The complex system set up to ship goods from factories to stores and eventually into your home is under immense strain from the coronavirus pandemic.
John Lex, a trucker for Walmart, has been driving for 35 years, just like his father and grandfather before him. He says there are no shortages related to the coronavirus at the warehouses where he's picking up.
The problem? Truckers can't get the products to the stores fast enough. Plus, the nationwide deficit in truck drivers continues to swell, with shortages projected to continue in the coming years, according to the American Trucking Associations.
Because items are flying off the shelves at rapid speed, Lex has been working overtime to meet the demand, going from a five-day work week to six. Packed within his truck are paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies — items that people across the country are buying in bulk as the pandemic continues.
“There's really a priority on what we're doing right now more than ever before,” Lex says. “So there's just an extra amount of pride, I guess, knowing that what I'm doing is really making a difference, knowing that the items that I'm delivering are greatly needed right now.”
Stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders have changed his normal day-to-day. With less traffic on the roads, he says he’s getting places faster. His usual route throughout Atlanta, a city notorious for its busy roads every day of the week, has seen a significant drop in traffic congestion.
“As a professional truck driver, you'd think that, ‘Wow, this is awesome,’ ’ he says. “But knowing the circumstances, I'd rather have the traffic. It is a lot different right now.”
Drivers are still on the roads, though, and he’s noticed people's attitudes toward truckers changing. Thumbs up, fist pumps and signs on the highway thanking truckers have been a common occurrence lately, he says.
That’s an “awesome feeling,” Lex says.
“This is what we do each and every day,” he says. “We're not doing anything different, but it's just really cool to be recognized.”
There’s a whole team of “unsung heroes” behind getting essential items to the stores as quickly as possible, he says, from the warehouse employees to the people manning the forklift and the mechanics. These people are also on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, he says.
Despite the extra stress on the job, he’s being “extra precautious” about wiping down the handles and steering wheel in his truck while wearing gloves. Wal-Mart has been an “amazing” company, he says, by supplying truckers with hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and reminding employees that if they don’t feel safe, they don’t have to work.
But for now, Lex feels no need to slow down — he says he genuinely loves what he does for a living, and now’s the time he’s most needed.
“Somebody's got to do this,” he says. “Somebody's got to get the product to the stores so people can live.”
This segment aired on March 27, 2020.