Mark was heading east through Ontario, coming to the end of a longhaul run that had taken him from Vancouver, to Calgary, to Regina, and then Winnipeg.
Northern Ontario had passed him by in what seemed like no time at all and now he was on his way to Toronto.
Being so close to the end, Mark figured he’d be getting a call at any moment from his dispatcher, Bud. The man always had an uncanny ability to know when Mark was in need of a new load and always seemed to call on cue.
This time, it was no different.
Mark’s cellphone buzzed on the console next to him and a moment later the phone engaged the hands-free system he’d recently had installed and all Mark had to do was touch a button on his steering wheel and he was on the phone.
“Hello?” he said.
“Mark, it’s Bud.”
Mark couldn’t resist. “Bud who?”
“Your best Bud, that’s who.”
Mark was already suspicious. He was being a bit too friendly, and Mark figured something was up. “What do you want?” he asked.
“What do you mean, what do I want? Can’t I just call a friend to say hello?”
Now Mark was convinced Bud was calling because he wanted something. “Of course you can call just to talk, but you’re not very good at chit chat.”
“Yes, I am,” said Bud. “Just watch me.” A lengthy pause, and then. “How’s it going, Mark?”
“Great, Bud,” Mark said. “How about you?”
“I’m good,” Bud answered.
Then the phone connection between them was silent for a long and very awkward time. Mark could hear Bud breathing on the other end, like he was trying really, really hard to think of something to say.
Finally, Bud said, “Okay, okay, I suck at small talk, so I’m just going to come out and say it. I have a favor to ask you.”
“I knew it!”
“Okay…so you know me well enough to know when I want something from you,” Bud said. “So then you also know that I wouldn’t call you like this if I didn’t really need your help.”
Mark sighed. “What is it?”
“There’s a friend of mine…”
“You have a friend?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. Anyway, he’s been getting a lot of calls for city stuff that all – you know – needed to be done in a hurry.”
“Yeah?” Mark could just imagine. If there was one thing about city driving it’s that everyone wants their stuff delivered either yesterday or first thing in the morning.
“So, he’s thinking of designating one of his short trailers for just this kind of work.”
“You mean like a taxi truck?”
“That’s the idea.”
“So why me?”
“He wants to give this thing the best chance he can to succeed. So, he needs a good driver that can, how can I say this, smooth over the rough spots and make sure everything gets done.”
Mark shook his head, even though Bud wasn’t there to see it. “But I drive longhaul.”
“I know, I know. But you’re always talking about how you’d like to give city driving a try. You know, home every night and all that.”
Mark was confused. “I’ve never said anything like that in my life.”
“No?” Bud asked.
“No,” Mark said. “And, by the way, I live out of my truck, so I’m already home every night.”
“Okay, so maybe I’m confusing you with someone else. Don’t I always say ‘Mark who?’ Anyway, the point is you’re the guy for the job.”
Bud might have been sure, but Mark wasn’t as certain. “Mother Load is not good for city driving.”
“He’s got a truck for you. It’s got the right gearing, fully automatic, practically drives itself.”
“Okay, but what about my longhaul work? We both have regular customers that need to be taken care of.”
“Funny thing about that,” Bud said. “I’ve got no long hauls right now.”
“Really?” Mark said, trying to make himself sound as sarcastic as possible.
“Yeah, really. But I do have a Vancouver run at the end of the week, which just happens to be when this taxi truck gig will be ending.”
“You don’t say?”
“I know, right?” Bud said. “It’s crazy how well this thing works out.”
Mark thought about it. He was always up for something new, and as they say, a change is as good as a switch…or something like that. Still, there was just one more thing he was worried about.
“Okay, but if I agree to do this there’s one more thing…there’s a lot of loading and unloading with this kind of work and I’m not getting any younger.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. You get a helper, big guy, strong as an ox. Does everything he’s told.”
Mark was silent.
“Alright, okay, I’ll do it…for you, as a favor.”
After all, thought Mark, it’s just for a few days. How much could go wrong in such a short amount of time? TN
Mark Dalton returns next month in part two of Dalton is hailed a cab.