When voters go to the polls in San Diego on Tuesday, many of them will be greeted by Boyd Applegate. The 56-year-old truck driver has worked nearly every election — primaries and general elections — for the past 20 years.
Election Day starts early for Applegate. Around 4 a.m., he piles ballots and election materials into his car and drives the 25 miles to the precinct. Throughout the day, he is greeted by people who recognize him as the guy at the polls, year after year.
"People call me by name and tell me about their families, and I have a lot of friendships solely based on Election Day," Applegate told his sister Rhonda Dixon at StoryCorps.
Applegate drives a big 5-axle class-8 truck. These days, he hauls military freight for a living.
"December of this year I will actually achieve the 5-million-mile mark," he says. "And I still love to toot the horn when I see a kid yank his arm down in the window in traffic. I always respond to that."
In 1993, Applegate won the Goodyear National Highway Hero award for saving three people's lives in two accidents, nine weeks apart. That award is like the Medal of Honor for the trucking industry.
Although he has changed jobs over the years, Applegate has always been a truck driver, and always takes Election Day off. He says he keeps coming back to the polls because he believes what he is doing is important.
"Over the years, I've run into many people who are naturalized citizens — they've come from all over the world," he says. "I've had people approach me and ask me, 'How much do I have to pay to cast my ballot?'
"I've had people with tears in their eyes, grown people, who are voting for the first time in their life because the country where they come from, they didn't have that right."
Applegate says he's glad to "help lighten the mood and set them at ease that they're doing fine, and there is no wrong way to vote.
"I'm there as a representative of what's right in America, and I enjoy it."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and recorded in partnership with KPBS.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It is Friday, which is when we hear from Storycorp. When voters go to the polls in San Diego on Tuesday, many will be greeted by a big rig driver. His name is Boyd Applegate. He hauls freight for a living, but each Election Day he comes home to volunteer at the polls. He's worked nearly every election, primary and general, for the past 20 years and he spoke about that with his sister Rhonda Dixon.
BOYD APPLEGATE: My day starts at about 4:00, when I put all the ballots and materials in the car and I drive about 25 miles to where this precinct is at. And every morning when we open the polls, there is a particular voter, he's right there. He's always my first voter. After that, the rest of the day, I'm being greeted before I can even look up from the table and see who's there. They say, oh, you're here again, hi.
People tell me about their families and I have a lot of friendships solely based on Election Day.
RHONDA DIXSON: So do you take time off of your regular job so that you can do the elections?
APPLEGATE: Oh, absolutely. My regular job is I'm a truck driver, and December of this year I will achieve the five-million-mile mark.
DIXSON: So Boyd, why do you still do the work that you do, volunteering at the polls on Election Day?
APPLEGATE: Over the years I've run into many people who are naturalized citizens. They've come from all over the world. I've had people approach me and ask me, How much do I have to pay to cast my ballot? I've had people with tears in their eyes, grown people who are voting for the first time in their life because the country where they come from they didn't have that right.
And if I can help lighten the mood and set them at ease that they're doing fine, and there is no wrong way to vote, I honestly believe that what I am doing is important. I'm there as a representative of what's right in America, and I enjoy it.
DIXSON: What would you like people to remember you for?
APPLEGATE: I'd like anybody who ever knew me to remember me for having a heart. I found my heart somewhere along the way and I'm glad I did and I'm glad I can share it with people.
INSKEEP: Boyd Applegate, truck driver, poll volunteer, with his sister, Rhonda Dixson, in San Diego, California. Their conversation will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And you can, as always, get the podcast at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.