.”
Bishop, however, is taking precautions to make sure the two don’t become victims of the virus. “We are more careful about bringing germs back to the truck,” she explained. “We wear gloves while shopping and take off our shoes and Lysol them when we get back to the truck.”
She and Hamilton also carry small spray bottles of alcohol “for toilet seats, faucets and whatever,” she said, adding, “I don’t trust the cleanliness of other people.”
About the only change the couple made to their routine was some additional stocking up on food and supplies “to build a reserve,” Bob explained.
The team, which has been with East-West for five-and a-half years, said they love the company, especially now during the national crisis. Hamilton related the story of one shipper that asked drivers to report in using a provided telephone.
“I sent an email to (the safety department) at East-West about everyone using the same phone,” he said. “Within minutes they had contacted the facility and got the process changed to where we can check in on our cell phones.”
Safety isn’t the only department at East-West Express that is concerned about the coronavirus. “They’ve even changed the way they service trucks, with technicians wearing PPE (personal protective equipment) when they get in and wiping everything down when they leave,” said Hamilton.
The couple has, however, noticed changes on the road. Hamilton said, “We haven’t seen truck stops actually closing. We can still get fuel, showers, everything we normally get. We have access to everything except the restaurants.” Those restaurants, he said, are often closed or have reduced hours with a takeout-only menu.
Rest areas are another “area” of concern. “As a woman, closed rest areas are really a problem,” Bishop explained. Knowing her surroundings is the way she deals with the issue. “We run the same routes all the time, so I know from the mile marker what is up ahead. But, for women especially, having a place to stop is important.”
Hamilton pointed out that some of the rest areas were closed long before the pandemic for construction or other reasons.
Both drivers have noticed that highway traffic is greatly reduced. “Traffic has been really nice,” Bishop said. “It’s much more enjoyable.” She also pointed out that parking space is easier to come by in the rest areas that are still open. Hamilton said he thinks the lighter traffic is due to daily commuters and vacationers staying home. “I haven’t seen a reduction in truck traffic, but all the other vehicles missing really lightens the volume,” he said.
Continuous west-coast turnarounds don’t leave a lot of time for hobbies. “I like to go fishing or to the gun range,” Hamilton said, “but honestly, we spend most of our time on the road and when we’re at home we’re preparing to go back on the road.”
Bishop can pursue her passion while traveling, as long as she isn’t behind the wheel. She holds a seat on the board at Operation Little Brown Dog (operationLBD.org), a charitable organization that rescues and places Boykin spaniel dogs. The breed was developed for hunting turkeys and ducks in the Wateree River Swamp in South Carolina and is the official state dog.
Both Bishop and Hamilton said they see good coming out of the current pandemic. Hamilton likes the focused attention on members of society that are often overlooked. “It takes something like this for people to realize the importance of truck drivers and a lot of blue-collar workers,” he said. “From pickers to the people that process and package our food to the drivers who haul it and warehouse people who store and distribute it — take any one out of the chain and everything collapses.”
Bishop likes that people seem to be pulling together in a time of crisis. “Honestly, I have noticed that people have been far more pleasant,” she explained. “I’ve seen that more people are taking time to say hello. It’s not like Christmas spirit, but like our eyes were opened to the fact that we’re all in this together.”
While many people are hunkered down in their homes, riding out the COVID-19 storm, this team continues to move vital products — together.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.