Greatness is in the eye of the beholder – Part 1

by Edo Van Belkom

Mark spent the last few days driving through the U.S. with a load of electronic components destined for a warehouse in Sante Fe, New Mexico. After that load was delivered, Bud sent him to a food processing terminal in Albuquerque where he was scheduled to pick up a load of pecans for a confectioner in Toronto.

He had never been in that part of the U.S. before, and now seeing the rugged hills and mountains spaced between the arid flatlands, he had an idea why. But he also imagined that the climate and conditions were likely good for growing things like pecans, and it was probably why the nut was one of the more expensive ones out there.

After backing up to the loading dock, Mark got out and entered the shipping area, thankful that the warehouse was climate controlled. Mother Load had air conditioning but when it got as hot as New Mexico in late summer, the cab never seems to get totally cooled down.

“What are you here for?” the shipper asked Mark when he appeared out of his office.

“Mark Dalton,” Mark answered. “I’m here for a load of pecans headed for Toronto.”

“Right, okay. It’s ready to go. I’ll have the papers for you in a minute.”

As they had been speaking another driver appeared. He looked to be local, of some sort of Spanish descent, most likely Mexican. When the shipper saw this new driver his head snapped in the man’s direction and he said, “Who the hell are you?”

“Andrew McWaters,” the man said. Mark was surprised by the man’s English without a hint of the Spanish accent he’d expected. “I’m supposed to pick up a load going to Los Angeles.”

“You don’t look like no McWaters to me,” said the shipper.

Obviously, the shipper was as surprised as Mark that the Mexican-looking driver sounded anything but Mexican, but what did that matter, Mark wondered. He was here to pick up a load and he was on time, so what was the problem?

Even though he didn’t have to explain a thing to the shipper, especially about his heritage, he began to anyway…as if he’d told people his story hundreds of times over the years. “My grandfather was an English diplomat in Mexico City in the 1960s. He had an affair with my grandmother who was a cleaner in the Embassy…“

“Save it!” the shipper said, cutting the man off in mid-sentence and retreating to his office.

That left Mark and the other driver alone in the shipping area looking at each other in a long and awkward moment of silence. Mark wanted to say something, but he had no idea what. The man looked as if he was traveling down a road he’d been down before.

Just then the shipper reappeared and said, “I don’t have that load anymore. It’s gone and you need to go too.”

Mark was stunned. How could the load be gone? And why was he being so rude to a driver who was just doing his job?

“But I’ve got all the paperwork, how could it be gone when I’ve got all the paperwork here in my hand?”

“You speak English, so I know you heard me. It’s gone! Understand?”

Mark was unsettled by the scene unfolding before him and was beginning to wonder if the load had suddenly disappeared because the driver who came to get it was Mexican and not the pure white Christian his name suggested him to be.

“I’m just here to pick up a load. I’ve got a wife and family to support…” the driver began to say.

“You speak English well enough, but you still a little stupid.” There was anger and a tinge of hate in the man’s eyes as he spoke. “I can’t give you a load I don’t have.”

The driver continued to stand there and Mark respected the fact that he wasn’t just going to accept that there was no longer a load. But as it stood, there was no way he was going to be leaving with anything in the back of his truck. Unless…

“Why don’t you take my load?” he said.

Both the shipper and other driver looked at him in disbelief.

“It’s a good long haul into Canada.”

“That would be great. My passport’s in my truck.”

Both drivers looked at the shipper at the same time. He was in a bind now. Mark’s load was ready to go. He couldn’t possibly change his story twice in a minute, could he?

“Just a minute,” the shipper said, disappearing into his office.

“Thanks for the offer, man,” the driver said. “I usually wouldn’t take another driver’s load, but I need the work.”

“Don’t worry,” Mark said. “I can always get another load somewhere.” He looked at the man a moment and studied the look of desperation on his face. “I’m guessing this has happened to you before.”

“Every once in a while. More now than in previous years.”

They stood there in silence for a while. Mark didn’t have to wonder why this man had experienced an increase in discrimination like this over the last couple of years.

There was a different feel in parts of the U.S. where racism and overt discrimination had been allowed – even encouraged – to rear their ugly heads. The shipper reappeared with two sets of papers in his hand.

“Turns out I still have that load after all.”

“Thank you,” the driver said, taking the papers from the shipper but looking directly at Mark as he spoke. “Thank you very much.”

Mark nodded.

The shipper then turned to face Mark, his face hardened and chiselled with a hint of irritated anger. “Here’s your papers. They’re loading your truck right now.”

“Thanks,” Mark said. “I appreciate it.”

“Yeah, I bet,” the shipper said, looking Mark up and down. “Next time, you just keep your mouth shut.”

Mark smiled, but just barely. “I don’t know if there will be a next time.”

Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2 of Greatness is in the eye of the beholder.

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