Missing the Duck

Seldom in the annals of trucking have small cuddly animals played a role. There are bulldogs, there are eagles; but ducks, especially little yellow ducks of the sort found in bathtubs, have played no role in the substance or the image of an unrelentingly macho industry. All that may be changing.

Attendees and competitors in this year’s National Truck Driving Championships, and especially journalists competing in an informal contest, took special notice of the little yellow duck sitting at the corner in the right-hand-turn problem. This problem entails getting as close to the corner as possible without touching it. Professional drivers may not appreciate the difficulty of making a 90-degree right-hand turn in a five-axle sleeper one has never driven before, until they recognize that the rules have changed. In this competition, the trick is to get as close to the little yellow duck on the curb as possible. Hitting the duck, of course, means a zero score. Getting within 6 inches means a perfect score of 50 points. Being farther than 18 inches from the duck also means a zero score.

In my turn around the course, I got points on all the problems except missing the duck. I erred on the side of safety and went well too far away from the scoring zone – I did not want to hit the duck. Of course the point is not to hit the duck, but to scare him. At that I did not succeed. The real pros on the course, those who recognized that the rules of the competition were different than the rules of a city street, scared that little duck plenty. I could not see the scoring zone – let alone the duck – even in the big spot mirror, but his very presence, standing there as if waiting to dive beneath my trailer wheels, filled me with dread.

It was a learning experience, however. I learned just how much focus and mental discipline, how much flexibility, the state champions bring to this yearly event. As evidence of that mental discipline, the little yellow duck will be sitting on the corner next year, goading journalists.

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Perhaps this unrelentingly macho industry has finally found a mascot with a kinder, gentler nature. At any rate, that little duck might well become a symbol of the care and expertise of the men who practice extreme safety every day.

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