After getting mixed up with some unsavory people hauling loads for “cash only,” Mark takes a long haul destined for Newfoundland so he can get out of town for a while. At a truck stop in Kingston, Mark discovers a lost dog waiting for him by Mother Load. Not wanting to be saddled with a dog, Mark sets out to find the animal’s owners.
He has no luck at the truck stop, but on his way back to his truck after getting the dog a bite to eat, Mark sees the dog attacking a man who had broken into Mother Load. The thief had been breaking into trucks at the truck stop for weeks, and the dog had caught him red-handed. As a result, Mark begins to think about keeping the dog for himself…
The dog seemed to be taking to life on the road. He still called it that…’dog.’ Mark had tried giving it a name, but he hadn’t been able to come up with anything that suited it.
Rover, Fido, Copper or Red just didn’t seem to fit. He toyed with the name Roamer for a while since that’s what the dog was doing out here on the highway, but even that one didn’t stick. The dog wasn’t really roaming anymore, but was instead riding like a passenger.
Instead of sticking his head out the open window so his tongue could flap wildly in the wind, this dog liked to sit upright in his seat gazing out the front window. And it wasn’t an idle sort of gaze either. The dog stared watchfully out the window as if he were looking for something on the horizon. Mark was amazed at how dedicated the animal was, rarely letting his eyes wander – even as they passed other dogs on the roadside.
And then there was the dog’s behaviour. He never barked at people or jumped on them. He waited patiently for Mark to give him his food and water, and he always did his business outside the cab, letting Mark know it was time for a bathroom break with just a subtle growl from somewhere deep in his throat.
The dog was so well behaved, Mark wondered how it could have gotten itself lost in the first place. He couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to get rid of the dog, and it was unlikely that the animal had run off, unless of course it had been abused in some way. But that didn’t seem possible because the dog had no injuries, no deficiencies, and wasn’t afraid of people the way a dog who’s been beaten usually is.
So, what was the deal with this dog? Mark was getting just as curious to learn the answer to that question as he was in finding the dog’s rightful owner. Over the last two days he’d been putting up professionally made flyers that he’d had made up at a Staples store outside of Montreal, but that hadn’t resulted in anything other than a few crank calls and conversations with people who had lost dogs of their own and just wanted to chat.
By the third day, Mark was losing his enthusiasm for finding the dog’s owners. The dog had become a part of his routine and he liked having the dog riding with him.
In fact, the dog was the perfect companion for Mark. He’d had other people ride with him, including an ex-wife, a girlfriend, and Bud’s nephew who he’d coached on a cross-country trip to Vancouver, but none of them had been as easy to get along with as the dog.
The dog didn’t talk, so it could never say anything stupid like, “Are we there, yet?”
The dog didn’t understand English so Mark could never offend it or hurt its feelings. The dog didn’t eat much, it liked the same kind of music Mark did, and was happy with just a blanket to sleep on. He guarded the truck when Mark wasn’t there, and he played with Mark at the end of the day, relieving stress and giving him some exercise.
As he left Quebec and entered New Brunswick, Mark began to think about keeping the dog for himself. After all, whoever had lost the dog was surely resigned to the fact that the dog was long gone. And having a dog with him might make some of his longer hauls across the country easier to take. It wasn’t that crazy an idea and Mark wouldn’t be the first driver to have a dog ride with him. Heck, there used to be a TV show called B.J. and the Bear about a trucker with a monkey. Now that was crazy, and not all that good of a show, either.
Dogs were man’s best friend, so why not a trucker’s best friend too?
Mark took the flyers that he had piled up on his dashboard, folded the papers in half, and tucked them into the pocket at the bottom of his door where he could use them for scrap when he needed to jot something down.
“You hungry?” he said, glancing over at the dog.
The dog barked once.
“It’s your turn to buy, you know that,” Mark said.
The dog stared through the windshield at the highway stretched out before them.
“Alright, then. I’ll pay…this time.”
The dog barked once.
Mark smiled, wondering what he’d done to deserve such a wonderful companion.
They stopped at the Salisbury Big Stop on Hwy. 2 just west of Moncton. It was one of the biggest, and best-known, truck stops in the country and had a store that was well stocked with everything from donuts to lugnuts. Mark left the dog outside, tied to a post by the restaurant’s front doors. He could probably leave the dog unleashed, but if he did some good Samaritan might take the dog and start looking for its owner – just as he had done several days before.
After ordering his meal to go, Mark went into the convenience store and was delighted to find it was stocked with several different kinds of dog food, wet and dry. Perhaps dogs were more common on the highways than Mark realized. He bought a few cans and a bag of dry food and took them and his meal outside where the dog was still waiting for him.
The dog seemed to recognize the bag of dog food and looked pleased, judging by the wag of its tail. However, when they turned to head across the parking lot back to Mother Load, the dog began to growl.
Mark stopped in his tracks.
“What is it?” he asked, looking left and right but unable to find anything out of order. Mark began walking again, but now the dog circled around in front of him, blocking his way.
“What’s going on?” Mark asked.
Again he tried to move, but the dog took a step and pressed up against his legs, holding him back from something. But what?
Mark took another look around. It was quiet, peaceful and the way was clear between himself and Mother Load. So, what was the problem? He grabbed the dog’s leash and began leading the dog back to the truck, but the dog wasn’t about to give in so easily. He began fighting Mark, pulling against the leash as if he wasn’t going anywhere, least of all back to the truck.
“What’s the problem?” Mark asked, turning back around to face the dog. “Haven’t I treated you well? Given you food when you need it? Water?”
The dog just looked at Mark, not giving up any ground.
“And who stops the truck so you can pee every time you need to?”
The dog wasn’t answering, so Mark did it for him. “Me, that’s who…and now you don’t want to go back to the truck. Why? That’s what I’d like to know. Why?”
Just then, there was an engine roar behind Mark.
Mark turned around just in time to see a Volvo pulling a tandem trailer scream through the parking lot, swerving left and right as the driver struggled to keep the rig under control.
“Holy sh…” Mark said, his words cut off by the screech of rubber as the semi turned hard to the right to avoid the gas pumps in front of it.
The end of the trailer swung around, the rear of it clipping Mother Load’s passenger-side rearview mirror, sending shards of glass and bits of plastic exploding into the air.
The out-of-control rig fishtailed several times, avoiding the gas pumps but running into the back of a parked lowboy before coming to a long, shuddering stop.
The silence following the crash seemed absolute.
People were running toward the runaway truck. The door to the cab popped open and the driver was pulled down from his seat. From the way h
e was laid out on the pavement it looked as if he’d had a heart attack on the highway. Probably did an amazing job keeping the truck away from damaging any people or property.
Like the gas station…and Mother Load.
And, Mark thought, ‘me.’
But as amazed, or perhaps shocked, as Mark was, the feeling paled in comparison to what he felt about the dog.
The dog knew, he thought. It sensed there was danger between the restaurant and Mother Load and it had stopped Mark from walking across the parking lot. It saved my life!
Mark took a step toward Mother Load. This time the dog walked beside him, matching his pace every step of the way. When he got to Mother Load he stopped to look at the broken mirror support and the pieces of broken mirror strewn over the pavement. A small price to pay for one’s life.
Mark opened a can of dog food and dumped it onto a styrofoam plate for the dog. “Thanks,” he said.
And as he watched the dog eat, he thought again of a name for the animal.
“How about Sergeant? Or Hobo?” A pause.
“Nah, that’s not it. Maybe Warner…that’s supposed to mean protecting friend. Did you know that?”
The dog ignored Mark and kept eating.
“Or Ward. That mean’s guard.”
Again, no response.
Mark looked at the broken bits of Mother Load again, and then at the crashed rig with people swarming about it. There were some flames now, but they were quickly being doused by a couple of truckers with fire extinguishers.
“How about Lucky?” Mark said. It was a perfect name for the dog. He’d been lucky to find the dog, and he was lucky to be alive.
The dog looked up, barked once, and resumed eating.
“Fine,” said Mark. “Lucky it is.”
– Catch the conclusion of A Trucker’s Best Friend in next month’s Truck News.