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Mark Dalton: Owner/operator Just in Time, Part 1

Mark Dalton spent two more days in Collingwood, Ont., driving the cast and crew around to different locations in the production company van, and using his Pete to move the wind machines twice. When th...

Mark Dalton spent two more days in Collingwood, Ont., driving the cast and crew around to different locations in the production company van, and using his Pete to move the wind machines twice. When the production was done with the machines, and the police were finished asking him questions about the assistant director who’d tried to kill him, Mark was paid by the production company’s accountant for his time on the set. The administrative people were also very careful to get the correct spelling of his name so they would get it right in the movie’s closing credits. He would be listed as one of the film’s four drivers, which would make the video a neat thing to have, even if it didn’t star Shannon Tweed.

As Mark cruised down Hwy. 400 toward Toronto, where he was to deliver the wind machines for a CBC production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he fished his cell phone out of his jacket pocket and called up his dispatcher, Bud. He’d be finished with the load by five that afternoon and it would be nice to have a new load to wake up to.

“Dispatch!” Bud barked. “Who the hell are you?”

“It’s Mark, Bud. Mark Dalton.”

“What do you want, Dalton?”

“I’m coming into Toronto tonight and I’m looking for something for tomorrow morning.”

“What’s the matter?” said Bud. “Parking brakes not working on your rig?”

Mark cracked a smile. “If I stay too long in the city, I might be tempted to visit my ex-wife. That’s just more trouble than it’s worth.”

Mark could hear Bud’s wheezing laugh over the phone, but had trouble picturing the big man in a good mood. “Sorry, Dalton. I ain’t got nothing for tomorrow, or the day after. And the load I had for Thursday was already snapped up. Call me tomorrow and see what I have then.”

“OK. Talk to you later.”

Mark hung up and put away the phone, not looking forward to spending a couple days in Toronto. He was sure he’d be able to find something to do, but he just didn’t like the idea of sitting and waiting around. Never did.

As he neared the city, Mark was lucky to hit the 401 in the middle of the afternoon when the cross-town traffic wasn’t too bad. He headed to the Don Valley Parkway and took that south. After he got off at the bottom of the DVP, it took him an hour to find the film studio in an area that seemed to be littered with what looked like bombed out factories and warehouses. However, once he’d found the place, he was done in less than 20 minutes.

He headed back up the DVP and went east again on the 401 on his way to Scarborough. He kept a post-office box there for all his bills, paychecks and correspondence, and checked it at least once a month. After picking up the bundle of mail that had accumulated over the last few weeks, he checked into the nearby Days Inn where a lot of truckers spend the night. After he brought his stuff up to his room, he headed down to the coffee shop for a sandwich and a coffee.

As he entered the shop, he saw several familiar faces, including that of Johnny Jones, a driver in his early 20s that Mark had helped get his first rig. The young man didn’t look too well with an empty coffee cup and an ashtray full of butts sitting on the table in front of him.

“Hey, Johnny,” Mark said, smiling. “How goes the battle?”

“Shitty,” said Johnny.

Mark lost the smile. “Let me get something to eat, I’ll be right with you.” Mark bought an egg-salad sandwich, just like Benny Cooperman, one of his favorite literary detectives, always ordered. He sat down next to the younger man, pushed a coffee in front of him and said, “You look terrible. What’s going on?”

Johnny took a deep breath, and let out a sigh. “I’ve been working for JJ and G for six months now – “

Already, Mark didn’t like where this was headed. He’d never driven for JJ and G, but he’d heard plenty of stories from other drivers. It was one of those companies that had grown quickly on the backs of a lot of naive and unsuspecting drivers.

“- and everything had been OK, you know. Sometimes they charged me for a little thing here and there, but they always had a good load for me.” He shrugged. “I thought I was doing pretty good by them.”

“So what happened?”

“My last trip out was 15 days. I went from Toronto to San Francisco, to Vancouver, to Edmonton, back to Vancouver, again to Edmonton, and then on into Toronto. When I got back I handed in all my bills of lading into the office at one time. This month their check arrived and it didn’t have payment for the trip west to Vancouver, or the second trip into Edmonton

“They said they don’t have the bills of lading for those loads. I don’t know how that can be, I handed them all in at the same time. They said they’re looking for them, but who knows if they’ll ever find them.”

Mark took a sip of coffee, even though Johnny’s story was making him feel sick to his stomach.

“Now I want to take on a new load, but I really can’t afford to. I’m already out $6,000 and if I take on another job with this company and they stiff me again, I could be $10,000 in the hole. And if I don’t take another load, I doubt I’ll ever see any part of my $6,000.”

It was a tough spot for a young guy to be in. Hell, for anybody to be in. And this was a nice young kid ready to work hard to make a living, except some black-hearted bean counter figures it’s more important to keep the books looking good.

“What about your rig?”

“How many payments do they let you miss before they take it away from you?”

Mark closed his eyes and shook his head. There were just too many companies that didn’t think twice about pulling the rug out from under some young guy who’s hardly put any rubber on the road. And they got away with it more often than not because they held all the cards against these guys. They had the work. They held the money. And all the operator had was a need to provide for himself and his family, which more often than not forced him to take whatever crumbs the company decided to give him.

“What am I gonna do, Mark?” Johnny asked, taking his first sip of coffee. “What am I gonna do?”

Mark shrugged. “I don’t know, give me some time and maybe I’ll think of something.” n

– Next month: Just in Time, Part 2.

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