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.
Charlie goes to do his written test. Mark had prepared cheat sheets to help the man, but replace them with blank pieces of paper just before the test so Charlie would pass the test on his own merits. He does pass without checking the cheat sheets and now he’s getting cocky. Mark reminds him there’s still a road test and Charlie comes back to earth hard.
Mark met up with Charlie early the next morning. Charlie’s road test was at 2 p.m. and that gave them a few hours to go over things and do a few dry runs before doing it for real.
“How are you feeling?” Mark asked. “Not so good,” Charlie said.
Mark didn’t doubt it. There was sweat across the man’s bald pate and his skin looked pale. “You’ll do fine.”
Charlie nodded. “Let’s get this done.”
“We’ll start with a circle check.” They both got out of the truck and Mark stood back while Charlie went through his routine, beginning with the hood and cab. He did a walk around the entire rig, then asked Mark to help him out with the light and signal tests. Finally, after a detailed inspection of the brakes, Charlie uncoupled and coupled the rig.
“Then let’s go for a drive.”
Charlie smiled and quickly got up behind the wheel. He seemed happy there… comfortable. And when they got underway, Charlie proved to be an excellent driver, sometimes doing a smoother job of running through the gears than Mark usually did. It was obvious that Charlie was an excellent driver, but the question was, did he do everything well enough to pass a road test?
“Well?” Charlie asked, when he’d finally come to a stop.
Mark shrugged. “I’m no tester, but you seemed to drive alright to me.”
“You think I’ll pass?”
“I think so, but you never know what they’ll be looking for.”
“So there’s a chance I could fail?” “I didn’t say that.”
Charlie looked worried now, biting his lower lip. “I want some cheat sheets for the road test too…to remind me how to do things the right way.”
Mark was about to tell him that cheat sheets wouldn’t help him on a road test, but he stopped himself. Maybe writing some of this stuff down would calm Charlie’s nerves. “Sure, why not?”
They went to a Tim’s down the road and got to writing. By one in the afternoon, Charlie knew everything he needed to know.
“I sure hope I do alright,” Charlie said, taking the keys to Mother Load.”
“Of course you will. You don’t forget 40 years of driving experience overnight,” Mark said, reaching over and discreetly removing the cheat sheets from Charlie’s coat pocket. “You’ll do fine.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“I hope so, too,” Mark said under his breath, watching Charlie leave.
Charlie returned a couple of hours later, a dark scowl on his face.
“Did you pass the test?” Mark asked. “Did you get your licence renewed?”
“Of course I did, no thanks to you.” “What do you mean?”
Charlie glared at him. “Just before I was about to start my circle check, I reached into my pocket for my cheat sheets and all I found was a slip of paper from you saying, ‘Good Luck!'”
“I didn’t want you to fail just because you got caught cheating.”
Charlie nodded. “That’s very kind of you, except there’s nothing in the laws that make it illegal to have something written down on paper to help you get through the road test.”
“No, there isn’t. I could have had the whole study book with me if I’d wanted.”
“Oh, well then,” Mark said, trying not to smile. “I’m glad it all worked out okay. I knew you could do it on your own anyway.”
“Yeah, well, there were times when I wasn’t so sure.”
“Like when the tester walked out to the truck and I realized he couldn’t be more than 22 years old. He said he had his A/Z but you just know he did the test just to put the licence in his pocket. If he ever did a long-haul in his life it was to move his X-Box from his mommy’s basement to college and then back again.”
“You weren’t disrespectful, were you?”
“Of course not, but I didn’t have to like him now, did I?”
“You didn’t like him?”
“If we were sitting in the pub drinking ale and watching the Rangers playing Everton, I might have liked him just fine. But it’s hard to like a fella who has the power to decide whether you can go on making a living or not.”
Fair enough, Mark thought. “Was the test difficult, then?”
“Not really. But when I asked the boy if I was getting the old-timer’s test, he told me every test was the same.” Charlie shook his head.
“I didn’t appreciate that. After driving without a problem for 45 years I got tested the same way the kid who wants to drive daddy’s truck on the weekend, or the lassie who wants to drive a few hours while her husband sleeps on a busman’s holiday to Florida.”
Mark shook his head. “You must have passed easily.”
“I would have, but the tester kept saying things like, ‘Are you sure that’s right?’ or ‘Do you always do it that way?’ It got so bad I was having trouble telling the accelerator from the clutch pedal.”
“That could be a problem.”
“Aye, so I asked him how bad I had to be to fail the test and he said, ‘A fail’s a fail no matter what age you are.’ For example, if I uncoupled the trailer before I let the landing gear down, that would be a fail. And if I didn’t signal a turn or went through a stop sign, those would be fails too.”
“Sounds pretty basic.”
“That’s what I thought. So when I realized I’d be fine as long as I drove the way I normally do, the rest of the test was as refreshing as a cool breeze under my kilt.”
Mark laughed. Charlie was a true character and the road needed drivers like him regardless of how old he was.
Charlie took Mark out for a steak dinner that night to thank Mark for his help, but cut the evening short right after dinner. “I’d love to share a pint with you, but I’ve got a sweet load waiting for me.”
“Already?” Mark said. “Good for you.”
“Hey, when you’re as good a driver as I am, the good loads come your way.”
Not to be outdone, Mark said, “Well, I’ve got a great load waiting for me too.”
“Then I won’t keep you,” Charlie said, paying for the meal on his way out the door.
As he watched Charlie leave, Mark felt pretty good about the deed he’d done. Now all that was left was to head for California and make it a feel-good day all around. He took out his cell phone and called Bud from the dinner table. “Hi Bud, this is Mark.”
From the tone of Bud’s voice, Mark knew there was something wrong. “What happened to the load?”
“You should have called sooner,” Bud said. “I just gave that California load to another driver.”
“Charlie Knowles. Hey, thanks for helping him out with his licence renewal, by the way. He couldn’t say enough good things about you.”
Mark wished he could return the sentiment. “You gave my load to that, that… Scotsman?”
“Yeah, he said you were busy the next few days and would be happy if he got the load instead of you because, you know… he was your student an all. Besides, the load needed one of my best drivers and if Charlie’s licence is good, then he’s one of the best.”
“Really?” Mark wanted to be mad, but all he could do was laugh.
“Relax,” said Bud. “I’ve got plenty of other loads.”
“Yeah, like what?”
“Lemme see, how ’bout a load of machine parts to a lumber mill in Timmins?”
Mark sighed. “I’ll take it.”
But while Charlie and Mark were headed in different directions, Mark was sure the two of them would meet again someday. Mark for one, was looking forward to it.
-Mark Dalton returns next month in another adventure.
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