FARGO — Unlike many in the workforce right now, sequestered to a makeshift work-from-home office due to the coronavirus pandemic, Deb Rubin has been working behind the wheel, hauling essential freight on the road for 10 to 11 hours each day.
An over the road driver for Fargo-based Magnum Ltd., Rubin has been on the COVID-19 front line hauling frozen or refrigerated foods most of the time, meeting the skyrocketing demand for essential supplies.
“I love my job, and I love knowing that we're bringing things to people that they need,” Rubin said.
The 61-year-old from Hunter, N.D., is deemed an essential employee — meaning she won’t be hit hard by mandated business closures — something she hasn’t felt in her 27 years in the gig.
“Truthfully, even though the pandemic is a horrible thing and it's scary, it's bringing to the forefront the fact of what we do for people. They're realizing it, and that is a new thing for us. We don’t normally get the appreciation,” she said.
Rubin has been hearing a lot more “thank yous,” and was bought lunch when she went to pick up a load Wednesday in Conyers, Georgia.
“That was very kind of them. We are essential and they're letting us know that they know it, and that is very different,” she said. “Usually it’s ‘Oh you’re a dirty old truck driver, get out of here.’ But they're being very kind and very mindful of what we do. It feels really good.”
Like many truck drivers nationwide, Rubin has continued to haul goods from Point A to Point B without stalling. Though her job hasn’t changed, the landscape has.
She’s now asked to fill out a questionnaire by shippers and receivers as a COVID-19 screening tool. Rubin said a lot of the drivers bring their own pens, wear disposable gloves and are more cautious of what they touch.
On the road, Rubin has fewer food options due to virtually all restaurants shifting to take-out only. She’s unable to sit down anywhere and take a break away from the truck. The availability of hot food at truck stops has also dwindled, she said.
“Pandemic or not, I love this,” Rubin said. “It takes a special kind of bird to do it, but it's a really great way to make a living.”
Rubin is joined at the forefront by Deckplate Diesel, a 24-hour hour truck repair shop in West Fargo, which has been busier than usual repairing commercial vehicles.
“We want people to know that we’re out there and we’re here to help,” said owner Joshua Seley. “Anything we can do to help keep the supply chain going, we’re ready for it.”
Seley doesn’t expect to be slowing down anytime soon, either, even with Minnesota’s two-week stay-at-home order. An essential business, Deckplate Diesel sits among critical industries that weren't shuttered including pharmacies, child care facilities and banks.
“Without semi truck drivers and diesel mechanics like ourselves repairing and keeping them going, the national supply chain will stop,” he said. “As far as what classifies an essential business, I would say, a business that is needed for everybody to survive.”
Like his customers who have taken extra precautions to make sure their equipment is ready to go during this time, Deckplate Diesel has altered its routine and adopted added sanitation measures.
“I was in the Navy for two enlistments and I know what it’s like to kind of stand in line of duty. Once you're there, you’re committed to it,” Seley said. “We're very thankful for the folks out there that are on the front lines during this time.”
A town over, another local business is ready to serve Minnesotans amid the state’s stay-at-home order.
Business has slowed down for Fargo-based Laney’s Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Electrical, but closing the doors hasn’t ever been a thought, said president and owner Kevin Wolf.
“We know people are out in our community depending on us,” Wolf said. “We’re an essential services business; we are open and available to serve their needs.”
With more people at home, the services Laney’s provides could be critical if someone’s heat goes out or sewer is backing up, Wolf said.
To ease financial stress on customers during this time, Laney’s initiated a 20% customer giveback program Wednesday.
“We understand that it’s a financial burden on a lot of people who have lost their jobs, and for a lot of other reasons,” Wolf said.
Wolf has to run his business from a distance — virtually — as he’s under a 14-day self-quarantine after traveling to Florida.
“It’s an interesting time right now. It’s probably the toughest in my 27 years with this business,” Wolf said. “It’s also shown the importance of good communication.”
It’s been an ever-changing environment, said Wolf, who introduced sanitation protocol for employees to make sure they don’t present any risks to customers. On the other side, there’s a screening process for Laney's customers to make sure employees are heading into safe and healthy environments.