In the early evening hours of August 26th, 2019 another local courier company called me in a panic: the hazmat driver they had secured for an extremely hot shipment of dangerous goods was no longer able to recover their freight as planned that night from the airport in Lowell, Massachusetts. The owner of the courier company, another woman for whom I’m partial simply because there are so few women in this industry, pleaded, “Do you know any hazmat-certified drivers who could help me out with a load tonight?”. As luck would have it, I did! “SA” as I will call her, is an owner-operator with a sprinter van who has been working in the rush-trucking and courier industry for the past 40 years. Before she drove the cargo van she drivers now, she was driving CDL trucks with a GVW under 26,000lbs! To say she was a pioneer is a bit of an understatement – when she began driving there were scant women in the trucking industry at all, and even fewer female truck drivers. As SA has gotten older, she has downsized the vehicle she drives but increased her skill set by passing a test and undergoing a background check in order to become certified to transport hazardous goods.
When I called SA about the potential job her first question, as it always is, was, “What is the freight?”. I told her the only information I was given was that the load contained “infectious substances”. A Boston-born and bred broad with a thick accent to match her attitude, she responded in kind without missing a bit, “Infectious substances? Are we talking the common cold here or the f**cking Ebola virus?” I laughed nonchalantly, assuming we weren’t dealing with anything as toxic or newsworthy as Ebola. I told her I would do some further investigating and get back to her. Well you can imagine my surprise when the courier company with whom I originally spoke confirmed that the freight they needed transported was in fact the Ebolavirus along with the Sudanvirus, the Marburgvirus, and Dengue Fever! All the viruses were securely packed in dry ice in a Fibreboard box and would be traveling with a CDC-approved, armed security guard equipped with a clean-up kit in the event of an accident or spill mandating emergency management services were necessary. The viruses needed to be delivered to Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (or NEIDL for short), another highly secured facility.
After some initial coaxing regarding the safety and security of the box in which the viruses were shipped, SA agreed to the job, and as is always the case with any job she undertakes, the delivery was made courteously, punctually, and professionally.
I describe this shipment in particular because it served to me as a general reminder that we all, myself included and I work in this industry, take for granted the various means by which freight of all kinds flows through our region, our country, and the world. These viruses came to Boston via Texas and before they were flown to Texas they were most certainly harvested somewhere in Africa, the only place where Ebola is present (thank god). The people that transport these items – some as small as a test tube, others as large as a container full of retail items from China – are often nameless, faceless blue-collar workers to many of us. But they all have a story. SA, in addition to being a truck/van driver, is also a jazz saxophone player having spent four years attending Berklee’s College of music in Boston. In addition to delivering loads of trivial items in her 40 plus years as a truck/courier driver, here’s hoping that at some point in the not so distant future, she can claim to have helped, in her own small way, to eradicate the Ebola virus.