Mark has a coffee with two other drivers who work for Bud. One of the drivers, a constant complainer named Manny Giron, wants to know why Bud gives Mark all the best loads while he’s getting only local runs? Mark can’t speak for Bud, and takes offense to Manny’s assertion that Mark is paying Bud kickbacks. Just as the conversation starts to get heated, Bud enters the coffee shop.
Mark Dalton sat in silence at the table along with two other men, a younger driver named Manny Giron who felt he wasn’t getting any good loads, and a suicide jockey named Franco who hauled anything that was flammable or explosive, preferably both. All their eyes were on Bud – the man who dispatched all of their loads – as he ordered a coffee and donut up at the counter.
As Bud neared the table, Franco pulled up a chair for the man to sit down. “You’re right on time, Bud. We were just talking about you.”
“So that’s why my ears were burning,” Bud said. He looked at each of the men in turn, then made a face. “This can’t be good.”
“We’re just talking,” Franco said.
Mark waited for Manny to ask Bud about his loads, but he said nothing. Mark wasn’t all that surprised by Manny’s silence. For as long as he’d known the man – which wasn’t very long at all – the guy had been a lot of talk without much action. Sure he’d gripe and complain to a bunch of drivers about the way he felt he was being treated, but he’d never have the backbone to confront the problem head-on. That’s why Mark decided to give him a hand.
“Manny here has been complaining about the loads he’s been getting,” Mark said.
Manny’s face seem to pale slightly.
“Is that true?” Bud asked, taking a sip of coffee and a bite of his donut. “Well, a little.”
“Are you kidding me?” Mark said. “Why, just a few minutes ago Manny here was saying I get all the best loads because I’m either paying you a kickback or plying you with booze.”
Bud looked at Manny, a hint of disappointment in his eyes. “That true?”
Manny seemed to shrink back in his chair. “He does get a lot of sweet loads.”
“I see,” was all Bud said.
“And, well, I don’t know. Maybe I could get myself one of those good loads every once in a while.”
Bud said nothing for the longest time, taking several sips of his coffee and polishing off his donut with just a few bites. He slowly wiped the crumbs off his hands, then pushed them off the table with a wipe of a paper napkin. Finally, once the table was clean, he took one last sip of coffee and said, “You’ve been working for me steady for a while now, right?”
“Ten months tomorrow.”
“And every time you call I’ve got a load for you?”
“And you’ve even had so much work that you’ve had to turn me down a couple of times.”
“I do have a life.” “I’m not saying you don’t,” Bud reasoned. “And I don’t have a problem with you saying ‘no’ every once in a while. People should have some balance in their lives. I’m just asking so everything’s clear.”
“So what’s clear?” Manny asked, his eyes wide with fear.
“I want to make sure all the facts are straight before I start talking, because I don’t want you to start backtracking once I get going.”
Franco said, “This ought to be good.”
“First of all, Mark Dalton never refuses a load. He might ask me for something special, he might choose one load over another, or he might ask me not to call him for a couple of days when he decides to take a few off, but he’s never said ‘no’ to me.”
Mark raised his head and tried to think back to a time when he might have turned Bud down. For all his efforts, he couldn’t think of one.
“Not once?” Manny said in disbelief.
“Nope,” Bud said with a slight shake of his head. “Now, he’s not always my first choice for certain loads…”
Mark did a slight double-take.
“But I’ve never had to tell one of my customers that I’ve got no-one to take a load because in the end I know I can always call Mark and he’ll help me out.”
Manny didn’t seem all that impressed. “But you do give him a lot of the best loads?” he said.
“Of course I do,” Bud snapped. “He takes whatever I give him, even last minute loads…” Bud leaned forward so his face was closer to Manny’s. “And he never complains.”
Everyone looked at Manny.
“What? I don’t complain…that much.”
Franco laughed out loud. Mark kept his laughter under his breath.
“No?” Bud said with a sneer. “Every time I talk to you there’s something wrong. ‘Do you know how long I had to wait for the shipper to let me back up to the loading dock.’ ‘It was a no touch load, but they were so slow unloading I had to give them a hand.'”
Franco was still laughing. In fact everyone at the table was enjoying Bud’s rant, except for Manny. He was shrinking back into his chair, appearing to get smaller with each passing second.
“Even what you’re doing now,” Bud continued. “I’d call that complaining.”
“Me too,” said Franco.
“But I’m being a bit unfair singling you out like this…”
Manny was happy to hear that, sitting a little straighter in his seat.
“I’ve got a half-dozen drivers who are worse than you, calling in sick every time it rains, or whenever the sun is shining – take your pick. They don’t want to ever touch a load. They won’t take anything they have to strap down and check every hundred miles or so. They won’t go to the east coast because fuel’s too expensive there. Or I pay for their fuel and they use it like it’s water.”
Bud stopped then, taking a moment to catch his breath.
Mark couldn’t resist the opportunity. “But tell us how you really feel, Bud.”
“Yeah,” said Franco. “Don’t hold back, Bud.”
“I can understand if a guy’s got a problem, sure I’d like to hear about it. But some drivers just go on and on and on. I’ll bet you 80% of my time is spent dealing with 20% of my drivers. Drivers like Mark are able to handle problems themselves, which gives me more time to do my job, which is getting the best loads for my drivers.”
Manny was about to say something then, but Bud cut him off.
“All my drivers.”
Manny took a second crack at it. “I handle problems too.”
Bud nodded. “Yes, but the way you handle a problem, it causes another.”
“Like that time in Pennsylvania when you had a flat at two in the morning. Instead of handling it yourself, you called me up in the middle of the night to tell me you had a flat tire.”
Manny shrugged. “I don’t know anybody in Pennsylvania. Who else am I going to call?”
“So, like the good boss I am, I start calling around to get someone out to change your tire.” He paused a moment. “But were you there when the tire man arrived?” Another, shorter pause. “Nooooo!”
Both Mark and Franco groaned at that.
“I found somebody to fix the tire.” “But you never called to let me know.” “I didn’t think you were doing anything.”
“And you never thought to ask.” Manny said nothing, but Mark and Franco filled the void by saying, “You gotta call.”
“Then there was that time I asked you to do a load to Edmonton…and you refused.”
“My girlfriend was coming into town.”
Bud smiled. “Sure, that’s important, but I need you to drive for me when I need you, not just when it’s good for you.”
“But if you gave me better loads, I’d be more willing to take whatever loads you offered me.”
Bud shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Mark thought about his next load, what it was and where it was going, then cracked open his cell phone to check if he still had a certain number. When the number was there, Mark decided that maybe Manny deserved to take his load. Then, before Bud could start in on another rant, Mark spoke up. “Manny,” he said. “Where’s your next load going?”
“Mine’s going to Tampa. If it’s alright with Bud, why don’t we switch loads?”
Manny eyed Mark suspiciously. “There’s
got to be something wrong.”
“Nothing wrong. A nice long haul into Tampa and as many days layover you want. I hear it’s quite warm there this time of year.”
Manny looked at Bud. “Is this on the level.”
“Sure, why not?”
Manny reached across the table and shook hands with Mark. “Deal.”
-Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of Playing Favourites.