Mark learns the SmartWay Part 4

by Edo Van Belkom

The story so far…

Bud is off for a couple of days, so Mark gets a load from his replacement. It’s a sweet load of cowhide into California. Mark is concerned that the trailer he’s given to use is not compliant with the SmartWay program that is mandatory in California, but the shipper convinces Mark that the trailer is compliant and everything will be alright.

As Mark crosses the border he is questioned about the trailer and SmartWay compliance. Mark is sure the trailer’s is alright because 75% of the fleet it is a part of is already compliant. However, the closer he gets to California, the more he’s worried that everything is not as easy as he’s been told.

At his destination, the receiver refuses to accept the load because Mark has no paperwork proving the trailer is part of a SmartWay compliant fleet. He’s stranded in California until someone offers him a solution. He’s taken to a second warehouse where a group of hardscrabble men look as if they intend to rob him. 

“We understand you have a problem delivering your load,” one of the men said, obviously the leader.

“That’s right,” Mark said. “The receiver won’t accept it.”

The man nodded. “So, you’ve got a problem and we’ve got a solution.”

“Which is?”

“We’re willing to let you borrow our trailer for a few hours for just $500.”

Mark said nothing for a moment, considering the offer. “What about my return load? I won’t be able to pick anything up with my trailer.”

“No problem. For another $500, you can use our trailer to pick up your load. Then you bring it back here, we switch it up for you and you’re on your way.”

Mark considered the offer further and shook his head in disgust. He had nothing against these men who had obviously recognized a need in the industry and stepped up to fill that need.

No, his problem was with the shipper who sent him into California knowing that the trailer he was pulling was not SmartWay compliant. Sure, the shipper saved $7,000 or $8,000 by not retrofitting the trailer, but now he was going to be out $1,000 just to get a delivery made and a load picked up.

Not only that, but what Mark was considering doing was probably highly illegal and likely the subject of countless fines and suspensions. If the guy had just paid for the upgrades to his trailer, he would have earned his money back in fuel savings in just a couple of years. This way, he was simply going to be out the money while the owner/operator took a huge risk in terms of the ongoing operation of his business.

And it all came down to Mark.

Here he was in another country, thousands of miles from home with a load that was probably worth tens of thousands of dollars. Five hundred bucks to drop off, and another $500 to pick up was just a fraction of the total value of the loads So, even though it turned Mark’s stomach to do it, the deal actually made good business sense.

“Okay,” Mark said, “But your trailer gets hooked up to my truck before we switch the load.”

The leader of the men nodded his head while the rest of them just smiled.

“And if anything goes wrong, or if you guys try to make off with my trailer…or my load, I won’t hesitate to call the police.”

The leader sneered at Mark, obviously not too happy to have the police mentioned as part of the deal. The other men looked at him with equally derisive glares. “If we cheat you, or screw you over, you do whatever you think you have to do to make it right, okay.”

The man’s answer disarmed Mark. It wasn’t the response he was expecting. This offer seemed too good to be true. “And the paperwork’s got to be right,” he said.

Everyone in the warehouse except for Mark burst into laughter.

“What is it?” Mark asked.

“We can give you any kind of paperwork you want. If you want good paperwork that says the load is being delivered by Mickey Mouse, we can do that for you.” More laughter.

Mark suddenly felt small and out of his league.

“Do you think this is the first time we’ve ever done this?”

Mark knew the answer, but said nothing.

“Why would we spoil a sweet operation like this by stealing a trailer we can’t even use in this state?”

That was a good point, Mark had to admit.

“Now hurry up and make your delivery. We’ve got another trailer coming in here in an hour.”

Before Mark made his delivery, he stopped at a bank machine and withdrew money from his account, then got an advance on his credit card. Then with $1,000 cash in his pocket, he continued on to the warehouse he’d attended just a few hours before. Loopy Ears recognized Mark and was happy to have the load delivered, but avoided any questions about how he’d managed to get his load onto a SmartWay certified trailer.  Without any small talk, Mark was on his way in minutes and was able to pick up his return load without delay. Less than an hour later he was back at the warehouse getting the return load placed into his trailer. Once the money changed hands, Mark was on his way.

He waited until he was out of California without incident before making a phone call to the shipper in Calgary. The man sounded a bit surprised to hear that Mark had already dropped off his load and was on his way back with another, but he was absolutely taken aback at the suggestion that he now owed Mark an additional $1,000 for the round-trip on top of his regular fees.

“Why would I pay you that?” he asked. “I sent you down with a good trailer.”

Mark just shook his head. “You and I both know you haven’t got a clue about how the SmartWay program works. You sent me to California with a bum trailer hoping I’d get lucky. Things didn’t work out that way and now you’re going to pay.”

“If you couldn’t get that load delivered, that’s your problem. I’m not going to pay you a dime extra.”

Mark sighed, then said. “You are going to pay and I’ll tell you why. If you don’t, I’ll just pull over onto the shoulder somewhere in Washington State, unhook the trailer and bobtail it back to Canada.”

“I’ll sue you.”

“You can bring all the civil action you want against me, but we both know that it’ll take years and tens of thousands of dollars to get anything out of me. You could also make an insurance claim and recoup your losses that way, but I’ve got paperwork that says the load was picked up by Carlito Trucking and you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone that the load was ever in your possession.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“Yes, I am. You sent me to California thinking I was too stupid to know better about SmartWay certifications. Well, you were only partly right. I was stupid enough to make the delivery for you, but not stupid enough to let you get away with it. I’ll just say it one last time…wire $1,000 to my dispatcher or this trailer gets left on the side of the road.”

“You’re bluffing.”

The accusation brought a smile to Mark’s face. “If you think so, call around and ask anyone who knows me if I’m the kind of person who would bluff about something like this.” He paused a moment, gearing down. “Ah, here’s a good spot.”

He pulled onto the shoulder and hung up the phone. It took a few hours, but Mark’s phone eventually rang. It was Bud. “Hey Mark, why did we just get $1,000 credited to your account?”

Mark smiled, started up Mother Load and got back on his way.

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