With all the fears of the Covid-19 coronavirus, a lot of travel has been shut down and people are told to stay home.
I live near the US border at Blaine, Washington and have been keeping an eye on the news stories whether or not they’re going to keep the border open for people crossing in their vehicles.
I’ve recently started an on-call job driving pick up trucks from Surrey, BC fifteen miles south to Ferndale, Washington. Because we’re importing Canadian vehicles into the United States, it requires driving through the commercial crossing with the big rigs.
Except for the person driving the chase vehicle to pick up the drivers in Ferndale and bring them back to Canada. That person crosses where the cars cross, a couple hundred feet away from the commercial crossing.
It has been very quiet crossing in both directions the past couple of weeks. Minutes. People seem to be taking the advice to stay home.
On Thursday morning, March 19, it’s announced that cross border traffic will be limited. People in cars are facing the possibility of not being allowed to cross, and Global News is there covering it. Depends why people are heading south. One woman was heading down to buy groceries but was turned back.
I’m scheduled to be one of the drivers taking pick up trucks to a dealership in Longview, WA on Friday, March 20. We left just before 9am and crossed into Washington easily. That’s three drivers and a fourth driving the chase vehicle.
I was driving a very nice Dodge Ram. One of these new vehicles that starts when you push a button. Instead of a gear shift, it has a dial on the dashboard that I turn to Drive, Reverse, or Park. I couldn’t figure out how to get the air conditioning to work. Or turn off the heat!
I also couldn’t get the radio to work. This is a 250-mile drive, so it would mean often going out of radio range and trying to find another station. All I found was static.
I had to come up with other forms of entertainment. Singing. And no one wants to hear me sing! Then I began making up songs, like “Get out of my way or I’ll ram you with my Ram.” I even had some GPS entertainment. There’s a section on I-5 that’s about five lanes, and two lanes split off into another highway. My GPS is very helpful and tells me to stay in one of the three left lanes. Then the truck’s navigational system pipes in and tells me to drive in one of the right lanes. Almost immediately, my GPS says stay to your left. And then repeats it: “stay left”. Dueling GPS systems! I have a Garmin GPS with a beanbag stand that sits nicely on any dashboard without sliding off. Beats sticking it to the windshield where it always seems to eventually fall off.
There’s about a hundred mile stretch of Interstate 5 that begins north of Seattle and ends south of Tacoma where the speed limit is 60 mph. The rest of I-5 is mostly 70 mph. Anyway that Seattle stretch is usually very slow. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, it’s stop and go traffic and doesn’t move that fast. Anytime you get any speed up, traffic slows down to a crawl again.
Friday, March 20, was the first time ever that I’ve driven 60 mph this entire stretch! Ha ha!
There was still a lot of traffic moving around. Just not the usual volume.
The drivers usually stop at a McDonald’s somewhere south of Olympia when doing this route. That’s a good drive, close to three hours before stopping.
We get out and McDonald’s has a sign that the drive-thru is open. The lobby is locked.
Across the street we see people going into Starbucks, and headed over there. They have chairs piled on top of tables and a sign saying “to go” only. We’re able to use the washroom here and get coffee.
After leaving McDonald’s it’s only about another 40 minutes or so to Longview, Washington where we’re delivering the three pick up trucks. None of the other drivers has been to this dealership before. The man driving the chase vehicle says his truck’s navigation system isn’t working, so another driver takes the lead. I’m driving behind him, and the other two are behind me.
We leave I-5 at a Longview exit and my GPS and the truck’s navigational system are both telling me to turn left at 15th Avenue. The driver ahead of me keeps slowing down, like he’s looking at the street signs. I can see the avenues are getting higher in number: 8th Avenue, 10th Avenue, etc.
My GPS pipes up and says: “In 1,000 feet, turn left at 15th Avenue.”
Suddenly, the driver in front of me gets into the left lane and turns. This was 12th or 13th Avenue. I keep going straight, but watch in my rear view mirror as the other two drivers turn left behind the first truck.
Continuing on with instructions from the GPS, I arrived at the car dealership a couple of minutes later. The rest of my crew are nowhere in sight.
They roll in a couple of minutes later. One of them tried to cover up by joking they decided to stop at Starbucks before coming to the dealership.
We did the social distancing thing and left the keys in the truck consoles. Our chase driver went inside to hand off the paperwork, but the manager wanted him to bring in the keys, too, so he took care of that.
A few minutes later we headed north in the chase vehicle. It’s around 2pm.
I’ve had a little fun in Longview once before when I was on my way to my Oregon vacation in September, 2018.
I didn’t want to be in Longview.
I was on the wrong bridge.
Read more about it on my post Driving South Through Washington on Interstate 5, Seeking Highway 101.
Two of the other drivers are married and they wanted to stop at a Costco on the return trip where they always stop. It’s about 150 miles away. Great. A good drive before another pit stop.
Apparently the drivers usually stop at this Costco for a cheap meal in the food court, and I thought I’d get an ice cream. I’m not sure what the couple was hoping to buy. Toilet paper? Ha ha! Good luck!
We roll in to the parking lot and there’s a huge line up of people down the side of the building.
But we did stop at a nearby Starbucks.
Most of I-5 in Washington is alongside cities and suburbs. We can see businesses, offices, and housing most of the drive.
Many fast food restaurants with drive-thru windows were open for business. Others like Starbucks, customers can come inside and order to-go.
We passed the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound with a big electronic billboard that said temporarily closed.
Same thing with other hotels we saw from the Interstate. Empty parking lots.
Businesses like Costco, Home Depot, Walmart, and grocery stores all had cars parked in their lots and were open for business.
Strip malls were hit and miss. Some businesses open, others closed, and not too many cars outside. At the last Starbucks we stopped at, there was a tanning salon and a hair cut place next door, both closed.
I was a passenger on the drive back to Canada and tried to take photos of the Seattle space needle. Not easy to get a good shot in the back seat of a truck that feels every bump on the road!
We passed a bus that had a sign saying they’re not collecting fares and to board at the back door only. There was caution tape set up a couple of seats back from the driver so passengers can’t get close.
There were two men on the bus, sitting in seats across from each other.
Now you’d think the second guy that got on the bus would have taken a seat further away, like in the back.
Speaking of buses, Translink, the transit system in the Greater Vancouver Area is doing the same thing. Not collecting fares, boarding at the back door, and stay away from driver.
Even for free, I wouldn’t be riding on a bus right now.
Camper with BC plates
About 30 miles south of the Canada/US border we passed an older truck with a camper on it. There was an old man driving it. In the back seat, piled to the roof, were packages of toilet paper.
The other driver riding in the back seat and I cracked up in laughter. The two guys in the front and passenger seat missed it!
Can you imagine at the border when the customs agent asks if they have anything to declare?
We arrived at the border and the sign as we approached said about 50 minute wait. There was only one booth open. There were about 20 vehicles in front of us.
Somebody made a purchase at the duty free store. Then they’re supposed to get in line at the store, which was about where we were in the line, so they could have got behind us. Instead they drove down the bus lane, and there was a gap where there’s a crosswalk. Cars aren’t supposed to block it so the driver took advantage to sneak in.
A few minutes later a truck that was in line behind the truck behind us, gets out of the line, drives down the bus line and tries to cut in.
Nobody was having it. Cars tightened up so he couldn’t squeeze in and people were yelling at him. Even our driver got out and yelled at him to get to the back of the line.
People get really annoyed when someone tries to cheat and cut in front of others who’ve been waiting awhile.
What was really annoying, when we were second in line to cross – they finally opened up a second booth!
When we reached the border guard, she asked if we were aware they were closing the border at 9pm to non-essential travel. We weren’t aware.
What nobody seems to know is what the definition is of essential or non-essential travel.
At this time commercial traffic is not being closed. I’m still willing to drive trucks down to Washington.
I don’t feel there’s a risk of contracting coronavirus. The most contact I have is with the border agents who are several feet away. When we drive down to the lot in Ferndale, 10 miles south of the border, we park the truck, lock it, get in the chase vehicle and come back to Canada.
There is no contact with other people. No shopping. No eating in a restaurant.
Which is kind of good in reverse for the Americans. I’m not in contact with anyone. You know. Just in case I’m an unknown carrier from picking up the virus from someone in Canada.
The drive down to Longview was low risk. I used the washrooms in Starbucks but didn’t get close to anyone inside the store and didn’t order anything. Washed my hands real good, and used a paper towel to open the door.
I’m more concerned about food preparation from someone who might have the virus or otherwise not following good hygiene.
I packed my own food and drink for the journey. Generally I don’t find myself getting too hungry or thirsty when I’m driving.
What happens next?
Next border crossing I’m booked for is Monday, March 23. Just dropping off trucks and coming back to Canada.
So much unknown. And uncertainty. We probably won’t know until the last minute if we can get through the border importing trucks.
I’m just glad for any work and income.
Click on the statement below to read about crossing the USA/Canada border on Canada’s border services website.