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Not his first rodeo: Part 4


The story so far

Mark has some time to kill in Saskatchewan and comes across a local paper advertising a truck roadeo that weekend. Mark enters, but right away he’s labeled as a City driver and wonders if he’s even welcome here.

Mark does the written test and is surprised to learn he doesn’t know as much as he thought he did. Even more surprising is that the old man who looked to be struggling with the test the whole way got the top score.

Mark gets the third highest score on the pre-trip inspection part of the roadeo, missing some small, but important things along the way. He’s amazed that the old man finished first when he’d been hardly able to look under the truck…

The last part of the roadeo was the road test. It wasn’t actually a test of a driver’s ability to drive on the road, but rather, a test of a driver’s skill in negotiating the type of tight turns and obstacles that were faced every day on the job.

They would all be driving a new Freightliner that had been donated for the day by one of the area farms. Like any other driver, Mark would have preferred to drive his own truck through the course but this seemed to be a fair way to level the playing field. Of course, if one of the competitors drove a similar model on a daily basis there might be an advantage, but he was satisfied the competition was as fair as they could make it.

Mark’s turn would come in the middle of the pack, which gave him the chance to watch several other drivers go through the course and hopefully learn something that might help him drive better.

When Mitiuk took to the course, Mark watched every turn of his wheels closely and was amazed to see the man take out four cones on the “S” course, then take three tries before managing to wrestle his trailer into the parallel park. On the measured park, he touched a cone leaving it leaning backward with one end of the base up in the air. And in the back up to the loading dock, he actually hit the dock hard enough to make some people who weren’t watching jump.

Well, thought Mark, at least I won’t have to worry about him.

But when Mitiuk exited the truck and walked across the lot, every one of the other drivers – except for Mark – were giving him a big round of applause. Then, when he reached the group, everyone stood in line to shake the man’s hand.

What the hell is going on here, thought Mark.

Several drivers later, it was Goldrick’s turn. The defending champion swerved through the “S” course like an oiled eel and it was clear to Mark that this man was the defending champ for good reason. He was just so smooth and confident behind the wheel, it looked as if he had this competition all sewn up. But after the flawless run on the “S” course, Goldrick must have lost his mind because he knocked over a few cones on the parallel park, stopped short on the measured park, and took out a few more cones right at the end, seemingly for good measure.

A lot of the drivers were laughing at how Goldrick had screwed up so badly, but all Mark could think was that maybe he had a chance to win this thing.

“Dalton, your turn!”

Mark got up from his seat and realized that his legs were weak and wobbly. He thought this would be easy, but his body probably had a better handle on the situation. This was a competition in which Mark really had no experience. He could drive with the best of them, but this was a test of his skill.

It was like someone who’d been driving the family car for years without incident suddenly having to take a driving course to keep their license. Most are doomed to fail simply because it’s a test that marks everything by the book.

Nevertheless, Mark was eager to give it a try. His first realization was that the Freightliner everyone was using was nothing like the Peterbilt he’d been accustomed to these past 15 or so years. Nothing was where it was supposed to be except for the steering wheel, shifter, brake and clutch pedal.

This is gonna be real hard, he thought.

After taking the truck for a short spin around the lot to familiarize himself with the cab set up and the view in the mirrors, Mark attacked the “S” course with a bit of speed and managed to avoid all but one of the cones.

Mark’s parallel park was near perfect, but his measured park was off by just over six inches. He was doing well on the loading dock, but got too close to the truck parked at the next bay and wound up putting a scratch on his trailer’s trim, and taking out a cone on the other side when he was trying to straighten himself out before finally backing into the dock.

“Okay,” he said under his breath. “It’s a lot harder than it looks.”

After parking the truck and setting the brake, Mark slowly climbed out of the truck careful to keep three points of contact every step of the way.

“Good to see you’re learning,” one of the judges said.

“I’m not one to make the same mistake twice,” Mark said, after having been penalized in the pre-trip inspection portion for jumping down from the cab.

“But I still have to ding you for not wearing your seatbelt.”

Mark shook his head.  Are these guys ever by the book, he thought. Well, second place won’t be too bad for my first time.

Later that afternoon at the awards presentation ceremony, Cyril Mitiuk was announced as the champion who would go on to compete at the provincial championship in a couple of months time.

“What?” Mark said under his breath.

How in the world could that guy – making so many mistakes – win the whole damn thing? Something was wrong. This thing had to be rigged. Mark moved up to the front of the crowd of drivers and was about to cup his hand around his mouth and shout, “Fixed!” when a strong hand grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Relax, city boy.”

Mark turned and saw that Goldrick had a firm hold of his arm and wasn’t about to let go for anything.

Mark gestured to the stage where Mitiuk was slowly climbing the steps to receive his trophy. “How did that happen?”

Goldrick yanked on Mark’s arm again and led him to the back of the crowd where no one would hear what he had to say.

“Listen, you drove well and everything, but you were never going to win today.”

“Why not?”

“That’s Cyril Mitiuk up there. He’s competed in this roadeo for 20 years and never finished higher than third.”

“So?”

“So, he’s been diagnosed with colon cancer and probably won’t make it to next year.”

Mark suddenly understood what had been going on and felt like a complete and utter jackass.

Goldrick finally let go of Mark’s arm and together the two men applauded the the old man up on the stage.

Mitiuk struggled to hold up the trophy for a moment, then said a few words. “First of all I want to thank all of you guys. I have a feeling a lot of you didn’t do as well as you could have because of me… But I don’t care.” Everyone cheered, Mark included. “Thanks for giving me something to live in the coming months.”Mark couldn’t help but get teary-eyed, proud to be part of this group…not just of good truckers, but of good, good people.


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