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Driver Profile: Linda Simon

by Jim Park

If there were more women in this business, Linda Simon's career path might not seem so unusual. Trucking might have seemed a natural career choice for a kid who could shift a 5-and-4 twin-stick gearbox at the age of six. But as a young girl growing up on the outskirts of Edmonton, in a very traditional family, she pretty well expected that she'd follow in her Mom's footsteps.

She did for a while, becoming a hairdresser, but somehow trucking won out in the end. It wasn't a straight path by any means, but now she drives for Mantei's Transportation, hauling fuel. And she wins awards and admiration in the process.

The Simon family emigrated from Germany where her Mom owned a beauty salon while her Dad, a licensed mechanic, played professional soccer. He began working as a mechanic upon arriving in Canada in 1957, but soon started up his own fuel-oil delivery business. Linda and her older sister, Gina, both spent as many days as they were allowed riding around in their father's tandem tank truck.

Years later, Simon was well on her way to what probably would have been a successful career as a hairdresser, when a twist of fate presented her with an opportunity disguised as a challenge.

Mr. Simon took a tumble from the top of his truck in 1988 and was unable to work for an extended period of time. But his two teenaged daughters stepped up to the plate and kept the family business, called Nomis Trucking (that's 'Simon' spelled backwards), alive while the boss was convalescing. They split the work between them, while both maintained part-time jobs styling hair.

There was some talk at the time that when the delivery contract was to be renewed Nomis might have to bid with a pup-trailer instead of just the straight truck. Trouble was, Linda's father didn't have a Class 1 licence. So, unannounced, Linda went out and took a truck-driving course herself.

As it happened, she didn't need her Class 1 to keep the business going. But getting it turned out to be one of those pivotal moves that often don't appear significant at the time, only to have a large impact later. For Linda, that came after her father passed away in 1992.

"I don't know if Dad would have wanted me to go this route, being as traditional as he was, but he knew I liked it," says Simon. "And this has worked out much better than hairdressing. It's certainly easier."

She says it's hard to imagine how difficult it can be to keep some clients happy when it comes to a haircut. "It's too long. It's too short. Too light, too dark, too curly. People take their hair way too seriously," she says. "Here, all I have to do is put the right product into the right hole in the ground."

In the Blood

Nomis Trucking was sold after her father died, and that left Linda to ponder her next career move. Her first instinct was to return to the floor of the beauty salon, but she never got there. First there was a brief freight-hauling stint running team across Canada. She enjoyed the travel but soon realized she was really was more of a homebody than she cared to admit. Then she landed a seasonal job with the City of Edmonton, working on a road crew. She operated a jackhammer, ran a vacuum truck and even spent a bit of time working underground in a manhole. "It was fun and it was interesting," Simon says, "but it just wasn't for me."

She had also begun working part-time with Mantei's Transportation, a quality for-hire carrier with terminals in Calgary and Edmonton that specializes in hauling fuel and oil-related products. It soon became a full-time position.

Going back to gasoline wasn't much of a stretch as she knew most of the people in the business and they knew her from the days when she ran her father's truck. And her reasons for staying with Mantei's are pretty easy to understand. "The pay is good, and this is a very easy job to like," she says with enthusiasm. "The people are great and I really enjoy working outdoors. Sunrises, sunsets, the customers and my co-workers: they all make for a great working environment."

A Feminine Touch

So is Linda Simon a bundle of contradictions? Is she still a traditional woman while achieving equality in her untraditional work environment? It may seem like a delicate balance, but not to her.

"I'm really just a very traditional, old-fashioned kind of girl," she says. And it's not so much what she says that's intriguing but the way she says it. She looks you straight in the eye, without a hint of reservation. It's obvious that she's proud of who she is and quite comfortable too.

"I like it when a man opens the door for me, and I certainly don't mind when somebody offers to help," she says with a coy smile. "But I hope they respect me enough to realize that I'm as capable as anybody else. I just like being treated like a woman.

"There's absolutely no reason in the world any other woman couldn't do what I do, as long as they were capable. I'd hate to think anybody lowered the bar just so I could get over it," Simon says emphatically.

While this shy, earnest, old-fashioned girl is out earning her keep alongside the best of the boys, she does bring a uniquely feminine touch to the job.

"If I know one of my customers is having a birthday, or if someone's just had a baby, I'll bring something around such as a pan of Rice Krispie squares or some home-made brownies," she says. She's even taken the trouble to learn bits and pieces of the native language of some of her Korean customers. And Armin Mantei, co-owner of Mantei's Transportation and manager of the Edmonton terminal, says he's had an anonymous customer send Linda a dozen roses.

For Simon, the Rice Krispie squares aren't an attention-getting gesture, but just a genuinely friendly thing to do.

Where's the Driver?

Simon has managed to make quite an impression during her five-year stay with Mantei's, and not just by way of home-made treats. She earned Rookie of the Year honors after her first full-time year with the company. She's one of only about a dozen drivers who've managed to earn a position on the Traxis 100% Club by maintaining a perfect score on the Traxis on-board monitoring system for two weeks in a row. And earlier this year, her co-workers voted her Driver of the Year for her outstanding driving record, and for her overall positive attitude at work. As well, her peers recently elected her to the position of chief driver trainer for the terminal.

Those are tough standards in anybody's book, but she says there's still one question she's asked far too frequently upon arriving at a service station: "Where's the driver?"

Which, of course, has nothing to do with her not arriving at the station at the same time the truck does. Folks just don't expect to see a stunningly attractive, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed young woman climbing out of a six-axle gasoline tanker. So be it. That'll change, but changing the world isn't on her agenda.

"I'm not out here to make any kind of a statement, I'm just doing what I like to do," she says. Simon often has other women ask her how she does such an apparently difficult job, but she counters the question by saying it's all a matter of perspective. "To me, the responsibility of staying home and raising a family is so much more daunting than what I do, and it's so much more important."

Simon drives a truck for a living, and nobody else's opinion of her is going to change that. In many ways, she's just like any other truck driver in that everything in her fridge has green stuff on it and she loves to ride motorcycles as much as she likes to watch the sun come up. In many other ways, she's just like any other woman. She's nervous about walking around on a dark street at night. She's madly in love with her 8-month old nephew, James. She worries about the prospect of having children of her own, and she likes to read thought-provoking works of fiction while sitting in her hot tub.

Linda Simon clearly brings a lot to her job, and a lot to trucking. She's a fine example of "I know I can" thinking, even though she's too modest to admit it. She touches the lives of those who work with her in ways that few of her male counterparts would dare to, and she sees it all as just a day's work. That's just part of the personal touch that has apparently earned her the friendship and respect of so many of her customers and co-workers alike.

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