In the spirit of crude but fitting trucker humor, let’s talk toilets. The other day, a pharmaceutical distribution center in Allentown, PA refused my use of their bathroom. I was having a personal emergency, but that didn’t matter. The facility manager thought allowing me inside was a serious “security” issue, and he simply wouldn’t allow it.
As an alternative, he directed me to the outhouse conveniently located in the woods just off the side of the building. Let’s just say that poor old port-a-potty wasn’t a pretty site. In fact, it was disgusting, but I won’t go into further detail. I mentioned its condition to the manager, but that didn’t persuade him to let me in. He felt a need to explain to me that the nature of the goods housed in their facility required the highest security standards. He said, “This is pharma product. In case you didn’t know, you’re hauling pharma product.”
I’ll be frank. I don’t like stupid people. They bother me, but this was particularly ridiculous. I dress well, quite polished. I don’t smell bad. I walk upright and tall. I speak very articulately, at least most of the time. I’m not a security threat. I’m not a nasty, grimy, disrespectful truck driver. And I know what I haul.
Dealing with this guy was incredibly insulting, but to his credit he had no reason to know how educated and self-aware I am. It’s unusual to run into someone like me in the trucking world. So, rather than giving him the verbal spanking he rightly deserved, I kindly informed him that no other pharma facility in North America held the same security policy, one that would shut out desperate humans in times of personal need. Again, that wouldn’t convince him either.
It’s another sad case of policy over pragmatics.
He recommended I drop my trailer in their yard and “go” at the nearest Wawa. A glorified gas station, that’s hardly better than the outdoor option he offered a few minutes earlier. In the end, I opted for Wendy’s, which was a 15-minute drive, by the way.
I mean no disrespect, but this isn’t Africa, folks. In the U.S., we’re afforded more privileges than anyone else in the world. You would think, given the natural and biological characteristics of human existence, a decent toilet would be appropriate or reasonable. But as I learned, it’s something we take for granted.
This experience, and many others like it, led me to reflect on the question: “Why don’t trucks have toilets?”
First, trucks aren’t big enough. Most trucks on the road either don’t have “sleeper” births at all or they’re very small. Trucks aren’t built like RVs. My truck, the largest standard built truck on the road, has at most a total of 42 square feet of living space, which does not include the bed(s) and cubbies. It’s not exactly roomy. Most others are called “coffins” for a reason.
Some trucks actually do have small toilets in them, though, but you’d have to spend a hundred thousand dollars more to get an extended, custom job done in order to house one. Seems a bit insane, don’t you think?
But it’s not size that matters in this discussion. In fact, the real reason trucks don’t have toilets is because American infrastructure doesn’t support it. RV parks have human waste solutions, such that when you park you can hook up to lines that properly dispose of your stored waste. To implement a similar solution on such a large scale for truckers would require every rest area and truck stop to build new waste systems. It would cost a fortune, and it would require more physical space.
When you think about it a little bit, this is rather absurd. Humans do a few core activities: eat, sleep, drink, and go to the bathroom. No one is exempt from doing these things. Wouldn’t it make sense, and be widespread agreeable, to invest public dollars into common amenities that would allow all its citizens to do that which they most basically need to do? No, of course not.
An article published online two years ago pointed out that we’re actually likely to spend less on amenities like these in the future. Rest areas cost state governments too much money to maintain and apparently are underutilized. In my own personal experience, this is true when thinking about the general public but not when thinking about truckers. Trucking already faces a serious problem of physical space. There’s not enough room as it is for trucks to park overnight, especially in urban centers like Atlanta, D.C., or Chicago. Even in the middle of Iowa, you might struggle at times to find parking when you need.
Which is all to say, you might find it even more problematic when you need to relieve yourself. I got lucky with the Wendy’s.
The fact is, we’re doing less in American politics these days to meet the basic needs of human life than we are in propping up false infrastructures like corporate growth and government work to satisfy political greed and self-interest. I guess it’s not sexy politics to look after the basics. In light of this, truckers are suffering and are likely to suffer more on into the future.
Who will advocate for them, especially when workers within their own industry won’t allow them to perform their basic functions? Will we reach a point where truckers say enough is enough? What happens then?