Jasmyn Morris (JM): While many people continue to stay home because of COVID-19, many others are risking their health—even their lives—to keep the country running.
It’s the StoryCorps podcast from NPR. I’m your host Jasmyn Morris.
And on this week’s episode, three stories of how essential workers are finding support from the only other people who truly understand what they’re going through… their colleagues.
Frank de Jesus and Tyrone Hampton are public transit bus drivers in New York City—the hardest hit area in the US when it comes to COVID.
But despite the risks, they’re responsible for helping their passengers (many of whom are also essential workers) get to where they need to go.
Here, Frank tells Tyrone how he ended up behind the wheel.
Frank de Jesus: My father was a bus driver, and um, he would take me to work with him on days that he had no babysitter. And, I just remember that I would sit there right by his feet and he would give me the microphone, and would tell me to say, ‘Lexington and 96 street coming up next.’ So you would hear me in my little baby voice, ‘Lexington and 96 street, up next!’ And I loved it, I thought it was the best job in the world as a kid. So, I’m here because I love the job.
Tyrone Hampton: You know, we take a chance everyday with snowstorms, traffic, you know, people running in front your bus!
FDJ: Through all the trials and tribulations, we do like doing what we do for New York City.
TH: We do, we have a driver’s heart.
TH: But, now our heart is being tested, and it’s one hell of a test.
FDJ: Everyday that we step foot on that bus we come home with the possibility of not infecting ourselves only, but our loved ones.
TH: You know, we’ve seen a lot of brothers die, a lot of coworkers lose their life behind this attack.
FDJ: What gives me the most hope right now — I have a good friend, and I see him with a, with a roll of caution tape, and every bus that passes by he’s running in and taping off the seat right behind the bus driver, making sure nobody sits there. So the next bus I got on with him and I helped him do it faster, and every bus that came on, we did it.
You know, once you’re against a wall the only way you can go is forward. I want you to know that you got a brother in me for life, now. You know, I mean, if I didn’t know it before, I know it now for sure.
TH: We gonna make it through this, man. We gonna make it through.
JM: That’s Tyrone Hampton and Frank de Jesus, who recorded this conversation remotely from their homes in New York City.
At the time of their interview, more than 30 people who worked for the bus system there had died due to COVID-19; now, around 100 New York City transit workers—which includes the subway, bus and train lines—have died in this pandemic.
Another job we don’t typically think of as dangerous? Delivering the mail.
Evette Jourdain is a postal worker in Palm Beach, Florida. When she first got the job back in 2013, it came as a huge relief.
Evette Jourdain (EJ): Life was pretty hard for me before I came to the post office. I lost my Dad; I lost my brother. I became homeless, and, I just didn’t have nobody.
JM: Over StoryCorps Connect, Evette “virtually” sat down with her friend and fellow mail carrier, Craig Boddie, to talk about how things changed for her back then and how things are now changing for both of them.
Craig Boddie (CB): How did it feel for you, when you first got your uniform and you put it on?
EJ: I felt damn proud. When you put that uniform on for the first time–you’ve got your nice shiny shoes, you got your brand new satchel–you know, you feel good.
EJ: How does it feel for you to be in this pandemic?
CB: My wife has autoimmune disease so, because of that, I fear whenever I leave the house. How do I cope? Well, of course, you know, we wear our masks. Soon as I get home, I’m strippin’ jumpin in the shower, clean myself from head to toe to make sure that the day is going down the drain. Everyday I wake up and just wonder is this the day that COVID-19 is gonna come home with me?
EJ: My anxiety levels are always on ten because I’m scared. I pray on my way to work. I pray on my lunch break. I pray when I’m at the box. What keeps me going is the fact that I need to keep going.
CB: That’s one of the tough things with coronavirus, we are like a lifeline getting these people their medicines, their supplies and I can’t even imagine if there was a person who passed away on my route and I did not get a chance to say goodbye or see them for the last time.
EJ: I had a customer recently on my route pass away. His son came outside and told me that “My father said tell my friend Evette that I said goodbye.” And I lost it. I didn’t know it was going to affect me like that.
CB: ‘Cuz it does get to us, yeah.
EJ: I’m glad that we became friends and I appreciate you. I cherish the friendship that we have, because I couldn’t do this by myself.
CB: That’s means a lot. It really does.
JM: That was Evette Jourdain and Craig Boddie, postal workers in Florida.
Stay with us for more after a short break.
JM: Welcome back.
One of the professions most directly affected by COVID-19 has been healthcare workers.
As the disease spread across the country, two childhood friends, Josh Belser, now a nurse in Syracuse, New York and Sam Dow, a healthcare technician in Ann Arbor, Michigan started checking in with each other every week.
Josh and Sam grew up together in Florida, and as Josh remembers, they’ve always had each other’s backs.
Josh Belser (JB): Growing up the Ku Klux Klan actually flyered the neighborhood. We all got ’em on our doorstep. And you were a black kid in a white neighborhood but that morning, you knocked on my door and came up with the idea that we go around on bike and get all those flyers, so that, when people woke up in the morning, they didn’t have to wake up to that.
Sam Dow (SD): We got as many as we could, yeah.
JB: You were somebody who did think about other people’s feelings.
SD: We’re both that way. I mean, I think you were always the guy that sticks up for the underdog, you know.
JB: Looking back on it now, I’m not at all surprised that we both ended up working in healthcare.
JB: When did you realize COVID-19 was serious?
SD: My floor was one of the first that were converted to strictly dealing with COVID patients. Our jobs had to change, like, seemingly overnight. I mean, there was no dress rehearsal because the numbers just started to go up and then it was show time. And last week I had three patients that died in one twelve hour shift. So it’s definitely life-changingly real for me.
JB: Yeah. The bravest of us right now is absolutely terrified.
How are you dealing? How are you holding up?
SD: You know, me and my girlfriend were living together but, with the greater risk, I decided to move out by myself. I have a step-daughter also that I have not seen in… it’s going on three weeks now. So one of the hardest things is coming home and just being alone.
JB: I wish I could be there with you, brother; I do.
SD: That means a lot from someone who is also in it. There’s definitely, like, a club that nobody wants to be in but we’re in it, you know. So I appreciate that, man.
JB: Thanks for 30 years of friendship. God willing there’ll be 30 something more. But if something were to happen to me, I think I’d like to be remembered as that guy who would give all for his friends and the people that he cared about and, uh, maybe even a complete stranger too.
SD: You know, there’s a quote from the French philosopher Albert Camus. He actually wrote a story about an epidemic. The main character, he was a doctor, and, uh, he says the way that you get through something like this is to be a decent person.” And, you know, somebody asks him “What makes someone a decent person?” He says, “I don’t know but, for me, it’s just doing my job the best way I can.”
So hopefully I made a difference in people’s lives in a positive way. And um, you know, I guess that’s the best any of us can really hope for.
JM: That’s Sam Dow speaking with his friend and fellow healthcare worker, Josh Belser.
Even though they live more than 400 miles apart, they were able to interview each other using StoryCorps Connect, our new digital platform which allows people to record a remote StoryCorps conversation during the pandemic.
Head over to storycorpsconnect.org to find out how to record your own interview.
Like Nina Fedoryka did. She interviewed her sister Nadia, a tech-aid at a hospital in New Jersey.
Nina Fedoryka (NIF): I really appreciate what you do. I think that takes like a really strong person in order to see all these tragedies and say, you know what, they’re sad but I still want to do something to help. So thanks.
Nadia Fedoryka (NAF): Wow.
NAF: That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.
JM: That’s all for this episode of the StoryCorps podcast. It was produced by Sylvie Lubow and Jud Esty-Kendall; edited by me, Jasmyn Morris. Our Technical Director is Jarrett Floyd, who also wrote and produced our theme song. Fact-checking by Natsumi Ajisaka. And special thanks to StoryCorps Producers Camila Kerwin and Jey Born.
For more information on the music in this episode, and to see photos of the people we featured, go to our website, www.storycorps.org
Next week, you’ll hear StoryCorps recordings with kids—who always ask the best questions.
Josiah Fredericks (JF): Why can’t I be in charge?
Isaiah Fredericks: Because then everything would be a nightmare.
Kevin Fredericks (KF): Because you are missing four teeth and no one’s going to listen to somebody who doesn’t have teeth in their mouth.
JF: Why can’t we own a roller coaster?
KF: [Laughs] We can own a roller coaster, we just don’t.
JF: Okay, then let’s do.
JM: For the StoryCorps podcast, I’m Jasmyn Morris. Thanks for listening.