Life on the road: Trucker presses on while missing home

Behind The Wheel: Truck Week

(NewsNation) — Chris Eme is a third-generation trucker, and saying goodbye to his family before hitting the road is the hardest part of his day.

“Alright, have fun at school. Mwah. Mwah. Love you,” he said to his wife and 4-year-old before a recent trip.

After the quick sendoff, he jumps into his truck and he’s off. The bumpy roads and clicking of a turn signal are part of what he has come to recognize as a second home.

“They tell you when you sign up you are going to be away from home,” he said. “It is different when you live that. It is much different to be out on the road without your family and not talk to anyone face to face for days.”

For Eme, the first stop is picking up the trailer and doing a safety check.

He then heads to a distribution center to pick up a load for the trip. Once at the distribution center, he weighs in. And then he waits. And waits. And waits.

There really is a lot of waiting. Picking up a load of sweet potatoes at the distribution center was supposed to happen very fast. All of the time Eme waits, he doesn’t get paid.

“You don’t get paid while you wait,” Eme said. “It is paid by the mile for the most part. So if the truck is not rolling you are not getting paid for the time you are sitting at the receivers.”

Having to wait for hours — it’s a good time to have lunch. Eme’s go-to is a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

And not only is Eme not getting paid while he waits — there is nowhere to use the restroom.

“The bathroom problem has become worse with COVID,” he said. “You will get to a receiver and they will make you sit six hours but they won’t let you inside to use the restroom. A lot of them have put Porta-Potties in the parking lot and there are trucks all around you are in the middle of a parking lot with one Porta-Potty. There could be 100 trucks in that facility at night.”

Finally, after hours of waiting, the loading of the trailer begins and the truck is full of sweet potatoes.

There are a lot of unpredictable variables with trucking.

“Every day there is a possibility for unpredictability,” Eme said.

While hauling sweet potatoes from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, watching the gas gauge is a primary concern for Eme as diesel fuel is one of the biggest expenses for truckers.

Drawing from his experience, Eme utilizes a lesser-known gas station off the highway with cheaper prices.

“This is a little gem here on I-95,” he said. “Fuel prices can be anywhere from 20 to 40 cents cheaper than a mile down the road. At my max, I will take 200 gallons of fuel. You do that twice a week, it adds up to a lot of money at the end of the year.”

After a fill up and a quick coffee purchase, he is back on the highway.

“I would say the majority of my driving is mainly between the hours of three and three,” he said, as most truckers prefer driving at night because the roads are less crowded.

Brian Entin catches a ride. (Credit: Luis Abad)

And after a very long day, Eme finally makes it to the warehouse designated as his dropoff location — but there’s bad news.

After arriving to the destination where he is to deliver the goods, Eme realizes the lot is totally full. There is nowhere to park and, furthermore, nowhere to sleep for the night.

This is a common problem for truckers, as finding a place to sleep is not easy.

Eme asks around, but there are no spots available — and the warehouse won’t unload his sweet potatoes until the morning.

“I’m going to pull up and turn around,” he said, finally having found a spot to park.

And with a parking spot, Eme now has a chance to rest, or at least take his shoes off.

The back of his truck has a little sleeper area that is also Eme’s home away from home. He’ll sleep a couple of hours before waking up bright and early to unload.

Tomorrow, he’ll start the process all over again.

Eme’s story comes as the trucking industry is in the midst of a major worker shortage. The American public, however, is overwhelmingly opposed to at least two possible solutions: lowering the driving age for truckers and using self-driving vehicles, according to a NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll released Wednesday.

Nearly 71 percent of registered voters polled by NewsNation opposed lowering the required age to get a commercial driver’s license from 18 to 16. Currently, drivers have to be 18 to transport goods within a state, or 21 to transport goods across state lines.

Meanwhile, 65 percent of Americans said they would feel at least somewhat unsafe with self-driving trucks on the road.

Read the full poll here.

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