After taking the lot lizard to Arnprior, Ontario for a tearful and gratifying reunion with her mother, Mark delivered his load of hockey helmets to the warehouse in Moncton. From there, he took a load...
After taking the lot lizard to Arnprior, Ontario for a tearful and gratifying reunion with her mother, Mark delivered his load of hockey helmets to the warehouse in Moncton. From there, he took a load of car tires into Toronto, and once that delivery was made on time and without incident, he began to think about his dispatcher, Bud. Should he call him for a new load, or indulge himself with a stay in a hotel and a couple of nights in a real bed with clean sheets and pillowcases instead?
But before he could make up his mind, Mark’s cell phone rang – with a distinctive gas horn ring tone of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
He flipped the phone open.
“Hey Mark, this is Bud.”
Mark couldn’t believe his luck. Usually he was the one calling Bud, but lately their roles had been reversed and Mark couldn’t resist giving the man a hard time.
There was a pause, then, “Marijuana Bud, your friend from college,” Bud said sarcastically. “Who the hell do you think it is?”
Mark smiled but kept himself from laughing.
“Sorry,” he said. “Don’t know any marijuana buds, and never smoked any…or at least I never inhaled.”
Then he hung up.
The phone rang two minutes later. “Very funny, Mark, but I guess I had it coming to me.”
“I’ve got a few day’s worth of work for you, but you’ve got to start today.”
“I’m ready right now, what is it?”
“It’s a warehousing company in Toronto. They’re moving their whole operation to Barrie which means the entire contents of their warehouse, all of their trailers, including the personal belongings of some of their staff.”
“Toronto to Barrie. That’s like what, four or five round trips a day?”
Mark spent a few moments to think about it. He wasn’t crazy about spending so much time driving Highway 400 because it was a busy highway filled with too many commuters in a hurry. It would be dangerous driving, but it was a good gig in terms of load, mileage and drop fees. He’d be crazy to turn down the work.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Good. I’ll let them know you’ll be there in the morning.”
Mark’s first load out of Toronto was a trailer full of steel shelving that would have to be set up in the new warehouse in Barrie before the rest of the company’s goods could be shipped. Weight was always a problem with a load like this, but Mark figured he was probably right around the upper weight limit for the trailer’s three axles. Even so, while he’d be fine in a straight line, if he had to make any sudden stops or turns, things could get ugly.
He was on the road quickly enough, but unfortunately for Mark, by the time he got onto the 401 it was the middle of the afternoon and the highway through the heart of Toronto was bumper-to-bumper and that was a problem. Busy highways in urban areas were always a pain in the ass. If you got on them at the wrong time of day you might travel two miles in an hour – if you were lucky – and your profits would vanish like so much smoke from your exhaust stacks.
At his current rate of speed, it would take Mark close to an hour before he reached the 400 Northbound. Hopefully, once he started heading north, things would open up and the driving would be easier.
But while the stop-and-go driving would cost him money, at least he wasn’t worried about the time it was taking him. If he didn’t reach his destination in a couple of hours, then he’d be there in three. No big deal. Time and money he could afford, but what Mark had very little of, was patience. And that was the thing he needed most of to drive in these condition.
Mark was constantly using the clutch to go up and down the gears, making three or four shifts just to travel a few hundred meters. And because of the weight of his load, he wasn’t able to cheat by starting off in second gear or skip-shifting up from say, second to fourth. As heavy as he was, he had to start up in first, then shift into second after travelling just a few meters, then brake and start all over again.
It was enough to drive a poor trucker mad, but that wasn’t the worst of it. What made this situation so much worse were the cars all around him, and the people driving them. On highways out in the country there were plenty of open spaces between cars, and drivers were usually more patient, waiting until it was safe to pass or making their lane changes smoothly, and then only when it was safe to do so and only after they’d signaled. But here in the city, everyone was always in a rush to get somewhere, switching lanes as if they were television channels.
And even though traffic was stop-and-go, Mark still tried to keep Mother Load a safe distance behind the truck in front of him to give himself plenty of stopping time. But as careful as Mark was, no one else seemed to care about Mark’s safety – or their own for that matter – because each time he opened up a gap between himself and the vehicle in front of him, some city driver in a flashy import would zip into the lane and come to a screeching halt, cutting Mark’s stopping distance almost in half.
And then there were the ramp runners. The cars that would dart out of the lane behind you so they could travel a few hundred yards on the on-ramp before they had to butt in to the line of cars up ahead. Then there were the drivers who were legitimately getting onto the highway via the on-ramp…but instead of merging with traffic as the on-ramp ended, they would try to squeeze everything they could out of being on the on-ramp, taking the ramp right to the end, then merging into traffic from the shoulder, just to get a few more car lengths ahead.
Sure they got ahead, but it made the lane Mark was in move twice as slow as it should.
Mark couldn’t take any more.
At the next on-ramp, where westbound traffic came onto the 401 from Dufferin Street, Mark pulled right to straddle the line between the 401 and the on-ramp so hurry-up business types couldn’t zoom up on his right and cut into the lane in front of him.
“Take that, city slicker!” Mark said with a howl.
The tactic seemed to be working. The lane Mark was in was moving not only faster now, but more smoothly than when he’d passed the last on-ramp. There were plenty of angry drivers behind him, judging by the way they were weaving back and forth on the on-ramp trying to get around him, but traffic was moving more smoothly, and that’s all that mattered to Mark.
One car, or at least its driver, seemed especially angry. It was a lime green Honda with big chrome wheels and wild yellow flames flickering down the length of its side. The driver was flashing his lights, honking his horn, and weaving back and forth in the lane like he was late for his big scene in the next Fast and Furious sequel. Then the guy went one further and gave Mark a single-digit salute out his open window.
Mark, watching it all in his rearview mirror, couldn’t help but smile at the driver’s antics. “Payback’s a bitch,” Mark shouted with a laugh.
“I don’t believe it,” Mark said.
As he slowed, Mark saw the lime green Honda zoom by, the driver laughing as he passed.
“Laugh now,” Mark said through clenched teeth. “But we’ll see who laughs last.”