With a storm coming, Mark pulls into the Husky in Dryden. He offers help to a woman driver struggling to install her chains, but she tells him to get lost. Some time later, she enters the restaurant and is teased by a group of men who’d been watching her. She confronts the biggest loudmouth of the group head on and shuts them down, gaining Mark’s respect.
The woman ordered and ate her food in silence, looking over at the men by the window once, then spending the rest of her time looking down at her plate and eating in silence.
She seemed lonely sitting there and Mark couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Despite the way she’d snapped at him before, he felt compelled to try and do something nice for her now.
“That was good,” he said aloud. “The way you handled them.”
“Huh.” The woman lifted her head and looked around to see who’d been speaking.
“I said, the way you handled them was good. Put them in their place.”
He laughed under his breath. “No matter what I say, guys like that are always going to have strength in numbers.”
A look of disgust flashed across her face as she glanced across the restaurant. “I see these same guys on the road by themselves and they never say a word…barely even look me in the eye.”
Mark nodded, not doubting for a second that they were all blowhards who were afraid of women deep down inside, especially those that were doing the same thing for a living as they were.
The conversation went back and forth a few more times before she took a deep breath, let out a little sigh and said, “I’m sorry for blowing you off before.”
“That’s okay,” Mark responded. “I’m sure you had your reasons.”
“Only about a million of them.”
“I’ll listen to them all if you want to go through the list.”
She considered it, then said, “That’d be nice.”
Mark got up from his table and joined her. “Mark,” he said. “Mark Dalton.”
“That name sounds familiar…” she said. “I’m Nancy McEvoy.”
“Pleased to meet you, Nancy.” They shook hands and Mark took the seat across the table from her. “You know, I was only trying to help before,” he said. “You looked like you were having trouble.”
“I realized that after I saw you help that other man. I could have used your help…it’s just that so many drivers…men, offer to help me in a patronizing way because they think I can’t do the job. I don’t need that kind of help, nor do I want it.”
Mark never thought of it that way, but he could see how it might happen. As he sat there, he wondered if he would have made that initial offer of help had it not been a woman struggling with the chains.
“You know what the irony is?” she said. “The reason I was struggling with the chains is because the driver who used the truck before me – a man – broke the chains the last time he used them and he didn’t stow them away whole. Didn’t tell anybody about it either. So here I am, the woman driver who doesn’t know how to install her equipment when in reality it was the big macho driver who left a fellow driver short.”
“How’d you get them on in the end?”
She smiled. “I jury-rigged a couple of links with wire cutters and some coat hangers.”
“Think it’ll work?”
“I sure hope so,” she said. “Can you imagine what these idiots would say if my chains come off on the highway and I got stranded?”
Mark could imagine it, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
“See, I have to work twice as hard just to prove that I’m half as good as any male driver.”
Mark had heard that equation before.
“But I’ll tell you…being half as good as the male drivers I see on the road isn’t good enough for me. I want to be better than that. I think I am better than that.”
Mark nodded. “Trucking is an industry that rewards people who work hard and are professional about what they do.”
“Absolutely,” she agreed. “But when you have ambition, work hard and stand up for yourself as a man, you’re considered a good driver and a model employee. If you’re a woman and you do all those things, all you’re labelled is a bitch.”
Mark wanted to defend the industry he’d worked in for so many years, but he didn’t really know enough about this issue to counter her argument. Besides, he wasn’t sure there was all that much of a counter-argument. In the end, all he could say was, “Well, you’ve got yourself to this point, so it can’t be all bad.”
She just laughed at him. “How many women do you know of who hire drivers for trucking companies?”
Mark couldn’t think of one.
“So when you ask an employer about how much home time you’ll get every week, how clean the washrooms are, or if the truck you’ll be getting has a new mattress, what do you think the response is?”
Probably not good, thought Mark.
“Men want to know these things too, but they never ask. So when a woman asks, she’s being difficult or soft.”
That was probably true.
“And if I complain about language that’s disparaging to women, or just plain foul, they say I can’t take it and don’t belong.” She paused and moved her plate on the table as if to give weight to what she was about to say. “I know all the four-letter words and can swear like a sailor if I want to…but why should I have to?”
Mark didn’t have an answer.
“You could make the argument that women can’t do this job because they’re not as physically strong as men, but take a look around you. Half the men on the road these days aren’t in any shape to do the job.”
Mark’s head swiveled on his neck as he checked out the restaurant. He wasn’t sure it was half, but there were a lot of men in the place that looked like they might get winded tying up their boots.
“I’m organized,” she continued. “I can multi-task, I keep my equipment clean and in good-working order and I know all of the rules of the road. I have to because if I don’t other drivers will think I’m stupid…which I assure you I am not.”
Her body was trembling and it was obvious that this subject easily touched a nerve. “I never thought you were stupid.”
All at once her expression changed, as if she suddenly remembered there was someone who could be considered a friend sitting across the table from her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Once I get on a roll, I have trouble stopping.”
Mark shrugged.“Don’t apologize. Driving a truck is hard enough as it is. You’ve got to deal with the same things everyone else has to deal with, plus you’re a woman.”
“Thanks for listening…and understanding.”
“No problem,” Mark said. “You’ve actually opened my eyes to something I never really knew was there.”
“And now you’re gonna spread the good word?” she laughed, an edge of cynicism in her voice.
“Why not,” he said. “Everyone’s so desperate for new drivers to get into the industry, why not more women?”
Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of Just one of the guys.