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The Mark Dalton Project, Part 4


THE STORY SO FAR
Mark agrees to take on a student driver as a favor to his Aunt Mary. When Mark meets the young man, Kevin, he’s unimpressed by what he sees.

Kevin is a quick learner and has some natural driving ability, but he likes to cut corners a bit too much and Mark wonders if he’s already tired of wanting to learn how to drive long haul…

***

Mark let Kevin drive as much as possible along the Trans-Canada, hoping that hours behind the wheel would make it easier for him to drive in stop-and-go city traffic later on.

From what Mark could see, the young man was comfortable behind the wheel and picked up on things even before Mark had to instruct him. But Mark was most impressed when they finally reached their destination in Calgary. The warehouse was right off the highway and Mark figured it was a good opportunity to see how Kevin was at backing up. It was one thing to be able to drive an 18-wheeler forward, it was another thing altogether to back it into a loading dock – even one that was wide open – when left is right and right is left.

“Put it there,” Mark said, after checking with the receiver. “Loading dock number 18.”

“You want me to back it up?”

“Are you unsure?”

“Not at all,” Kevin said. “Just get out and spot me, if you don’t mind.”

“You won’t always have someone to help you back up, you know.”

Kevin looked at Mark and smiled. “I know, but you’re here now, so I might as well use you.”

Mark nodded and hopped out of the truck, happy that the young man took safety so seriously. His reversing was a bit wobbly and he had to make two tries at it, but when he finally had the line right the trailer backed up to the loading dock perfectly with barely a bump.

“Nice job,” Mark said. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“We had a cottage when I was growing up. I backed our boat into the water just about every weekend in the summer for years.”

Maybe this guy might work out after all, Mark thought.

But for all the good Kevin had done behind the wheel early in their time together, over the next few days Mark noticed there was still a lot the young man had to learn about driving for a living. On one occasion, when they were taking on a new load headed for Montreal, Kevin spent all of his time in the coffee shop across the street from the warehouse playing video games, and didn’t even bother to look inside the trailer to make sure everything was secure.

“But you were here,” he said. “And the guy loading the truck looked like he knew what he was doing.”

“You’re training,” Mark pointed out. “You have to act like I’m not here. And besides, no matter how well anyone loads your truck, you’re the one who will be on the hook when something shifts and breaks while you’re driving, or falls out the back end of the trailer as you’re going up a hill.”

Another time Mark had Kevin do a circle check just after he’d done one himself. Mark had noticed a few things wrong and wanted to see if Kevin could spot them on his own.

“All good,” he said after he’d done a cursory check.

“Are you sure?” Mark asked.
“Why? Is there something wrong?”

“You tell me.”

He looked the truck over again and when he was done, he said, “There’s a clearance light broken, and one of the tires on the trailer is flat.”

“Can we continue?” Mark wanted to know.

“The trailer’s got plenty of tires. We should be alright.”

Mark just shook his head. The light was a minor defect and could wait, but the tire had to be serviced right away. And then there was the morning they got underway after a cold night of rain. Mark allowed Kevin to start the day because he wanted to see how he would handle the truck’s iced-up windows. Instead of waiting until all the windows were cleared, Kevin insisted on getting under way with just a small patch of the front windshield clear of ice.

“It’ll warm up in a minute or two,” he said, pulling out onto the highway. “Besides, we’re just driving in a straight line for the next hour. I can see good enough.”

Mark was stunned by how easily Kevin cut corners, especially when he was still training. He said nothing about the window incident, but he had just about formed an opinion about Kevin and he would have to do a complete turnaround if he was going to last more than a few more days. In the middle of their second trip out west, Mark was slowing Mother Load down so the engine could cool off properly before shut down. He was looking for a spot just off the highway to rest for the night, but Kevin was having none of it.

“Another night in this truck?” he said.

“It’s what we do.”

“How about a night in a motel?” Kevin asked.

Usually Mark would immediately say no, but they’d been making good time on all of their loads and as a team had earned more than enough to justify a night’s sleep in a real bed. In addition, they could do laundry, get in some exercise, take a nice hot shower, and check their e-mails.

“Alright,” Mark said. “We could use a decent night’s rest.”

“As long as the motel has a bar, we’ll be alright.”

“Whoa!” Mark said. “There’s no alcohol on the road, especially if we’re driving the next day.”

“Okay,” Kevin said, the disappointment thick and heavy in his voice.

Mark awoke just after one in the morning to go to the bathroom. The television in the motel room was on, but Kevin wasn’t in the other bed. “Don’t tell me,” Mark said.

He put on his clothes and headed to the motel lobby. Kevin was in the bar, closing the place down along with two young men who looked to be in college.

“What are you doing?” Mark asked as he approached.

“Just having some fun, unwinding. Why don’t you join us?”

“No thanks,” Mark said. “You have fun. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Early the next morning, Mark was doing a circle check of Mother Load when Kevin trudged out toward the truck looking like something the cat had pulled out of the garbage.

“Morning,” Kevin said.

“Morning,” Mark said. Then he held out an envelope and said, “This is yours.”

“What is it?”

“It’s your pay.”

“I thought I got paid on Fridays?”

“You won’t be with me on Friday.”

“Where will I be?”

“Probably explaining to your mother what happened.”

Kevin didn’t seem to understand.

“I told you not to drink, but you did.”

“But I’m not driving today.”

“And if something happened to me and you had to take over, then you’d be driving with alcohol in your system.” Kevin looked into the envelope. “There’s only $200 here. I’ve earned more than that.”

“Yes, you have,” Mark said, handing him another envelope. “I put the rest of it toward this bus ticket.”

“Huh?”

“And I called your mother. She’s waiting for you, and I can’t say she’s proud.”


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