By Joe Quinn
I’d been home alone for days watching the COVID-19 coverage when it became clear I had to break down and make a grocery run or not eat. I drove on empty streets past dark restaurants thinking my neighborhood looked like it was a snow day, but there was no snow or ice or happy kids. After days of not taking the car out of the garage, it was disturbing to see for myself what cable news had been incessantly telling me; local life was shutting down.
It was late when I walked into “my” Walmart Neighborhood Market. For what the week had been like the store was remarkably clean, and extra associates had been brought in to restock shelves that had been stripped during the day. I had seen all the news stories about toilet paper and bottled water being hard to find, but what I did find was basically… everything else. In the midst of the worst national health crisis in decades, the American supply chain was working.
While I wandered around looking for tuna fish and bread, a young woman stocking soup cans smiled and said, “Sir, can I help you find anything?” Her kindness was touching as it occurred to me that this woman was the friendly final step in a sophisticated supply chain designed to bring my family food, prescription drugs, and cleaning supplies.
As bleak as life seemed at that moment, it was reassuring that only two miles from my home the supply chain was holding up better than Wall Street.
It’s working because as you read this, thousands of trucks are on the road. They are on wide interstates, two lane county roads, and city streets. They have just pulled out of Des Moines, and Fort Smith, and Tulsa, and they are bringing your family basic items that give you a sense of normalcy in an abnormal time. They are delivering products we all usually take for granted.
These same trucks, and the men and women who drive them, will also deliver masks and gowns to hospitals, and vaccines to temporary health care stations set up in parking decks. They will bring respirators to hospitals, and food to nursing homes. The drivers are professionals that you likely don’t notice in a busy gas station as you fill your coffee cup, but right now, that industry, and those people, are worth thinking about.
Professional truck drivers on good roads are part of a much larger supply chain, and right now they are in large part holding life together for us. Maybe that seems like an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is. When normal people are fighting over toilet paper and hoarding rice, the system that brings you necessities should not be taken for granted.
As executive director of the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation I speak to people all the time about why roads matter. I talk about job creation, safety, congestion, and the need to protect local control and local funding. But on this night, wandering around looking for dishwasher detergent and provolone cheese, I understand it’s so much more than that. It’s about truckers, and a supply chain, functioning to calm a scared nation. It’s about an industry full of people who are away from their own families, trying to bring you the basics you need to hold your family together.
It’s not overstating where we are right now to say that the routine products being delivered on time may help us avoid social unrest. (Everyone seems to have a cousin who lives next door to a teacher, who happens to be in the National Guard in Topeka, who says gas up your car because martial law is coming any day now.)
We have Good Roads members who design roads, build roads, manufacture food and products that are moved on roads, and members who are mayors and county judges trying to repair roads. As COVID-19 forces all of us into our homes, closes our schools, threatens small business, and overflows our hospitals, we really need some fundamental things to work as they were designed. Those truckers, and that supply chain, are helping us all get through this.
Last fall, the Arkansas Trucking Association asked me to sit on a panel as they picked a handful of drivers who would be used to tell the trucking story in different venues. I didn’t really know what to expect, but as the morning went on, I was struck by how thoughtful and professional all the drivers seemed.
Listening to those men and women changed how I drive. I understand now that it takes time and space to stop that big rig in a way the average driver doesn’t think about while looking for a better radio station, or incessantly chatting on the cell phone. I thought about that meeting this week as I wandered around looking for late night groceries. I thought that we are lucky to still have people like that in this country. People who just get the job done.
I have no idea what comes next, or how bad this could all get, but I know when I walk in a store these days and see all those products, I know the supply chain is working. We all desperately need things like that to hang on to right now.
I also know I live in a state with a calm, thoughtful, smart governor who is on tv everyday now helping us through this. I like living in a state that produces leaders like Asa Hutchinson and companies like Walmart, Tyson, and JB Hunt. It makes me feel that if we work together, we can help each other get back to normal.
So, a sincere thank you to the Good Roads members and friends who make all this work and bring the things that keep my pantry full and my family safe. We are all better off because of smart people in both the public and private sector who have spent years building this American infrastructure. Somehow, I think that when we get through this, and I’m back to speaking to the Rotary Club in towns like Malvern, my story about why roads matter is going to begin with COVID-19, and the fact the supply chain worked on the very darkest of days. We are learning the hard way that nothing is more important than that.
Be safe out there my friends and wash your hands.