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A Knight of the Road Has Kind Words for Truckers

There was a time--not too long ago either--when a private motorist could count on a truck driver to give appropriate road signals, lend assistance, offer directions. The truckers were indeed “Knights of the Road"--a breed apart; tough, to be sure, but dependable.

Don Clark remembers the mystique. It’s what got him into trucking in the first place, straight out of high school. Bright, articulate, fiercely independent, Clark, 40, of Long Beach, was tapped a couple of years ago by his trucking company for a management position. He gave it a shot, did well, but after two years, Clark couldn’t wait to get on the road again: “I enjoy the open road. I like to break a sweat once in a while. I’m a truck driver.”

That he is. This year, Clark is one of eight--selected from among 5 million drivers--named to lead the 1989 “America’s Road Team” as national spokesmen for the trucking industry. One of the team’s tasks, Clark says, is to weed out the “fringe element--a comparative handful of less qualified, less desirable drivers” who’ve filtered into the ranks as a side effect of 1980’s trucking-deregulation law.

Still, “I’d never discourage any young man from driving a truck,” Clark says. “In a way, it’s the modern version of a cowboy. You’re your own boss, responsible for your own actions. Sure, it’s hard sometimes. You still have to hook up and break up your own sets (rigs that connect trailers), which means pushing around 3,000 pounds, sometimes in the snow in remote locations where nobody’s around to give you a hand. But what other job pays you to see the whole U.S.?”

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As for the persistent belief that the best road food can be found at a truck stop, Clark advises that it’s “probably no longer true. As a rule, though, when you see a bunch of trucks, it means the place has good coffee and friendly waitresses.

“And remember: Never eat at a place called ‘Mom’s.’ ”


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