Mark is spending a few days driving loads between Toronto and Barrie for a warehousing company that’s moving their whole operation. The work is profitable, but driving the 401 and 400 all day is frustrating, especially when car drivers keep cutting him off and butting into the safe following distance Mark’s trying to keep in front of him. At the next on-ramp Mark straddles the lane to keep traffic moving, infuriating drivers behind him, and attracting the attention of a cop up ahead.
“Great,” Mark sighed. “There’s never a cop around when you need one, but there’s one here right now.” He pulled Mother Load to a stop on the shoulder and waited for the OPP officer to climb up onto the side of his rig.
“What were you doing?” the officer asked.
Mark thought about lying to the man, but knowing his luck, especially at the moment, the ploy would likely backfire. Instead, he hoped the truth would set him free.
“I was blocking the lane, officer,” Mark said matter-of-factly. “I’ve been driving in this mess for half an hour and people have been cutting in front of me the whole way. I just wanted it to stop for a little while.”
The officer put a hand to his chin, as if considering Mark’s explanation. Then he began nodding. “That can be frustrating,” he said. “But it’s no reason to drive that way yourself.”
The officer kept nodding. “Just don’t do it again, okay?”
“Yes sir,” Mark said, starting up Mother Load and pulling back into traffic before the man changed his mind.
On his way back from Barrie, Mark was pulling an empty trailer that was going to be filled with tools and machine equipment — including a couple of forklifts – from the warehouse. The drive south was an easy one since, at the end of the day, the rush on the 400 was always northbound out of the city. Mark was heading against the flow and as a result he was able to keep his speed steady for most of the trip.
But when he neared the outskirts of Toronto, the pace seemed to quicken and things started getting hectic. He’d been trying to keep a proper following distance between himself and the tanker in front of him, but the traffic around him wasn’t co-operating. The general rule of thumb was that for every ten feet of truck, there should be a gap of one second, and since Mark’s rig was between 60 to 70 feet long, he should be maintaining a 60 to 70 foot gap between himself and the tanker up ahead.
That was all well and good, but every time he opened up a following distance of 70 feet some car would pull into the gap forcing him to pull back again and again. As he approached Major MacKenzie Drive – a major crossroads serving the communities north of Toronto – yet another car pulled in front of him.
“That’s six!” he said.
Again, Mark eased off the accelerator, slowing down and renewing the gap between himself and the vehicle before him. But while concentrating on the road in front of him, he also noticed something going on in his mirrors – a flash from left to right. He saw it first in the driver’s side mirror, and then a second later, there it was again in the mirror on the passenger’s side.
It was a small car driving fast and weaving in and out of traffic as if it were on the last lap of some NASCAR event. Mark could see the vehicle approaching as a grey flash in his mirrors. In a few seconds it would be even with him and would undoubtedly make use of the 70 feet of clear road in front of him. But even though Mark knew what was coming, the drivers around him probably didn’t. They would be surprised, maybe even panicked by this driver, and once that happened who knew how things would unfold?
Another two seconds and there it was, a grey Mitsubishi with tinted windows, tricked out wheels and a muffler that made the car sound like a high-performance lawnmower. As Mark suspected, the car cut sharply in front of him from the left, crossing his lane in less than a second before cutting off a family in a minivan in the right hand lane.
Horns blared. Tires screeched. The family in the minivan was forced to pull onto the shoulder, but the man behind the wheel managed to keep the van straight as he slowed to a stop.
Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Mark took a look at the people in the vehicles surrounding him. They all looked scared, out of breath, even angry, and more than a few of them had their cell phones out, most likely to call the police.
That’s a good idea, Mark thought, even though experience told him there was never a cop around when he needed one. Sure, OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley would be on television Sunday night or in the papers Monday morning talking about dangerous drivers on our highways – and good for him for doing it – but what about right here, right now? And even if there was a cop in the area, the chances of an OPP officer being dispatched in time to first find, then catch, the reckless driver were slim at best. By the time police showed up the grey Mitsubishi would be GOA, or Gone On Arrival. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to call, just in case the OPP were keeping statistics on dangerous drivers.
Mark picked up his cell phone and dialed 911.
But before Mark could even punch in the second “1” he was forced to drop the phone and grab the steering wheel with both hands.
From the right-hand lane a lime-green Honda with flames down its sides, cut in front of Mother Load, nearly taking off her front bumper and forcing Mark to slam on the brakes. There was a momentary squeal from a half-dozen tires before his truck’s ABS kicked in. For a second or two it seemed as if momentum and the weight of Mother Load’s big diesel engine would throw the tractor into a spin, but Mark managed to hold on, keeping the truck straight as he manhandled it toward the shoulder.
And just as he reached the shoulder, there was another car flashing across his rearview mirrors. This one was a tangerine coloured Nissan with blacked out windows and spoilers in the front and rear. It was following the route of the lime-green Honda and travelling just as fast.
Obviously, the two cars were racing.
Not only was it crazy, it was downright deadly. In the Greater Toronto Area alone there were roughly three truck rollovers each week, or one every other day. And in truck accidents causing death or serious injury, only 15% were caused by the truck driver. The rest, or 85%, were the fault of other motorists weaving in and out of traffic. And even though it was usually the car driver that got the worst of it in collisions with trucks, truck drivers still got killed from time to time and Mark didn’t want to be one of them.
And so, with his white-knuckled hands still gripping the steering wheel, Mark hit the brakes and brought Mother Load to a shuddering halt on the shoulder. He engaged the parking brake and heard the truck let out a deep loud sigh. Mark echoed that, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly between his lips.
Then, with the engine idling quietly and Mark’s world coming back into focus, he looked up and saw the lime-green Honda and the tangerine Nissan weaving in and out of traffic about a half-kilometre down the 400. He looked around and checked his mirrors…not a police car in sight.
He shook his head, then balled his hand into a fist and shook it at the lime-green terror and its tangerine chaser, now little more than two colourful dots on the horizon.
“I might never catch you,” he said. “But I assure you, I’ll get even.”
– Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Going Fast, Getting Furious.