Acts of kindness (September 01, 2007)

by Adam Ledlow

PRESCOTT, Ont. – It was early in his trucking career when Gary Davis received a call asking him to deliver a load of goods to Andover, Mass. It was his first time in the Boston area, and after exiting from the Interstate, he soon found himself on a twisty, narrow road, lined with stately homes on either side. A few more minutes passed and it quickly became apparent to Davis, a driver with Kriska Transportation, that he was in the wrong place.

“This is Yuppieville. I should not be here,” he recalls thinking to himself.

The more the road narrowed, the larger the properties became, until Davis found himself face to face with a big, black Mercedes which was unable to squeeze past his truck.

After some choice language from the driver, Davis heard a beep from behind him and a friendly voice.

Another neighbour – who coincidentally wasn’t a big fan of the Mercedes driver anyways – saw the trouble Davis had gotten himself into and offered to help him get turned around.

“Most people would have just flipped me off, but he was very gracious and magnanimous,” Davis says.

Davis was obliged to follow, and during the pursuit, the roadside homes continued to increase in size and splendour.

Davis eventually followed the man under an archway onto a tree-lined drive which lead up to the most magnificent estate in the entire neighbourhood.

He pulled up into the vast circular driveway which boasted a fountain in the centre, and Davis assumed that he was to use the space to turn around.

But quite contrary to Davis’ expectation, the man motioned for the truck to pull to the side of the five-car garage and continued to guide the befuddled Davis across the lawn.

“I end up parked beside the biggest residential pool I’ve ever seen. And he says, ‘Out of the truck; we’re having lunch,'” Davis recalls.

During the poolside lunch, he and the friendly neighbourhood resident discovered that Davis was on the right street – but in the wrong city.

To compound the strange events of the afternoon, after calling the correct delivery number in West Andover, it was discovered the that the friendly stranger was in fact the doctor of the woman on the other line.

After an animated chat between the two old friends, Davis wrapped up his lunch visit and continued on his way, feeling rejuvenated not only by the food, but by the stranger’s kindness.

“That’s one of my favourite stories from the road,” Davis admits. “That makes it all worthwhile. It just negates all the negativity.”

It was stories like this from other drivers that piqued Davis’ interest in the trucking industry in the first place. Up until the mid-90s, Davis had worked in the hospitality industry at a family-owned hotel where clients included drivers from trucking fleets like Molson and Labatt.

“They were a gregarious group of individuals and I always enjoyed conversing with them,” Davis says.

After an economic downturn in the hospitality industry, Davis decided to get into construction, which eventually lead to him getting an A/Z licence.

After looking into various driving schools, Davis ultimately settled with Kriska, after pressure from company founder, Ken Seymour.

Davis is a Brockville, Ont. resident and Seymour was in nearby Prescott, so the two had actually met years earlier through work on a couple of local committees.

“I was actually offered another job and I was considering taking that and (Seymour) said, ‘Why don’t you just come on down to Prescott?’ He walked me into the safety department at Kriska and said, ‘Hire this guy,’ and walked out. And everyone was like, ‘Well, who are you?'” says Davis with a laugh. “I’m not sure about this fact, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first person without experience that Kriska took a chance on.”

Kriska seemed to think their chance paid off, because after just one year of driving, Davis got a call asking him to train other drivers. “And I said, ‘Train? I’ve only been here a year.’ But they said they had the perfect candidate for me,” Davis said.

The candidate ended up being his brother and Davis ended up being an on-the-road trainer for Kriska, though he admits he still has a lot to learn.

“I still try to learn something every day I’m out here,” he says. “As a trainer, I try to impart that to people; it’s not what school you go to, how good it is: it’s when you start on the road; that’s when your real training begins.”

Though it’s been more than 10 years since Davis started with Kriska, he admits he would have rather gotten into the business when it was a “true profession.”

“When I said that I’d have liked to have done it 30 years ago when it was a true profession, I think that it’s indicative of the industry at that point: people respected (truckers),” he says.

“When I first started, the ‘Cowboys’ were prevalent and the public image was not good, but I think that’s improving. We’re treating each other with a little more respect.”

Respect is certainly something Davis has earned during his decade with Kriska, as the staff are quick to sing his praises, calling him a “true gentleman” and “a great ambassador for Kriska and our industry.”

“His professionalism and patience with a trainee shines through with every driver he trains,” said Helen Dimopoulos, marketing and communications co-ordinator with Kriska.

“Gary will always go over and above what is required to get the job done. Gary is definitely a valuable asset to our training program and to the Kriska fleet.”

In addition to his skills as a trainer, his skills as a driver have earned Davis respect as well. In May, Davis received a 10-year Safety Performance award at Kriska’s Safety Performance Awards Banquet.

When asked if he’s comfortable with the title of “ambassador,” Davis’ shy side comes out.

“I probably wouldn’t qualify for that. I think we’re all ambassadors to some degree. We all should be doing that,” he says.

“When I take people in for our training, I try to reinforce and emphasize to them that you are the company. It isn’t (Kriska president) Mark Seymour or the mechanic or the chap that takes the garbage out; you are the company. Every department is an integral part of the company. It isn’t an ‘Us against them’ situation.”

Davis plans to continue simultaneously teaching and learning on his own, as long as he’s enjoying it and it doesn’t become just a job.

“You have to be aware constantly when you’re on the road and if it does become a job, I think you’re headed for trouble. If you think you know everything, that’s really time to stop,” he says. “I’d like to do this for a while yet. I like it, I’m still having fun.”

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