Mark learns the SmartWay part three

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 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.

Mark reached his destination without incident. It was an older warehouse that had been upgraded on the outside with a lot of designer touches that made the place look like a cool place to work. It also made it look like whatever business this company was in, they were doing well at it. The shipper was a young man in his late twenties, early thirties with an eyebrow piercing, another in his lip and spacers in his ears that turned his earlobe into giant loops of skin.

“You came in from Calgary, right?” Loopy Ears said. Mark nodded.

“That’s great because our lines are running low on cowhide.”

“Happy to get it off my truck,” Mark said, jumping down from the dock and getting ready to open the big barn doors of the trailer.

“Whoa! Hold on a second.”

Mark looked back and he could see Loopy Ears hanging from a handle at the side of the loading dock and leaning out to take a better look at Mark’s trailer.

“What is it?”

The shipper climbed down from the loading dock and walked up beside the trailer, sucking his breath in through his teeth and shaking his head slightly.

“I think I’ve seen this trailer before,” he said.

Mark nodded. “You probably have,” he said. “The shipper I got the load from says it’s made a bunch of runs into California the past few years.”

“Yeah, I have seen this trailer before.” He put the palm of his right hand over his mouth like he was thinking hard about something. Finally, he took his hand from his mouth and said, “It’s not SmartWay-compliant.”

Mark smiled at that. He’d been expecting something like this so he had his explanation all ready to go. “Yeah, I know that, but see, the fleet that this trailer comes out of has more than 75% of its trailers compliant. So, this one is okay.”

Loopy Ears shook his head. “Yeah, well…it’s not that simple.”

“What do you mean?”

“I need to see a copy of a Large Fleet Compliance Plan that confirms 75% of the trailers this company operates are SmartWay-compliant. Do you have one of those?”

Mark’s stomach was beginning to turn. “Am I supposed to?”

“If your trailer isn’t compliant you do.” He paused a moment and pulled a cigarette from a package in his shirt pocket. The thing instantly glowed red at the tip when he put it in his mouth, but he’d never put a flame to it.

“Smokeless cigarette,” he said, turning the cigarette over in his hand. Then he continued. “If your guy submitted a plan back in 2010, then yeah, he’d only have to have 75% of his fleet compliant by this year.”

Mark’s mouth was open, but he said nothing.

“Do you think he submitted a plan?”

Mark wanted to say yes, but even though he didn’t know for sure one way or the other, he had a bad feeling the answer was likely a big fat NO. “Probably not.”

“Well, if no plan was submitted, then he would have had to have his entire fleet in compliance by Jan. 1, 2013.” A sigh. “Obviously that didn’t happen.”

“Okay,” Mark said. “I understand the whole SmartWay compliance thing and I know California’s really big on saving the environment and doing the right thing…but, while I don’t have the right paperwork, I’ve come a long, long way, I’m here right now, the cowhide is on the truck, and you need it for your company to keep its lines going.”

Loopy Ears was silent, listening.

“Just unload my trailer real quick. I’ll be on my way as soon as it’s empty and I promise I’ll never take this trailer into California again.”

The man didn’t say anything for a few moments, but then shook his head. “I can’t do that. The California Air Resources Board is already looking at operations like ours, and they hand out big, big fines.” Suddenly, he cast a sharp eye at Mark. “For all I know you could be a CARB inspector.”

Mark laughed. “Not me, I’m Canadian.”

“Then they could have an inspector sitting in the coffee shop across the street, just waiting for us to accept a load from a non-compliant trailer.”

“They would do that?”

“You bet. And this trailer of yours – without skirts – is like driving a heat score through the state.”

Obviously Mark wouldn’t be making this delivery today. “So what am I supposed to do?”

“Not my problem, dude. Maybe you could take it back to where you got it from and hope you don’t get pulled over on the way. Or maybe you could drop off your load in Oregon, Washington or Arizona and get some SmartWay-compliant company to make the delivery for you.”

Mark felt the blood drain from his face. “You gotta be kidding me.”

“I wish I was, but CARB doesn’t fool around. Check out their Web site. They’ve fined hair spray companies hundreds of thousands of dollars for having too many toxins in their sprays. And there was this auto supply company that got dinged for selling bad windshield washer fluid, and they fine trucking companies all the time for not keeping up with their emission inspection schedules.”

“So they’re hardcore.”

“Exactly. They’ve just started levying fines for SmartWay violations, and if they’re looking for a poster child, I don’t intend to be it…know what I mean?”

“So there’s nothing you can do for me?”

“Well, I can open the gate for you so you can leave.”

Mark didn’t appreciate the humour. Without a word he got into Mother Load and exited the yard. He turned right onto the street without any idea about what he was going to do or where he was going to go. Fortunately, any decision was put off for the moment as Mark eyed a man on the side of the road in tattered clothes and a ragged ball cap trying to get his attention.

Mark slowed to a stop and rolled the passenger side window halfway down. “What do you want?” he said to the man

“I have the solution to your problem, man.”

“What problem?”

“You came all the way from Canada and he won’t take your load.”

Mark took a moment to think. It was a long way back to Calgary with no guarantee he could even recoup his fuel costs. “What’s your solution?”

“You follow me,” the man said. “I’ll help you.”

And then the man was gone from the window. He ran up the street a bit and hopped into a car. The car pulled into traffic and proceeded slowly enough for Mark to keep up.

Mark didn’t know what else to do…so he followed the car. They drove for about five minutes to another warehouse. As they approached, the gate to the yard automatically opened and Mark followed the car inside. Then the car drove into a large building with a door on it large enough for Mark to drive right in. As soon as he was inside, the big door closed behind him. There was another trailer inside the large open space and four other men who looked as ragged and tough as the one who’d brought him here. Well, Mark thought. Being robbed of it is one way to get rid of a load. 

Mark Dalton returns next month in the conclusion of Mark Learns the SmartWay.

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