‘Routier’ Restaurants Offer French Truckers a Lifeline Amid Lockdown

Les EssartsleRoi, France, Nov 26 (AFP/APP): After a long day on the road, Didier Huaume saw little to cheer as he sipped a beer with fellow truck drivers at a brightly lit cafe, as President Emmanuel Macron announced a phased easing of France’s coronavirus lockdown.

Restaurants will remain closed until further notice, Macron told the nation Tuesday, which means Huaume will get a hot sit-down meal and a shower only when he can reach one of the few roadside diners still allowed to serve long-haul truckers.

“They should have opened all the ‘routier’ restaurants, all across France, because there comes a point when you’re just stranded,” said Huaume, 59, at La Grace de Dieu (By the Grace of God), a cafe on the outskirts of Les Essarts-le-Roi, southwest of Paris. France counts around 1,200 ‘routiers,’ offering no-fuss fare and a chance for drivers to relax before returning to their trucks to sleep and another day behind the wheel.

But in order to combat the pandemic, authorities are letting just 364 of them open, including La Grace de Dieu, and only from 6:00 pm until 10 in the morning. “If you’re stuck somewhere at night and there’s nothing around, what do you do? How do you keep yourself clean? And above all, what do you do for breakfast?” Huaume said. “It’s a serious problem.” Jean-Luc Monteiller, 53, was also among the few dozen drivers — all men — savouring his evening at La Grace de Dieu, whose glazed azulejo tiles on the wall hint at the Portuguese roots of the family that owns it.

The night before, Monteiller was able to find a take-out meal outside Orleans that he ended up eating in his truck, but there was no chance of breakfast. “So I drove a while to find a gas station where I could have a coffee and wash up a bit,” he said, before heading to take a shower downstairs.

Like family

“For us, a restaurant isn’t a luxury — it’s not the place where you take your wife on Saturday night,” said Frederic Moreau, 47, as he drank a white wine and blackcurrant liqueur aperitif with a colleague after a day of hauling grain. Their table looked out on a row of trucks parked along the busy N10 highway, which cuts through the forests between the former royal estates of Versailles and Rambouillet. “The only thing we want is to see all restaurants reopen soon,” Moreau said. “It’s a matter of being able to take a shower, of being able to eat normally, of not having to eat in the truck — we’re in the truck all day!”

As the evening went on, the atmosphere became more relaxed, as did the social distancing — several tables had groups of two or three, and few of the drivers wore face masks. “Other people go home to spend the evening with someone, but we also have the right to a minimum of social life,” said Monteiller, who like most drivers is on the road from Monday morning to Friday night. “It’s a little bit like family here — we might not know each other, come from two different regions, but we always end up in the same restaurants,” said Huaume, who said he was eight months away from retiring after 40 years of driving.

For Rui Da Rocha, the 43-year-old manager of La Grace de Dieu, being able to offer a full meal for just 13 euros ($15.50) is a privilege, “because around here, we’re the only restaurant open.” The sign on the stone facade outside touts his family’s suckling pig, grilled chicken and other specialities. “We’re providing something to eat for the people who are working,” Da Rocha said. “And it keeps us working.”

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