It’s 10 a.m. and Bobby Costine is winding down, his workday on the verge of being complete. His blue eyes show a bit of exhaustion and he’s ready for his salad from the work cafeteria and his afternoon nap.
At the start of his work day, at midnight, most of Polk County is tucked away in bed. By 1:15 a.m., Costine, 62, is already on the road, making the 1½-hour drive down Florida’s west coast to Venice, a city just south of Sarasota, his large truck filled with produce and other items to stock up one of four Publix stores in the area.
The trip sometimes loops to Port Charlotte or Punta Gorda, where Publix Super Markets Inc. has three more stores, before Costine drives back to Lakeland to load up for another trip, this time for a route that takes him to stores in the Tampa area.
The work routine has been similar for 36 years.
And it’s one without a blemish, at least where it counts: On the road.
In November, Costine will reach the 3,000,000-mile mark for safe driving.
So far, he’s made it 35 years, seven months and change without an accident, a stellar feat considering his transportation, a 65-foot truck, and the number of accidents in the United States involving large trucks.
In 2010, 276,000 large trucks had accidents, according to the Department of Transportation. During that same year in Florida, 3,445 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes.
The 36-year mark is the first in the history of Publix, which has been around since 1930.
“Safety is at the core of everything we do,” said Shannon Patten, Publix manager of media and community relations.
“We want our drivers to operate as if every vehicle on the road holds members of their families or other people who mean the world to them.”
Costine, who often wears blue jeans and boots to work, touts another accomplishment.
He says he’s never been lost.
“A man don’t get lost. If you have plenty of fuel you’ll find a way home,” he said.
Driving is a way of life for Costine, a Lakeland native who enjoys hunting in Alabama, breeding and selling cows and watching the pro rodeo in Las Vegas. He enjoys it because he gets to do it solo.
“It ain’t been pretty every day of my life, but most days I enjoy it. I get into work, I don’t have to listen to a whole lot and I get in the truck and leave,” Costine said.
“I’ve never wanted to be in the office all day. It’s something that wasn’t for me. I just love driving trucks.”
His work schedule isn’t an envious one.
He gets to the lot at 1 a.m., loads up, checks his truck and then heads out. He punches out after about 10 hours, gets a salad from the Publix cafeteria and then heads home to his place in north Lakeland where he feeds his cows – he owns about 20 of them – and then takes a nap.
“An hour-and-a-half, two-hour nap is required,” Costine said, a southern twang in his voice.
He goes back to bed at 8 p.m. and sleeps for four more hours before starting his work day again.
When Costine started driving trucks for Publix in 1976, there were 189 stores around Florida, GPS was absent from dashboards and a cell phone wasn’t a typical item found in back pockets or purses. At the time, Costine was also the low man on the totem pole. He had accepted the position as truck driver, a move he made from the dairy warehouse, after working at the Fire Department and serving four years in the Marine Corps.
Publix now has 1,052 stores, the trucks have GPS and the equipment is such that it’s not often you’ll see a Publix truck stranded on the side of a highway.
“These trucks are smarter than I am,” Costine said.
Costine also has the best spot in the parking lot, right outside the truck dispatch office and before his boss.
But he doesn’t let the accomplishments get to his head. Earlier this year, Costine was given the chance to change his schedule and route to his liking because of his spot-free record.
“I don’t need all that,” Costine said. “I just want to drive trucks. It’s what I love to do.”