“For the last nine years I’ve been a truck driver, and for the last eight years I’ve been a hazmat truck driver hauling fuel around the Chicagoland area. I was a high-specialty worker, so I worked for rails, airport, everything you could think of. I fueled Chicago’s buses, trains and planes and everything.”

“A week before the shutdown, I decided to start looking for work, and in my industry, you have to do background checks, drug tests, etc., so it takes a while before you get cleared to come into a job. Due to the shutdown, every tanker company in the Chicagoland area was furloughing or firing workers and shutting their doors.”

“My husband was working for a small company. They ended up having to close because their jobs were not considered essential, even though they were installing grab bars and walk-in bathtubs for the elderly.”

“A lot of those guys lost their jobs and their businesses, so my husband ended up without a job. The only thing we could find were jobs at a local gas station in our town. And we went from making almost $90,000 a year to around $14,000, because they didn’t have full hours, medical benefits, they had nothing.”

“And we’re not the type of people to avoid paying our rent when the landlords need it too, but we were getting to the point where we couldn’t pay rent.”

“So, we cashed out my 401(k). We got caught up on the rent and everything and tried to catch up on medical expenses and our bills. By the grace of God, I pulled out the 401(k) before the stock market completely tanked out. A lot of my friends, they lost all their money in their 401(k)s.”

“I could not bring myself to go back over-the-road as a mom. That is a very hard deal when you have two daughters at home to go back over-the-road, knowing that you’re not going to see them for six months at a time.”

“My husband and I had a discussion, and we decided that I was going to take our last $100 and the only car we had and drive down to Nashville to interview for jobs.”

“Within a week I got an offer from a company, and I started sleeping in my car, saving my money.”

“On the weekends I would literally work a 14-hour shift on Friday, get into my personal car, drive back up to Chicago to see my family for 36 hours, get back into my car, drive back down into Knoxville, sleep in my car and go back into training for Monday morning. I did this for two and a half months. I only got the hotel rooms for a couple of weeks, and after that it was me sleeping in my car, working, and using truck stops to shower or couch surfing with new friends in Tennessee.”

“We had a lot of support from friends and family. My mother helped and friends would help with picking up groceries. My girlfriend Amanda Pijnapple, who is a saint and a single mother living in St. Charles, would take a little bit of time to go and pick up my husband once a week and take him to the grocery store with the money I would send up or leave from the weekend before.”

“My plan was I had to save every check I had, because I had the mindset of how things work in the Chicagoland area when you rent, you need first month, last month and a security deposit, all equal to a month’s rent, so for us about five grand.”

“I didn’t realize coming down to Tennessee, they don’t do that. They only wanted about $500 for a security deposit.”

“The weekend we reserved our U-Haul, there was a record number of one-way rentals out of Illinois, so our friends drove my husband over 100 miles to downstate Illinois to get a U-Haul and drove back up towards the Chicagoland area.”

“My husband and I lived in Illinois for almost 30 years. We’ve gone through our ups and downs. We’ve lived in the ghettos. We’ve lived in the suburbs. We’ve lived in every aspect of living you can think of in the Chicagoland area. My husband and I gleefully and proudly say that we’ve gotten to live it, because it makes us who we are today.”

“But I have never bounced back so fast in my life from having to deal with being completely homeless, pretty much, to start over new into a whole new world because this is culture shock. This is not like Chicago at all.”

“And, you know, my kids are in class, instead of like their friends in Illinois who are still e-learning.

“I cried when I received my first paycheck here because I did the math as if I was still living in Illinois, and when I looked at it and saw $500 more in my paycheck than I had calculated, I finally realized that we weren’t going to live paycheck to paycheck anymore.”

“It was going to be okay.”

“And within the first two months of my husband being down here I was able to buy a second car, and my husband found a new job right away. There’s so much enterprise here that there’s work to be had everywhere; everybody’s hiring.”

“Down here you pay one-eighth of the property tax and you can afford more land compared to Illinois. And I finally see that I’m going to probably actually own land here in a year or two, whereas I always wanted that in Illinois, but it wasn’t an option.”

“It was a struggle for my kids to have to go through the school closures. My daughter didn’t get to walk down the aisle for graduation last year. But now she’s down here and she’s very happy studying to attend college later this year through the Tennessee Promise for adults. We still have a few more months until we gain residency, but then she can receive two years of free community college.”

“And my youngest daughter, she’s actually making strides and making friends. She went through a lot of depression in the beginning of the pandemic. It was hard for her to cope with not seeing her friends anymore, but she’s completely blossomed and I can see she’s no longer depressed.”

“We loved Illinois. My husband and I grew up in Illinois, and lived there over 30 years, and we still visit friends and family monthly, but we’ve never bounced back so quickly. Illinois’ policies work against the small business owners and low-income families.”

“All Illinois has ever done is pay off their debts and their loans for politicians taking two or three pensions because they refuse to change the constitution. All they would have to do is rewrite it. I’d love to see that happen and Illinois become more open-minded and open-hearted, a political ideology where everyone can talk and move forward together.”

“As much as we struggled to finally get down here and we lost a lot financially and personally, the benefits outweighed our sacrifices coming down here.”

Tabitha Hardin
Fuel delivery specialist
Murfreesboro, Tennessee