"It feels like you are in India, you see your community all around."
July 1, 2019 8:23 AM   Subscribe

As the U.S. trucking industry is facing critical shortage of drivers (NPR), more than 30,000 Indian-American Sikhs have entered the trucking industry in 2 years (CBS News, 2018). Sikh drivers are transforming U.S. trucking. Take a ride along the Punjabi American highway (Los Angeles Times with a short video). As the number of drivers of Indian heritage increase, so do the number of Indian food restaurants in truck stops -- for example, One Of The State’s Best Restaurants Is Hiding Inside A Nebraska Truck Stop (Only In Your State), a peak inside the Punjabi-style Indian restaurant in Overton (Lexington Clipper-Herald).
posted by filthy light thief (38 comments total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
 
More from L.A. Times: How a rural Oklahoma truck stop became a destination for Sikh Punjabis crossing America.

And from Al Jazeera: Trucking and the Indians hoping to cross the US-Mexico border.

As mentioned in the initial L.A. Times articles, here's Punjabi Trucking, the website for the North American Punjabi Trucking Association, founded in 2018.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 AM on July 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I just drove through Nebraska and was wondering about that restaurant! The whole "Jay Brothers Truck Stop Taste of India" thing certainly piqued my interest. If I'm ever traveling through there sans dog I'll have to stop!
posted by obfuscation at 8:33 AM on July 1, 2019


The L.A. Times articles mentions a few notable restaurants, for truckers and travelers alike. I'll promote one location in New Mexico: Bombay Restaurant and Buffet Truck Stop on the west side of Gallup, which is in what looks like a former truck stop diner.

Really good food, and when I was there a few years back, it was playing an Indian TV channel from NYC, which confused me at first, because there was an ad for an Indian grocery store, which surprised me to hear there was such a shop in Gallup. Then they mentioned the address, and it all made sense.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


There is a truck stop near downtown Oklahoma City that has had an Indian restaurant and grocery store for years.
posted by Quonab at 8:41 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I had some really great Indian food from a gas station in West Virginia once, and it never occurred to me that it might have been because it was also pretty near a trucking depot.
posted by Copronymus at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2019


This is mirroring a demographic shift we've already seen in Canada. 1/5 of truck drivers in Canada, 1/4 in Ontario, and 1/3 in BC are South Asian.
posted by thecjm at 8:54 AM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Yup. Truckers treated like shit with bad pay and conditions (one of many articles on this topic), so only people willing to do that (i.e., immigrant cultures) will take the jobs.
posted by Melismata at 9:02 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


As the number of drivers of Indian heritage increase, so do the number of Indian food restaurants in truck stops

I've watched Indian grocery stores also increasingly become more and more mainstream. Whereas most cities I've lived in would maybe have one, it's now pretty common for a city to have at least two or three, if not a full on franchise/chain of stores. It's something that makes me smile. Thanks for this lovely post.
posted by Fizz at 9:05 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


Please give me trucker country\bollywood music!
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 9:05 AM on July 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


Looks like trucker music videos already exist: Long Route
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:15 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


There's also this music video for Transportiye, from the LA Times article.
posted by exogenous at 9:27 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


One of the places we'd always stop on road trips, in northern Iowa, went under and was sold to the owners of that truck stop in Nebraska! It sounds like they are planning on opening an Indian restaurant there and I am so excited to check it out on our next trip through the area.
posted by beandip at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2019


Ha! My brother-in-law and his family live in North Platte while we live in the Tuck. We meet at this restaurant for lunch at least once a month because, while it is closer to him, it is the best Indian food west of Omaha.
posted by Fezboy! at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is super interesting but i do wish American reporting on Indian-ness could do a bit better with some of the nuance. The "Punjabi-style" style restaurant run by Gujaratis isnt Punjabi-style because that food is close to the food the proprietors grew up with - its Punjabi because thats what, presumably, their largely Sikh (and, by association Punjabi) clientele wants.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:59 AM on July 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


I'm surprised that the only one of these stories that includes the word dhaba is the one from Al Jazeera.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:01 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


In Boston, Indian food is generally seen as high end (because it isn't boiled to death and has actual flavor - not something you're supposed to indulge in every day.) So the restaurants are decorated and priced with that in mind. Except for one place. It's called the Punjabi Dhabba, and it is deliberately dressed down and priced to appeal to homesick Indians, and deliberately looks like an Indian truck stop.

If every town had one of those, I'd actually consider driving a truck for a living. Normally truckers commit slow suicide behind the wheel, and slow suicide eating diner fare at every town. Replacing the diners with Indian dhabbas would actually make trucking a decent occupation.
posted by ocschwar at 10:02 AM on July 1, 2019 [6 favorites]



Please give me trucker country\bollywood music!


Please
posted by mit5urugi at 10:47 AM on July 1, 2019


As I commented in a previous post, I drove and dispatched ag trucks for a few summers in college. Working in California's Central Valley, the driver pool was diverse. There were two demographics that grew every year. The first were drivers from former Soviet states, since the fall of communism, a large number of Ukrainians emigrated to the central valley. It isn't easy to verify employment when they drove the Russian Steppes for 20 years. That wave has probably tapered off.

The other group were the Sikhs. You learned first names because almost all had the last name of Singh. If it wasn't Singh, it was Gill. The main difference is that there was already a sizable South Asian community in California, so it didn't really have to flower along the interstates and trucking hubs.
posted by Badgermann at 10:55 AM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]




When i read the first sentence of the first post, my first thought was "that explains how Truck Stop 40 has been able to stay in business" and then lo and be hold, there is an article about them in the second post. My impression of the owners has been that they are pretty savvy and it is an impressive feat that they are holding their own against the big chains of Love's, Flying J and TA of America, all of which have a location with a couple miles of them.
posted by domino at 11:17 AM on July 1, 2019


I haven't had a chance to try it, but there is one of these just off I-40 in Mulberry, Arkansas. Kountry Xpress/India Restaurant
posted by lilywing13 at 11:28 AM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


For more info on the India Restaurant in Mulberry Arkansas, see this Oral history with its proprietor, Satish Sharma. (I do love the southern foodways alliance something fierce).

They do some of their shopping in nearby Fayettville and for other products either go to Kansas City of back to Chicago (where they lived before moving to Arkansas).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:37 AM on July 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


My nephew goes to one of the Central Lakes College two-year programs for heavy equipment operation.

He earned his commercial license (CDL) at the start of his first year, and already has received offers to drop out and drive a semi full-time for $60,000. (Granted the kid has a great hand backing up a trailer, but still!)

He's been told that nation-wide, the estimated shortage is 100,000 qualified drivers of big trucks. *boggle*

(Note: said nephew is not Sikh; he is a 6'7" kid from the Twin Cities.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


wenestvedt: My nephew goes to one of the Central Lakes College two-year programs for heavy equipment operation.

He earned his commercial license (CDL) at the start of his first year, and already has received offers to drop out and drive a semi full-time for $60,000. (Granted the kid has a great hand backing up a trailer, but still!)

He's been told that nation-wide, the estimated shortage is 100,000 qualified drivers of big trucks. *boggle*


That's on the high end for current shortages, but definitely in line with future forecasts. From the NPR link:
The American Trucking Associations figures companies need about 60,000 drivers, a number that could top 100,000 in just a few years.
...
"It's certainly a natural market reaction whenever there's a shortage — pay goes up, and we've seen that," says Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.

Costello says trucking companies boosted pay sharply last year. Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transportation Institute, figures that increase was close to 10 percent on average, which would make average driver salaries crest at $60,000 by his estimates. And Costello says truckers are demanding more than good pay.

"If you're not getting a 401(k), health care, paid time off, you need to get a different job, because you can get all of that," says Costello.
Still, a grueling job. 11 to 12 hours in the truck per day is tough, and I'm glad folks are doing it.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:44 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I thought long haul trucking was supposed to be totally automated soon?
posted by Marky at 1:05 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


We provided CDL training as one of our "in demand" with a good standard of living for relatively little training required at my non-profit. It is in danger of being automated out, but that is still a ways off. Soon is relative when you can get a CDL and start making much more than you would at a retail job.

We also had electrical certification and CNA certification, I believe. Some other stuff too.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:13 PM on July 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Marky: I thought long haul trucking was supposed to be totally automated soon?

Just like the rest of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) discussions, autonomous truck freight has seen its share of speculation, forecasts, and tech demos. As noted in that article, "driverless trucks are now used extensively in the mining industry and it's certain this technology will impact other parts of transport and distribution." But mines are closed, controlled sites, quite the opposite of public roadways. Still, a semi-autonomous truck made it from Los Angeles, CA to Jacksonville, FL, with "minimal human intervention" in Feb. 2018 (The Drive), expanding Embark's Frigidaire refrigerator delivery route from El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California (Wired, Nov. 2017).

But as with Teslas that allow you, unofficially, to sleep at the wheel (Ars Technica), there's some point where human interaction is still needed, for now. That "last mile" for deliveries, and for CAV certainty, is what will take the longest, as there are plenty of scenarios where autonomous vehicles aren't great ... yet.

So in the meantime, federal hours of service regulations (FMCSA) that currently limit how long a trucker can drive could possibly be extended for semi-autonomous big rigs, to help patch or stretch driver capacity to reduce the driver shortage, and make the job less stressful.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:44 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


There was a MeFi post previously about a series of YouTube videos by a young Indian man who decided to hitchhike around America. He has other videos in which he hitchhikes in Malaysia, Russia, and Thailand, so he figured the USA would be a breeze.

He is almost completely unsuccessful. Nobody picks up hitchers anymore. His tried-and-true technique is to hang around truck stops, but every trucker tells him the same: "the company won't let us take passengers anymore; it's a liability thing." His only luck is with the occasional independent operator, or with CouchSurfing hosts who are happy to pick him up and take him places.

Until he discovers the Punjabi Trucking Brotherhood. He runs into one of those guys in the TV lounge of a truck stop, and when that guy finds out what he's doing, it's "hop on board!", company policy be damned. As they drive the long haul through small-town America, the trucker gets on the CB to his Punjabi buddies, and our hero's got his rides taken care of for the rest of his trip. The YouTuber is from South Asia, not a Sikh, if I remember correctly, but it doesn't matter -- none of them are going to let a fellow-countryman stand on the side of the road.

So it's one of those videos that turned into a documentary of something unexpected both for the viewers and the filmmaker. It's the Sherman's March of Indian hitchhiker vids.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:48 PM on July 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


I saw the LA Times article right before an I-5/Oregon road trip this weekend! So far, Oregon is currently the northernmost site west of the Mississippi on this Punjabi Trucking food map.

Was going to stop at Cottage Grove, OR's Spice of India (off exit 174) yesterday, but we got hungry earlier and hit Roseburg's "Shanti's Indian Cuisine" off exit 125. Amazing naan. Randevs run it according to their business cards, so there's a chance that it's Punjabi-run.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 3:50 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Please give me trucker country\bollywood music!

And containerloads delivered by lavishly painted flower-bedecked juggernauts.
posted by acb at 4:00 PM on July 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately none of the ones on that map are on any of my usual driving routes, but hopefully the expansion will continue.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:18 PM on July 1, 2019


ACB - I just came here to say the same thing. Imagine Convoy with these rigs and with the highway diner fight scene done like this (warning: proper bonkers).
posted by Devonian at 5:31 PM on July 1, 2019


This echoes the beginnings of the adoption of 'Indian' cuisine within the UK. Just as the food became more Anglicised as it became more popular, with UK only creations such as chicken tikka masala, then I expect the same to happen in the US.

Seek out the authentic (mainly if not exclusively vegetarian) stuff while you can.
posted by epo at 3:39 AM on July 2, 2019


Well, it's still going to be authentic, it's just going to be authentic Indian-American. But I do feel lucky that there's a number of South Indian restaurants in my area, as I do adore a good dosa, and more meat-friendly Indian cuisines seem likely to be the ones that go national.
posted by tavella at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Many years ago in Seattle, where Sikh taxi drivers were common at the time, I saw a cab driven by a turbaned man, with a bumper sticker that read: “Sikh Transit.”
posted by spitbull at 8:02 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Did I miss something in this thread? What part of Indian food prepared by Indian American restaurant/truck stop owners for Indian American drivers is inauthentic? And who the fuck are you (is anyone) to say that?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:22 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Dhabas, India’s culinary signposts

Dhabas are an inseparable part of our road journeys. Fauji dhaba, Pehelwan dhaba, Sher-e-Punjab — the names line our highways and stay in our memories. ... The origin of the dhaba is nebulous. It is said they sprouted on either side of The Grand Trunk Road and other highways during the 20th century, essentially to serve the truckers. The menu reflected the fact that most truckers came from Punjab. Interestingly, many iconic dhabas are not located on the highway. For instance, Amritsar’s famous Kesar da Dhaba was founded in 1916 in Sheikhupura, Pakistan and moved to the walled city of Amritsar after Partition. Today, waiters serve its famous dal fry and chapatti in red T-shirts.

In a sense, dhabas are part of our shared heritage with Pakistan; something the Delhi to Lahore dhaba trail from December 23-28 seeks to relive. (See box) Several dhabas have now acquired legendary status. Puran Singh Ka Mashhoor Vishal Dhaba (near bus stand, Ambala Cant), Sharma Dhaba on the Jaipur-Sikar road and Sukhdev Dhaba at Murthal are some names that spring to mind. The upward mobility of dhabas is part of the larger India growth story. At many places, charpoys have made way for gaudy plastic chairs and tables. Some dhabas now even have a separate air-conditioned section. Many dhabas have upgraded their wares and expanded their menus. Note how several gourmet eateries and five-star restaurants replicate the dhaba look.

posted by Mrs Potato at 1:15 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


spitbull: Many years ago in Seattle, where Sikh taxi drivers were common at the time, I saw a cab driven by a turbaned man, with a bumper sticker that read: “Sikh Transit.”

I recently passed a semi that was marked as being driven by a/the "super Sihk," who was praying for everyone, which made me pretty happy in that moment, and I mentally thanked the driver for sharing their positive message.

I hadn't thought about that until your comment, and sadly, I can't find a picture or story about that driver online.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:36 PM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


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