His friends, until recently, called him ZZ Top. He had a dark bushy beard down to his chest. He had a belly, too. Mark David loves his drink. And tobacco, and chocolate. And he and Loretta Bradford, his life-love and full-time co-pilot, would be out there on the open road, trucking lumber and pipe and tractors and whatever else hither and yon in their flatbed Peterbilt 387. They would drive (and still do) wherever Mark’s company, Central Oregon Trucking, would dispatch him: to Reno’s burbs or to New Mexico’s deserts or to the hubbub of New York City, putting in 14-hour days with 11 of them at the wheel, 30 days on straight and then four to five days off.
The couple, who park their 72-foot-long truck in Redding on those days off and drive a rental car to Eureka where their son Paul and a grandson live, love this lifestyle, actually. They’ve been living it for 15 years. “I see a different sunrise and a different sunset every day of the week,” said Mark, sitting with Loretta this past Monday inside the Eureka Los Bagels, one of their favorite hangouts. They’re both 44, and they’ve raised five children together.
“We have seen some beautiful places,” added Loretta. “I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty. I’ve seen the Painted Desert.” One of her favorite sights was Fork, Wash.
“It’s right out on Highway 101,” said Mark.
“It’s small, it’s beautiful, it’s mellow,” said Loretta. “You want to live there.”
“We spent the night on a little bluff there, overlooking the ocean,” said Mark. “We are definitely paid tourists.”
But even so, a man can get scroungy on a long-haul schedule like theirs, and it doesn’t help that truck stops have every kind of sugar-fat-salt confection to tempt a weary driver. As for exercise — you think it’s hard to go to the gym after an eight-hour work day, just try getting motivated after a 14.
Well, one day, Mark and Loretta, while under a load in Hesperia, decided to take a break inside the Wendy’s at the Pilot truck stop. And there was a guy in there with a camera, interviewing truckers. The guy was from CMT, and turns out he was doing a casting call for competitors on a new series called Trick My Trucker — a sort of “queer eye for the trucker guy” thing, which according to the blurb on the CMT website challenges the truckers to “break bad habits and get their butts back on the road to a better lifestyle [by] finding healthy alternatives to the junk food highway.”
So Mark and Loretta got themselves interviewed — and Mark ended up being one of 12 truck drivers chosen to be on the show.
“Thousands applied,” said Loretta.
“And I’m never the kind of guy who gets that kind of thing,” said Mark.
But he did, and for six weeks earlier this year, in that very same truck stop in Hesperia, a CMT film crew recorded the transformation of Mark David and his fellow chosen trucker guinea pigs.
“It was two truck drivers competing head to head” for each episode, of which there are six, said Mark. The truckers worked with a personal trainer and nutrition coach to get on an exercise and better eating program, and Mark says he went down two pants sizes and packed on some muscle. They took scissors to everyone — big hair, said Loretta, is “a trucker thing. They were all manly men.” Mark had extra reason for it, though.
“I had grown that beard for about two years,” Mark said. “I grew it because I had just gotten over chemotherapy.”
They also put the drivers in new duds. Now, that’s a tricky one, indeed. Loretta said some drivers might drive in a suit and tie — she’s seen it. “But when we drive, we drive comfortable,” she said.
Overall, the physical makeover didn’t change Mark too drastically said Loretta, not regretfully. Mark said it took some years off his looks. “My competition, though, Don Crawford: He came out looking like Rock Hudson. A dead ringer for him.” They learned some better food habits, which they appreciate — but then, Loretta said, ever since Mark’s cancer they’ve been more conscious about eating healthfully, anyway. Well, except for the fries. “When I was on chemo, I craved fries,” said Mark. But, he added, “you can always find something healthy to eat.”
“And I don’t want Mark to be a 400-pound truck driver,” said Loretta. “We get out and walk when we stop. Even though we live in the truck, we make a point of getting out of the truck. A lot of people become their truck.”
So who won, in the Mark-Don heat? They’re not allowed to say. Except, well, his competition, Don — who’s good buddies with Mark and Loretta now —quit smoking. And Mark didn’t. But he did cut back, said Loretta proudly.
“Mark went from a pack a day to 10 cigarettes a day,” she said.
Trick My Trucker premieres this Saturday, Nov. 10, on CMT. The episode Mark and Loretta appear in is Saturday, Nov. 17.