Mark is looking for a load. Bud has a sweet one to California that won’t be ready for a few days. In the meantime, Bud asks Mark to help an older driver, Charlie Knowles, get his licence renewed. Charlie’s a real character and Mark agrees to help out.
After a call to the MTO to get an idea of what’s needed to renew an A/Z licence, Mark meets up with Charlie. The man is as abrasive as ever and is worried Mark will be charging him for his help. When Mark tells Charlie he’s doing a favour for Bud and there’s no charge, Charlie starts making demands, testing Mark’s patience.
“Before we begin,” Mark said, “I want to know if you’ve got the preliminaries taken care of.”
“What are you talking about?” “Well, have you had your physical?” “Aye.” “And?”
“What do you think?” Charlie said, annoyed. “I passed it with flying colours. The doctor told me I’m as fit as a 35-year-old…I bet I’m in better shape than you.”
Mark didn’t doubt it. Charlie was a small, wiry man who could probably run farther, faster and longer than Mark could on the best of days.
“You need to stop eatin’ those sausages and bacon so you can be lean and mean… like me.” Charlie punctuated his words by gritting his teeth, balling his hands into fists and flexing his arms and shoulders.
Mark tried to watch what he ate, and did some exercises to keep in shape, but it was tough sticking to a routine when he was on the road all the time. But while Charlie didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping fit, he did wear a pair of glasses. “What about your eye test?”
“My eyesight’s not the best, I’ll admit. But I’ve have the same prescription for glasses for the last 10 years and nothin’s changed.”
“So you had your eyes tested?”
Charlie looked annoyed again. “Of course I did. I have to have them tested now, don’t I?”
“Right,” Mark said, somehow feeling silly for asking. He almost didn’t want to ask the man any more questions, but there were still aspects of the licence renewal he had to get through. “What about the written test?”
Charlie didn’t answer. “Well?”
“I haven’t done that yet,” he said, soft spoken… almost timid.
“Why not? You’ve got to get it done before your road test.”
Charlie sighed. “I don’t like written tests. I didn’t like them when I was in school, and I certainly don’t like them now.”
“You want me to go through the book with you?” Mark asked. “You know, help you study?”
He shook his head. ” I’ve been through the book half a dozen times. I know everything that’s in there by heart. It’s just something about sitting down and being tested that makes me nervous. I get so worried I can’t sleep, and on the day I just know I’ll be so flustered I won’t remember a thing.”
Mark could understand Charlie’s fears. He’d had similar troubles in high school and never did well on math tests no matter how much he studied. So Charlie’s problem wasn’t so much learning the material as it was getting through the test. And if that was the case, then Mark had a few ideas about how to help.
“If you’re going to have that much trouble with the test, we could cheat.”
“I could do up some cheat sheets with all the answers so you could look at them during the test.”
Charlie beamed. “Now you’re talking.”
Mark grabbed the training booklet, a pad of paper and a pen. Then he opened it up to a page on road signs and began making notes.
“You’re a good teacher,” Charlie said.
“How’s that?” Mark didn’t look up from his paper.
“I feel better about taking the test already.”
A while later they’d found a quiet coffee shop around the corner and -sitting across from each other -went through the book, page by page. As Mark questioned Charlie, it was obvious to Mark that the man had a great deal of driving experience. He had road smarts by the trailer load, but came up with less-than-a-load when it came to the book-smarts department.
For example… “When you’ve experienced a breakdown on a roadway,” Mark asked, “how far back from the end of your trailer must you place the road flares?”
“What?” “How far?”
“What do you mean?”
Mark didn’t think he could ask the question any more simply, but he tried. “How far back do you put your flares?”
Charlie shook his head. “Far enough behind so people coming up the road can see them.”
It was a good answer, and he’d probably place them the right distance apart if he ever had a breakdown, but the test required the answer to be a bit more specific. “I’m looking for the distance in meters.”
“Yeah, how many?” “How should I know?”
“You should know because you’re going to be tested on it.”
“The number of meters?” “Yes.”
He said nothing more, obviously thinking hard.
Mark decided to try and help the man find the answer he probably already knew. “Try this,” he said. “Imagine putting the flares out on the roadway… and then estimate how far they are from the back of the trailer.”
“Aye, I can do that.” Charlie closed his eyes a moment, then said, “I’d guess 100 feet… that would be about what, 30 metres?”
Mark looked at Charlie, and smiled. “See, you knew the answer the whole time.”
“Is that the right answer?”
“One flare 30 metres in front and one 30 metres to the rear of the vehicle,” Mark said, writing the answer on a narrow slip of paper Charlie would be able to tuck away in his sleeve.
Charlie was smiling. “Maybe it won’t be so bad.”
They carried on for another hour until they’d gone through the entire book.
“I think you’re ready,” Mark said at last. “You really think so?”
Mark nodded, looking at his watch. “There’s still time. Why don’t I drive over to the DriveTest facility so you can take the test.”
“What? Today?” “Right now!”
“I don’t know,” Charlie said, his voice suddenly edged with fear and self-doubt.
“You know the answers,” Mark said. “And even if you don’t…” He held the cheat sheets in the air and waved them back and forth. “You’ve got these.”
“Right,” Charlie nodded. “Let’s do it.” “Now you’re talking.”
Mark took Charlie to the DriveTest facil-ity in Brampton and parked in the Home Depot parking lot next door. As Charlie readied to leave Mother Load, Mark handed him a few slips of paper -all blank -to slip under his sleeve.
“Wish me luck,” Charlie said, getting out.
“You won’t need any.”
Just over an hour later, Charlie returned to the truck, a sheet of paper in his hand and a big grin on his face.
“How’d you do?” Mark asked, as Charlie climbed into Mother Load.
“Near perfect score.”
“What about the cheat sheets?” Mark asked.
“Didn’t need them. I knew all the answers and when you know the answers, the test is easy.”
“What’d you do with them?”
“Tossed them in the garbage on my way out. I didn’t want to have them… you know, in case I got stopped or something.”
Mark put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “I knew you could do it.”
“Of course I could,” Charlie said, chest out and looking like he might call Mark a loser at any moment. “I’ve been driving for 45 years. It’ll take more than a wee written test to get me off the road.”
Mark smiled. Charlie had every right to be pleased, but it was a bit too soon to be overconfident. “Now all that’s left is the road test,” he said.
“Oh yeah, the road test,” Charlie sighed, his spirits coming back down to earth in a fireball of uncertainty. “Thanks for reminding me.”
-Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Licence Renewed.