THE STORY SO FAR
Mark decides to sign up for Goober, a ridesharing service and make some extra money.
Mark’s first ride is terrific – a young musician traveling the country. The second however is a strange moonchild. He hurries so much to get her to her destination and off his truck, he winds up with a speeding ticket. Mark’s next rider was an elderly man heading across Winnipeg for a romantic encounter with his girlfriend, a woman nearly half his 75 years. Then it was a junior hockey player who’d had a rough time in Ontario who was looking for a fresh start in Calgary…
The last leg of the trip from Calgary to Vancouver would be easy, especially if the next rider was as interesting as the past four had been. This time Mark got up early and made sure he had a full breakfast inside the Roadking Travel Centre on Barlow Trail SE. It was central enough that his rider could get there without too much trouble.
After emptying his coffee cup, Mark left a decent tip (something he could afford thanks to Goober) and headed back to Mother Load eager to see whom he’d be riding with.
As he neared his truck, Mark felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Sitting on the pavement at one end of the yard was a dishevelled man with a few day’s growth of beard, clothes that looked as if they’d passed through a paper shredder, and a collection of bags that wouldn’t look out of place on a curb on garbage day.
“Please don’t let this be the guy,” Mark said under his breath.
He took a quick look around the lot and saw two other people milling about. One was a middle-aged man with a single tote bag over his shoulder, and the other was a young woman with a backpack. Either of those would be fine, he thought. Just don’t let it be that hobo over there.
Mark looked left and right, then pointed at himself. “You talkin’ to me?”
“Yeah.” The man pointed at Mother Load. “That your truck?”
Mark’s heart sunk. He had put a description of his vehicle in his Goober profile so there was no way a rider wouldn’t recognize Mother Load when they saw it. There was also no way to get out of this fare without flat-out lying to the man. “It is.”
“Then let’s get to Vancouver.”
Mark took a deep breath and let out a long, drawn-out sight. He forced a smile. “Let’s go.”
The man had looked like he smelled bad from a distance, but there was no way Mark could have known he smelled this bad until they were in the cab together. Wow, did he stink…like he hadn’t showered in weeks and had spent all of that time sleeping in dumpsters and garbage bins.
“You know,” Mark said. “The truck stop there has shower stalls and a laundromat.”
“I saw that,” the man nodded. “But I’m saving my money. That’s why I’m riding with you.”
“If you really want to save money, maybe you should hitch-hike, you know… ride in the back of someone’s pick-up truck.”
He laughed. “That’s how I got here. Took my three weeks from Moncton, but I did it. The last guy I was riding with was heading all the way to Vancouver, but he gave me seventy-five bucks to get out of his car. That’s why I’ve got the money to get to Vancouver in style in your truck.”
“What are you gonna do when you get there?” Mark asked, resisting the temptation to say, “Take a bath?”
“Don’t know. Just getting there will be enough for now. I might hang out in Stanley Park for a while, maybe join a protest or two… you know, see what happens.”
Some might call Mark’s passenger a free spirit, other might use the term adventurer, but the only polite terms that came to Mark’s mind were vagabond, drifter, and tramp. He was tempted to give the man money to get out of his truck, just as his previous driver had done, but Mark was out to make money at this, not spend it. And besides, if he refused a passenger it might end Mark’s time with Goober before he’d given it a proper chance. And so, he rolled down both windows and headed west to Vancouver.
By the time they were driving the valley between Canmore and Banff, Mark had gotten used to the foul smell in the cab and was able to breathe easier. He couldn’t be sure if the smell would linger once the man was gone, but if it did, Mother Load was due for an internal detailing anyway. At least this way Mark would be getting his money’s worth out of the cleaning.
“Hungry?” the man said.
Mark looked over at him. “No, why?”
He opened the only bag Mark had allowed him to take with him in the cab and began searching around inside for something. “I’m a little hungry. Good thing I got some snacks.”
Snacks? thought Mark. What kind of snacks?
“One good thing about sleeping outdoors, it gives you plenty of chances to find things.” He pulled out some honey buns that looked as if they’d been in their plastic bag for weeks.
“The restaurant threw these out the other night. Just a couple of days past their expiry date.”
“Want one?” He thrust a honey bun in Mark’s direction.
Mark glanced over long enough to see all kinds of crumbs slipping through his grimy fingers and ending up on the floor of his cab. “No thanks.”
“More for me.”
“I’d appreciate it if you were careful about the crumbs. I try to keep my truck clean.”
“No problem.” He ate the honey buns carefully, doing his best to brush the crumbs out the open window, but most of them were blown back inside by the wind. “Whoops,” he said. “My bad.”
“That’s alright,” Mark said. “I was planning on getting my truck cleaned anyway.”
The man took a quick look around the cab. “It could use it.”
Mark tightened his grip on the steering wheel to keep himself from pulling over and throwing the guy out onto the shoulder.
“Mind if I sleep for a while.”
“Be my guest.”
And with that, the man leaned back and put his feet up on the dash.
Mark cherished the calm and quiet too much to say a word.
It wasn’t until Kamloops that Mark noticed them on the center console. At first he didn’t know what they were, but a long second glance allowed him to recognize them as a set of false teeth. Two to be exact, from the upper right side of the man’s mouth.
“Hey,” Mark said. “Get those off there.”
“Those… teeth. Off.”
“Because I don’t want them there.”
“If I was on a bus I could put them anywhere I like.”
For an instant Mark wondered where else on Earth these things had been. “But you’re not on a bus, you’re on MY truck and I don’t want those things there.”
“Suit yourself,” he said, picking them up and putting them back in his mouth.
And then came the final straw.
Without warning, the man farted. It was long and noisy and smelled as bad as you would expect coming from such a filthy human being.
Mark immediately started shifting down to cool off his engine.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re making a bathroom stop.”
“I don’t need to go.”
“I beg to differ.”
A pause. “Maybe you’re right. I could probably do with dropping off a couple of kids at the pool.”
When the reached the Husky in Merritt, Mark pulled right up to the entrance closest to the bathrooms.And the moment the man went inside, Mark logged on to Goober and removed his profile for good.