After vacationing in Mexico and experiencing one of his most dangerous adventures yet, Mark returns to work looking for a good long haul. Bud gives him a load of Just-in-time auto parts headed for Detroit. Although the trailer he’s pulling works fine, it looks like hell, so Mark decides to make a detour around the scales at Putnam. An MTO officer stops him on the sideroad and takes him back to the scales, forcing Mark to have a trailer tire replaced before allowing him back on the road…
Mark had managed to deliver his load of auto parts on time to its destination in Detroit, but he’d only just made it. That worried him. Furthermore, the shipper had reminded him that there was always a first time for everything, including late deliveries. That had shaken Mark, like the man knew something Mark didn’t. Still, he couldn’t let it bother him. His record was in tact and that was the only thing that mattered.
After checking in with Bud for another load, Mark found himself pulling into a corrugated packaging plant that — judging by the bales of cardboard stacked up around shipping/receiving — recycled a lot of cardboard.
“Hi there,” Mark said to the attractive young woman behind the counter, as he stepped into the shipping office. “I’m Mark.”
“Mark who?” she asked.
Mark wondered if Bud had put her up to that, but he decided to let it slide. “Mark Dalton. I’m here for a load.”
Still no reaction.
“Bud sent me.”
“Oh, that Mark Dalton.”
“Yeah,” Mark said with a bit of a goofy grin. “I’m the one.”
“Okay,” she said, getting up from her desk and revealing a body Mark wished he had time to stick around and get to know better. “We’ve got a trailer of cardboard boxes headed for the produce terminal in Port Charlotte.”
“That sounds fine.”
The woman lowered her nose and looked over the top of her glasses at Mark. We need you to be there in two days. Thursday morning to be exact.”
Mark blew out a long sigh through puckered lips. About 1,500 kilometers in two days wasn’t impossible, but it would be tough. In the United States Mark could only drive 11 consecutive hours before he needed eight consecutive hours of sleep. If he averaged, say 110 kilometers an hour for 10 hours he could do 1,210 kms in a day, but he’d have to stop to eat, go to the bathroom a bunch of times, and refuel… not to mention traffic. A single accident or road blockage of any sort would eat up hours faster than a border crossing. Maybe 1,000 kms a day was a more reasonable estimate, but even that was optimistic on an Interstate as heavily traveled as the I-90.
“Can you do it?” she asked him. “Or do we need to find someone else?”
Mark flashed her a coy little smile. “Of course I can do it.”
“That’s good,” she said, “because the last two guys we hired couldn’t.”
Suddenly, all of Mark’s confidence was gone. “What do you mean?” he wanted to ask, but she was gone before he could say another word. He was left with an envelope full of paperwork and a loaded trailer on the dock waiting to be taken to Florida.
Mark hooked up Mother Load to the trailer and spent a few minutes considering his options. He’d only been driving for a day, so he still had plenty of room left in his cycle. If he slept for eight hours, he could leave for Florida at 6 a.m. and drive through the day until five in the afternoon.
So that’s what he did, stopping at the first truck stop along the interstate that had a good-sized parking lot. He ate a good meal, bought tomorrow morning’s breakfast (Danish, fruit and carton of milk), then fueled up before turning in for the night.
At six the next morning, his alarm went off and Mark was in the driver’s seat a couple of minutes later. The last two guys on this run had failed to make it on time, but neither of those guys was Mark Dalton. He’d make it to Florida come hell or high–
Mark missed a shift and Mother Load and the entire rig seemed to lurch forward as it lost speed.
“One kilometer at a time,” Mark said, finding the right gear selection and getting his load back on track.
Mark drove until five in the afternoon, putting almost 1,000 kilometers behind him. If he slept eight hours until 1 a.m., he could drive the last 500 kilometers during the night and easily make it to his destination by seven, making it just in time.
It sounded like a good plan, maybe even a great plan, but the problem with doing all the planning in the world is that plans can be ruined by all kinds of things that are beyond your control.
Things like, say… being stopped by a Florida State Trooper outside of Jacksonville at three o’clock in the morning.
Mark wasn’t surprised that he’d been pulled over by a state trooper since half the transportation enforcement in the United States is done by the highway patrol. He was upset however, since this was just the sort of thing that would make him late and put his perfect record in jeopardy.
Mark watched the trooper walk up along the side of his trailer, sweeping his light over the wheels and under the axles, probably looking for any infraction that would justify the stop.
“Something wrong, officer?” Mark asked when the trooper appeared at his window.
It was cliche to be sure, but even though it was the dead of night and the sun was at least four hours away, the man was wearing a pair of sunglasses.
“Don’t know,” the trooper said. “That’s what I want to find out.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong, have I?”
“No, you haven’t,” the man said with a slight twist of his head. “But I am a bit curious as to why your driving in the middle of the night. See, if you’re drivin’ now, you must be in an awful hurry because it’s easier driving during the day and there ain’t that much difference in traffic.”
Even though the officer hadn’t asked a question, Mark felt compelled to provide him with an explanation. “I don’t usually drive at night, but I’m trying to get my load in on time.”
“I figured as much.” Suddenly, the man’s smile vanished. “See, if you’re in big hurry, then there’s a real good chance you’ve extended yourself. Maybe even fudged your log book a bit to make up for lost time.”
Mark was sure his book was in order, but you could never be too sure. There could be new laws in Florida he wasn’t aware of, or this state trooper might need to write a soft ticket just to make his quota for the month (even though everyone knows there’s no such thing as quota systems for law enforcement officers.) Even if that wasn’t the case, the man could just be in a bad mood, or targeting foreign truckers, or… Who knew?
Mark handed the trooper his log book, noticing that his hand was shaking as he let go.
The trooper began flipping through the log book’s pages. “You know,” he said. “Each year driver fatigue causes more crashes than mechanical defects.”
“I did not know that,” Mark said, nodding like a bobblehead.
“Besides,” the trooper continued. “It’s just a matter of simple math when you check a driver’s logbook. If it says you’ve been averaging anything more than 55 miles per hour — I guess that’d be what? 110 kmh for you Canadians — then you’d be lying.”
Mark started doing the math in his head and figured that even with all his rushing around he should still be all right. And even if he was off by a bit, he’d end up getting a fine then having to wait until he was legal. At worst, that would only be a few hours. A delay like that would make it hard to deliver his load on time, but not impossible. There was still a chance.
“Hmmm?” the trooper said as he stopped on a page of interest.
“What? What is it?”
The trooper shook his head… and Mark prepared himself for the worst. But then, as if by some miracle, the trooper’s radio chirped up. 10-Code numbers, a location and then the words, “Shots fired. Officer needs assistance.”
“Your lucky day,” the trooper said, tossing the log book onto Mark’s lap. “Dri
He was gone a moment later, the strobing lights atop his cruiser slowly fading into the night as he tore down the highway.
Mark breathed a deep sigh of relief, then said. “Thank God for the NRA.”
Mark managed to make his delivery on time, with little more than an hour to spare.
“You made it there on time?” Bud asked, when Mark called in for his next load.
“Of course I did.”
“I knew you were good,” Bud said. “But not that good.”
“Thanks, Bud. I think.”
“No, that’s amazing. You must had the wind at your back…or a bag of horseshoes riding shotgun, or–“
“Bud,” Mark interrupted. “I’d love nothing more than to listen to you talk about how good I am, but I’m without a load here and I wouldn’t mind heading back.”
“What’s so funny?”
“You’re in a produce terminal in Florida and you’re worried about a load.”
“Yes,” Mark said, not understanding.
“They got plenty of loads there. Go see this guy I know there by the name of Gibby. Tell him I sent you and he’ll hook you up.”
Mark found Gibby, a slim redheaded man who looked like he might be a vegetarian (which was not surprising considering where he worked), peeling a mango in the food terminal’s lunchroom.
“Bud who?” Gibby said, when Mark mentioned Bud’s name.
“He’s my shipper,” Mark replied. “From Toronto. Big man. FAT man, actually.”
“Oh, yeah, him,” he said, his knife not stopping once from peeling away the outer skin of the fruit. “If you drive for Bud, I’ve got loads for you. All kinds of loads.” He paused a moment to cut a piece of mango and shovel it into his mouth. “Where you want to go?”
“No problem. I’ve got a load of oranges ready to go.”
“Great. I’ll take it.”
“Good. It needs to be there day after tomorrow, between eight and ten in the morning.
Mark gulped. “Sure, I… I can do that,” he managed to say, wondering how in the world it was possible.
– Next month’s issue will feature Part 3 of By the Book.