Punjabi Truckers on American Highways
A large number of transportation lorry drivers in India are from Punjab. Now, many enterprising Punjabi Americans are carving a niche for themselves in the American trucking world. Here’s a fascinating look at their unique challenges and triumphs.
[ Left ] The entice of the open road, and the independence it offers, attracts many Punjabis to trucking.
The cross-country road trip is a quintessential american english have. The apparently endless open roads cutting through the barren, rugged landscapes of the West, mountains of the Appalachian, farmlands, small towns, and then much more, are wide of bird’s-eye sights, knickknack, and venture .
The massive 18-wheeler semi-trucks—the commercial gladiators of the country ’ s voluminous interstates— are a common batch on these roads. These adult rigs have long held intrigue in American popular culture, including in Hollywood movies such as Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit. The stereo- distinctive american teamster is the towering big guy with tattoo arms, bordering between mesomorphic and corpulence, gobbling down clubhouse sandwiches, burgers, and barbecue at pit stops .
Turbaned Sikh truckers greeting each early with “ Sat Shri Akaal ” and relishing chicken tikka masala or saag-paneer with tandoori naan at a distinctive Indian-style wayside dhaba in the middle of Wyoming, for case, is a view that would have been impossible equitable a few years back .
As out of locate it may seem, it has now come to pass that there are over 30,000 Punjabi truck drivers on american highways—that ’ sulfur about one-fifth of the full number of truckers in America. The Sikh Political Action Committee estimates the entire number of Punjabis in trucking—including jobbers, trucking companies, truck schools, truck stops, truck washes, and more—amount to around 150,000 .
[ Right ] Raman Dhillon, founder of The north american Punjabi Trucking Association ( NAPTA )
then, what is responsible for this interest rise of Punjabi truckers on american roads ? To Raman Dhillon, founder of The north american english Punjabi Trucking Association ( NAPTA ), this tendency is not storm, considering this community besides dominates the hauling scenery in India. “ My father became a teamster at 16 years of age. I was driving a truck while in college in India. I started driving in the U.S. in 1996. ” Dhillon besides publishes Punjabi Trucking, a monthly magazine with a circulation of 10,000 copies and about 150,000 unique visitors per month on its website—a testament to the growing size of this segment .
The advance of Sikh immigrants in the U.S. in the late eighties and early nineties coincided with rapid grinding and turnover in the hauling diligence in the U.S. due to changing regulations. Punjabis, with a long history of hauling in India, soon started filling this opening. “ It is in our rake ! It is the profession of option for many of us because of the first gear barrier to entry and high pay, ” says Dhillon .
Jitamber Singh Bedi, another teamster from California, shares a memory attesting how near hauling is to their hearts. many years back, when he was newly in the U.S., he had taken a Greyhound bus from New York City to San Francisco. “ In Nebraska we were passing a truck. I looked at it, and a think on the spur of the moment popped in my thinker that someday I am going to be driving one of these. Sixteen years late I was driving an 18-wheeler on the like stretch of I-80, and I thought back to that Greyhound tripper. ”
Balvinder Singh Saini, who used to be a teamster for many years, and now operates a dhaba off I-5 in Bakersfield, California, offers his public opinion on why his community gravitates towards trucking in the U.S., “ Punjabis are warriors by nature. They are mugwump in their intelligent and prefer to have their own businesses. limited education and lack of eloquence in the english language leaves some with few career choices. In hauling, they can make effective money, be mugwump, and hope to own a large hauling business one day.It is an easy industry for them to understand as others before them can show them the way. If person they know is in the business, they follow courtship. ”
[ Bottom ] Jitamber Singh Bedi had been dreaming of trucking since he moved to the U.S.
interestingly though, not all Punjabi truckers fit into the mold described by Saini. There are many highly educated and qualified outliers who are drawn to trucking. Raja Sekhon, an ex-Indian Air Force policeman and calibrate of India ’ s National Defense Academy who has logged about 500,000 miles on american highways as a long-haul teamster, says “ Driving is therapeutic. I like the silence. I am in my cocoon. I don ’ t have to talk to people. I enjoy my company. My children are grown up. If I had young children I would have liked to be with them but at this stage of my life sentence, I like being with myself, ” he says about the have of being on the road for hours at a stretch .
just when you think it is a man ’ s domain, you have women like Gurjeet Kaur Randhwa helming these giant machines. A former national-level field-hockey musician in India and a amber medalist in physical education, she was a Professor at Women ’ s College, Amritsar before moving to the United States. She immediately dexterously navigates the bad rig across Central Valley, California, carrying fresh produce to dinner tables across the area .
[ Left ] Raja Sekhon, an ex-Indian Air Force policeman and alumnus of India ’ s National Defense Academy who has logged about 500,000 miles on american highways as a long-haul teamster, says “ Driving is therapeutic. ”
[ Right bottomland ] Gurjeet Kaur Randhwa, a former national-level field-hockey actor in India and a gold medalist in physical education, was a Professor at Women ’ s College, Amritsar. She immediately deftly navigates the adult swindle across America, driving close to 200,000 miles per year, when teamed up with her husband.
Speaking about why she got into trucking Randhwa says, “ Money attracted me to truck driving. We were fresh to America. I had tried my hand at many things, ncluding being a lab technician. At the lapp time, I besides wanted to be an entrepreneur for the independence it offered. But you need seed money to start a business. meanwhile, my conserve started earning a big income as a teamster. We realized that with an investment of about $ 30,000, we could start a hauling occupation and double our returns if we both drove in concert, taking turns and doubling the number of miles driven by the truck. This was the only way we could be independent business owners. All that was needed was hard work. ”
Having nowadays drive close to 200,000 miles per year through 35 states, Randhwa does not regret her decision. “ Driving a truck boosts one ’ randomness assurance. If the person can manage such a animal, they have to be skilled. Besides, one is not a slave. We are in control condition of our time. We can stop and take a break whenever we want, ” she says .
She besides shares her gladden on how truck enables her to see America up close and personal. “ Driving through modest towns, I have seen the actual America. Unlike tourists who see buildings, I have seen up near how people live. ” And then there are the stunning landscapes and natural beauty that attracts her. Randhwa peculiarly likes Hwy 87 from Seattle to Spokane. “ There are mountains on one side and the river stream on the other. ” A particularly graphic memory that has been etched in her take care is when she was driing through a small township in Ohio, and at dawn, “ the early good morning sunrise from behind the hills, filtering through the fog, was mesmerizing. It was charming ! ”
Dreaming of Dhabas
With Punjabi truckers crisscrossing the country, can Punjabi dhabas be far behind ? That affectionate staple on indian highways, a entrust haven for finger-licking well food and rest for tire lorry drivers. With offerings like butter chicken, daal makhani, nan, tall glasses of lassi and more, these establishments provide a satisfy and economic meal for the road-weary amerind truck drivers. It ’ s a welcome respite from an otherwise farinaceous and dangerous job, considering the senior high school number of fatalities on indian highways .
[ Left ] The egress of dhabas on american highways fall right into the category of “ Who would have thought ? ! ” indeed, it ranks correct on top of the quickly growing markers of the “ Indianization ” of America .
One can only imagine the joy experienced by a desi trucker in the U.S. as he pulls into a replica of the Indian dhaba right here on American interstates—complete with not only the aromatic and familiar food, but also with Punjabi music, turbaned staff, and greetings of “Sat Shri Akaal.” The emergence of dhabas on American highways falls right into the category of “Who would have thought?!” Indeed, it ranks right on top of the rapidly growing markers of the “Indianization” of America.
And yet it is not surprise, considering the growing phone number of Punjabi drivers that routinely drive up and down these interstates. A majority of Punjabi truckers are from Texas and California. I-40, which is the new option to the fabled american interstate Route 66, is the spine of the Sikh truck earth. A total of dhabas and full-service colliery stops catering specifically to Punjabi drivers now channel up the interstates in these regions. Interstate I-5 along with the western and midwestern parts of Interstate I-80 and I-10 are dotted with such establishments .
Truck Stop 40, the dhaba in Sayre, Oklahoma is one of the oldest establishments serving desi drivers. Besides the common offerings of a gas station, appliance store, showers, and lounge ; the Truck Stop 40, run by Harpreet Chhoker, besides offers a 24-hour restaurant and Gurudwara for worship .
Balvinder Singh Saini, a former teamster, operates a dhaba with his wife, Mansi Tiwari, and a small staff of relatives. At his localization off I-5 in Bakersfield, California, tables have been set up outside and mask clients are seated six feet apart. There is ample parking space for truckers to pull in. Twelve dollars will buy four hale wheat rotis along with daal or a treat of lean butt kernel dress. Creamy steaming chai is a given .
Saini ’ s dhaba feels like a assemble of home. It has Punjabi music and movies on the wall-hung TVs. The ladies in the kitchen, much like aunts back in Punjab, wear indian salwar trousers and kameez shirts, and share family chew the fat while they hand-roll rotis. Saini himself stops and chats with diners with tales of his own, watching indulgently as his customers devour their meals. “ It is not just the body of the teamster, it is the liveliness that gets nourished at these dhabas, ” says Saini .
[ Right ] “ It is not equitable the torso of the teamster, it is the emotional state that gets nourished at these dhabas, ” says Balvinder Singh Saini, owner of Punjabi Dhaba food truck in Bakersfield, California
incidentally, not all Punjabi truckers are fans of dhabas. Jitamber Singh Bedi thinks they are overpriced. Raja Sekhon has never eaten at a dhaba, as he prefers to pack home cooked food. Randhwa excessively prefers to pack alimentary food for herself. If she has to eat out, she prefers a salad or a vegetable sandwich at Subway alternatively of dhaba. She says the dhabas are democratic with young Punjabi drivers, many of whom are holocene arrivals from India, because they get food they are conversant with even on american english countryside .
Road Warriors: The Hazards of Being A Long-haul Truck Driver
As with most occupations, hanker haul truck comes with its own stage set of formidable challenges. “ When you are driving a vehicle that weighs 80,000 pound, and which takes an entire football airfield duration to come to a full break, you in truth are riding a rocket. It is a herculean machine, and any humble mistake can have magnified consequences, ” explains Randhwa who routinely sees road accidents, some with fatalities .
A particularly traumatic experience was when she and her conserve found themselves pulled into the nightmare of a black accident that unfolded right in front of their eyes. “ We were driving to Spokane. At around 9:00 prime minister, a class with three young children passed us. The conserve was driving. abruptly, they were hit, head on, by a car driving the wrong way. immediately, the cars exploded. I stepped hard on the brakes. We could see the children as the car catch fire. My husband immediately jumped out with the fire fire extinguisher to put out the ardor. meanwhile, I swerved the truck to block traffic. A batting order of trucks stopped behind us. many other truckers besides came running with their fire extinguishers. They put out the arouse. But by that time, the father ’ s legs, which had been squashed inside the car, were wholly burn. He was screaming in pain. My husband and early truckers broke the windowpane. I shone my high beams on the car as they pulled him out. The wife, in the front passenger seat, was dead. thankfully, the children were pulled out, and by and by a helicopter airlifted the father to a hospital. A sober up incident for Randhwa, she recalls seeing the kin as they passed by her truck. There was a child in a pamper seat, and two fiddling girls, both seemed younger than five years, alongside the baby.
Sekhon excessively has been in an accident. “ At four in the morning, I was jolted from rest and thrown around the truck. My co-driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and the hand truck had gone off the highway. Ambulances rushed to the scenery. I tore my shoulder ligament, and my L-3 vertebra broke. ” Asked what he does to stay alert while driving, Sekhon says, “ I like listening to old music. I don ’ t make calls on the phone. When I shut the music, I enjoy my own company and the nature around me. ”
“ This is a tough job. This occupation requires composure. If the driver gets distracted, it is dangerous. The driver must forget all their worries and stay calm at all times, ” points out Randhwa somberly .
not surprisingly, submission requirements for truckers are rigorous to ensure safety for themselves a well as early drivers on the roads. The issue of hours on the road is strongly regulated by the Department of Transportation ( DOT ). After being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours, a teamster is allowed to drive for astir to 11 hours in a period of 14 consecutive hours. The truck ’ s Electronic Logging Device ( ELD ) system makes a notice of the total of hours the driver has been on the road. The driver must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting place, and eight hours if transporting passengers .
The health stipulations for truckers are just as rigorous. To maintain her hand truck driver ’ second license, Randhwa must ensure her lineage atmospheric pressure and diabetes is within the acceptable range. Gurjeet ’ s medical examination report is depart of her drive read. It is filed electronically by the Medical Examiner ( ME ) with DOT bi-annually. Any drop in health indices would mean she loses her license or at best, gets recertified every year .
The looming menace of annual aesculapian exams that can choke off their support, puts press on hand truck drivers to manage the perils of their sedentary life style that consequence from long hours of driving .
[ Left ] The health conscious Raja Sekhon packs alimentary home cooked food for his clock on the road. A typical meal includes rotis made from spell flour, daal, saag, and dahi. He besides packs respective herbal remedies and healthy snacks such as ginger, turmeric, honey, dry nuts, prunes, dates, figs, homemade gluten-free cookies, Metamucil, and enough of warm water. [ right ] Sekhon ’ s comfortable bed in his truck .
long draw truck drivers in the U.S. have been found to have increased health risks and conditions such as fleshiness, diabetes, and cardiovascular risk factors. A pilot study on health and safety for truckers, published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that commercial truck drivers have a 50 percentage higher risk of developing diabetes compared to the general population and that 87 percentage of truck drivers have high blood pressure or prehypertension .
As a double hex, South Asians have four to fivefold higher risk for Type 2 diabetes compared to other asian migrant groups. This means south asian hand truck drivers are particularly at high risk when it comes to illnesses that become more likely with sedentary jobs. “ Sedentary life style and erratic sleep drive you if bad food on the road doesn ’ thyroxine, ” says Jitamber Singh Bedi. “ Sitting for ten hours a day for ten-spot days at a stretch, the truck driver is a sitting duck for diseases like diabetes, ” he says .
irregular eating habits and dehydration farther strain the arrangement. As truckers are paid by the mile, every public toilet stop costs precious time. Bedi is constantly worried about taking public toilet breaks and consequently restricts the consumption of much needed fluids to stay hydrated. This is a common rehearse and leads to more instances of voiding dysfunction, sterility, urolithiasis, bladder cancer, and urinary infections as compared to nonprofessional drivers as explained in a report from the Department of Urology, NYU Langone Medical Center .
Taking Health in Their Own Hands
Knowing the health risks stacked against them, the desi truckers are increasingly health conscious in their food choices while on the road. Randhwa ‘s prepare in nutriment comes in handy as she plans for her time on the road. When driving her truck, she carries subzis or vegetable curries for her meals. She wraps the chapatti or flatbreads individually in airtight packs to keep them fresh long. Every truck has a little rest sphere behind the driver ’ s seat. It holds a miniskirt refrigerator, a microwave, and a bed to lay on .
When Raja Sekhon embarks on his five-day travel carrying a cargo of clean produce across the U.S. and Canada, he packs his own food and avoids junk food a well as sodas. “ From home plate I bring rotis made from spell flour, daal, saag, and dahi. That ’ s my diet on the road. ” Each day Sekhon besides consumes ginger, turmeric, beloved, dry nuts, prunes, dates, figs, homemade gluten-free cookies, Metamucil, and enough of warm urine .
Randhwa is vegetarian when on the road and thinks that most Punjabi hand truck drivers excessively are largely vegetarian while driving. sikhism, the religion of majority of Punjabi truck drivers, stipulates preference for a vegetarian diet. “ Driving long hours, as we do, one decidedly wants the blessings of the Guru with us, ” says Randhwa. “ It is harder to find vegetarian food on the road. We find long lines of truckers at Subway ordering a vegetarian sandwich. ”
unfortunately, being vegetarian further limits their food-stop choices on the road, so drivers pack alimentary meals before leaving home. On a ten-spot to fifteen-day road travel, there always comes a meter when drivers exhaust their hoard of food and have to buy meals. This is where the driver must make inform choices .
[ Right ] Punjabi Trucking magazine has a circulation of 10,000 print copies and about 150,000 alone visitors on its website.
fortunately, the dhabas nowadays offer healthier choices. Saini, 44, was once a truck driver himself, but health problems forced him to find another way to support his family. “ I make sure the food served to truckers is heart-healthy. The vegetable oil we use is coldness press, the vegetables are non-GMO and organic, the flatbreads are made with whole pale yellow flour, and the food is portable. At times the truckers pick up forty flatbreads at the start of their travel, ” says Saini. He adds, “ We cook locally available seasonal worker vegetables. sometimes this disappoints our clients, but we stay with a limited menu that is sourced locally. ”
To counter the awkwardness and miss of blood circulation on report of hours of nonstop induct while driving, the health-conscious Punjabi drivers are finding their own unique solutions to working out while on a retentive catch. Gurjeet prefers a walk at every end, making sure to cover a few miles. As a female driver, security system is a concern for her. so, she does not wander excessively far from the hand truck, but alternatively circles her 53-foot hanker hand truck, carving out her own track .
Sekhon excessively makes it a compass point to walk an hour each sidereal day that he drives. Besides, he besides uses the step machine and dumbbells he carries in the truck. “ You have to be meet to drive. If I don ’ t work out, I will be lethargic, out of shape, and accident prone. It is my province to stay burst. ”
As the ability to access and monitor healthcare on the road is crucial to the health of the Punjabi truckers, they increasingly use telemedicine to stay healthy on the road and meet their license requirements. The union american Punjabi Trucking Association ( NAPTA ) has negotiated a health plan for truckers that offers portability of policy from one country to the other. This had sol far been a bottleneck to seamless healthcare access. NAPTA wants to ensure that the truckers have access to pharmacy anywhere, and medication can be prescribed to the drugstore closest to the driver. The new criteria allows the driver to video call his repair from anywhere .
A Growing Force in theIndustry
As per an article in the LA Times, Sikh drivers are transforming U.S. truck, “ Over the last ten, indian Americans have launched hauling schools, hand truck companies, hand truck washes, teamster temples, and no-frills indian restaurants modeled after hand truck stops back home, where sikh from the state of Punjab dominate the industry. ”
From the uneducated Punjabi truckers referenced by Balvinder Singh Saini, and knowing and qualified ones like Gurjeet Kaur Randhwa and Raja Sekhon, to enterprising owners who run flourishing truck companies with dozens of trucks ; trucking in America attracts a view of profiles of Punjabis .
Dhillon’s association, NAPTA, has over 1100 members owning over 7000 trucks. Just like Gujarati Patels who started out in the hospitality industry as minions owning small mom and pop motels, and have now become influencers and leaders in the hospitality industry, Punjabis vested in trucking have come a long way in the industry.
Ritu Marwah, formerly a senior executive in Silicon Valley, is an award-winning writer whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, was featured in The New York Times’s Express Tribune blog.
Ritu Marwah, once a senior executive in Silicon Valley, is an award-winning writer whose narrative Jinnah ’ sulfur Daughter, was featured in The New York Times ’ s Express Tribune web log .
Following is a partial list of dhabas in the U.S.
- Punjabi Dhaba 2546 S Union Ave, Bakersfield, CA 93307
- Punjabi Truck Stop (I-40, exit 26) 11561 N 1900 Rd, Sayre, OK 73662
- Panjabi Dhaba Restaurant & Vega Truck Stop 3650, I-40, Vega, TX 79092
- Punjabi Dhaba 48243 Memorial Dr, Newberry Springs, CA 92365
- Taste of India 2405 NM-469, San Jon, NM 88434
- Dillon Truck Stop, 2405 State Highway 469, San Jon, NM (I-40, exit 356)
- Punjabi Dhaba 2650 N Roundup Ave, Kingman, AZ 86401
- Punjabi Dhaba 7311 Hwy 104 N, Cedar Grove, TN 38321
- Tandoori Indian Restaurant 12501 Valley View Rd, Shawnee, OK 74804
- Pilot Truck Stop, southside of Indy (I-495, exit 4)
- Spiceland Truck Plaza, 5809 IN-3, New Castle, IN 47385 (I-70, exit 123)
- Spicy Bite Indian Restaurant, (I-40, exit 79) 1203-1299 Motel Dr, Milan, NM 87021
- Demming Truck Plaza, 1310 W Spruce St, Demming, NM 88030 (I-10, exit 81)
- Punjabi Dhaba 7800 Batavia Rd, Dixon, CA 95620
- Speed Way Cafe I-80 exit, 4, Wendover, UT 84083
- Punjabi Dhaba 500 A Truck Inn Way, Fernley, NV 89408
- Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India 74975 Rd, Overton, NE 68863
- Akal Travel Center 168 Hunt Rd, Laramie, WY 82070
- Akal Travel Center 915 Rd S, Waco, NE 68460 (Exit 360, off I-80)
- Antelope Truck Stop Pronghorn Indian & American Restaurant 4850 I-80 Service Rd, Burns, WY 82053-9808
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