Mark had little trouble qualifying for Goober. He’d thought that because his vehicle was a semi and he’d be taking a load the entire way to Vancouver that the ride service might not accept him, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, once he’d completed the questionnaire and all the required forms, a small message popped up on his computer screen and asked him, “Would you like to start earning money, now?”
Mark deferred, not wanting to use Mother Load to provide rides within any city limits because there were so many roads he couldn’t access in a rig. Instead, he clicked on the long-distance page and broke up his next trip into several smaller trips that would see him providing rides for a bunch of different people on his way to the western coast of Canada.
The first leg would be Toronto to Timmins, then Timmins to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Regina, Regina to Calgary and Calgary to Vancouver. By the end of it, Mark would have a good idea if Goober was for him and if the extra money was worth the inconvenience of having to think about someone else’s well-being all the way across the country.
When Mark was done logging his trip into the website, he realized that he had already spent a half-hour working for Goober without earning a cent. He could accept that as just a part of doing business as he couldn’t start any new endeavour without investing either time or money into the process, so a half-hour of his time seemed reasonable.
“Okay,” he said allowed as he clicked on the submit icon. “Let’s see how this works out.”
He got a notification on his cell phone less than 20 minutes later.
“Need to get to Timmins, fast. When can you pick me up?”
“Seven a.m. tomorrow morning. No pick-up. Meet me at Flying J truck stop on Albion Road.”
Mark was prepared for his rider to balk at the prospect of having to meet up with his ride at a truck stop as Goober drivers usually provided door-to-door service, but the response was positive.
“Cool. See you there at 7 a.m.”
“This just might work out,” Mark said under his breath.
Mark pulled into the Flying J truck stop at 6:45 the next morning expecting to park his truck, grab a coffee and wait for his rider to show. Instead, he saw a young man sitting at a picnic table along with a backpack, a duffle bag and a guitar case by his side.
That’s got to be him, Mark thought. He was wearing a dirty jean jacket, brown denim pants and a pair of cowboy boots of the kind Mark thought they didn’t make any more. He had sideburns, long hair combed straight back and looked like he’d lost either his motorcycle or the rest of his band.
He pulled up close to the picnic table, rolled down his window and said, “You going to Timmins?”
“I am if you are,” the man said in reply.
Mark parked Mother Load and got out so the young man could tie his bags down on the back of the rig.
“What about the guitar?” Mark asked after they’d secured the first two bags.
“It stays with me.”
“Is it valuable?”
“Not really, but it’s the only one I’ve got.”
They were an hour out of Toronto on Hwy. 400 when Mark couldn’t ignore his curiosity any longer. “You live in Timmins?”
“No, I’m from Stouffville. I’ve got a gig in Timmins tomorrow night.”
“A professional musician,” Mark said.
“Last couple of years, yeah.”
Mark drove on for a kilometer before saying anything else. “You mean to tell me I’m driving Stompin’ Tom Connors across Ontario?”
The young man laughed. “I do a lot of his songs in my act, but my name’s Joey Willis. I perform under the name Joe E. Canada.”
Mark was beside himself. This Goober thing was working out better than he could have hoped. Here he was on his first day on the job and a new Canadian folk hero was a passenger in his truck.
“You mind singing a few songs?” Mark asked. “It would make the drive go by faster.”
“Sure,” he said, turning around to grab his guitar. The rest the trip went by in a flash. They sang all kinds of Stompin’ Tom songs, from “Bud the Spud” to “Big Joe Muffaraw,” but it was “The Hockey Song” that Mark enjoyed most since it was the only song to which he knew the words to the chorus. In no time they were on the outskirts of Timmins and Mark was actually sorry to see the ride come to an end.
“How long are you going to be playing here?” Mark asked as he pulled up in front of a low-rent watering hole on the edge of town.
“Who knows?” Joey said. “If they like me, a couple of days…If they don’t like me, a couple of days.”
“I’d really like to see your show.”
“Well, look me up in any small town you’re in. Chances are our paths will cross again sometime.”
“I sure hope so,” Mark said.
The next morning, Mark was ready to hit the road by 8 a.m., but his rider was nowhere in sight. He’d arranged to meet the next passenger at an intersection near the highway leading out of Timmins, but here he was idling fuel through his exhaust stacks and wasting precious time. And then a car pulled up, a woman got out dressed in a multi-color coat, bright yellow rubber boots and hat that had two flowers sticking out of it like antennae, one red and one blue. Then, after the woman, two, three…five bags fell out of the car onto the shoulder.
“You going to Winnipeg?” Mark asked.
“Yes,” she said. “You the guy taking me there?”
Mark almost said, “No,” but resisted. “That’s me.”
“About time you got here!”
Mark almost apologized for being late, but then realized he had been waiting for her to show up.
“I was waiting for you!”
“Let me help you with those bags.”
“No!” she shouted. “Absolutely not! I’ve just got their karma right and I don’t need you to upset them by touching them…with your hands.”
Mark was speechless, unsure whether she had been talking about her bags or something else that he’d missed.
“My stuff is important to me,” she said. “I can’t have people messing up my stuff by putting their vibrations on them.”
Again, Mark was at a loss for words and wondered if this woman knew they would be riding in the truck together for the next few hours. She was sure acting as if she didn’t.
“Let’s go!” she said as she got into the passenger seat. “I’ve got no time to waste waiting for you to decide you’re ready.” Then, as she was eating a rice cake she’d pulled out of her bag, she said, “If we’re still on the road when the moon comes out, I’ll have to spend the night in here.”
Mark didn’t need to hear another word. He put Mother Load in high gear and booked it all the way to Winnipeg, earning himself a speeding ticket at the Ontario-Manitoba border along the way.