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Not his first rodeo


After making a mid-week delivery in Brandon, Man., Mark headed west into Saskatchewan because his dispatcher Bud had told him his next load would be coming out of Regina and destined for Vancouver. What Bud hadn’t told him was when the load would be ready, so after topping up his tanks at a truck stop in Moosimin, Mark pulled into the parking lot to give Bud a call.

Bud picked up after just a single ring and said, “Hey, Mark. How’s it going?”

Mark was taken aback. “What? No, ‘Who’s Mark – Mark who?’”

“I don’t wanna fool around too much because you’re not going to like what I’m going to tell you.”

“There’s no load?”

“No, there’s a load, but it won’t be ready till Monday.”

Mark laughed. “I get it. You’re leaving me in the middle-of-nowhere for the weekend.”

“It’s not nowhere. You’re on the Trans-Canada.”

Mark took a long look out his windows. “Bud, there’s nothing around but fields and highway.”

“But you’re Mark Dalton,” Bud said. “You’ll find something to do, no problem.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”

“Doesn’t it?”

“No.”

“I got another call,” Bud said. “Call you Monday.”

Mark hung up the phone wondering what he was going to do for the next three days. He could start heading to Regina and wait there for his next load, but there wouldn’t be that much going on there either. He decided to stay where he was for the moment and just try and relax. The truck stop had a few amenities he could use like the laundry, a couple of showers, a store and a lounge. There was also a Tim Hortons next door and he thought that would be his first stop for a bite to eat.

After ordering, Mark headed for an empty table that had a current copy of Moosimin’s newspaper, The World Spectator, on it. It was a decent local newspaper with all the usual articles you’d expect from a small town like Moosimin. Some trucking company was buying two new tractors and someone was stepping down from the library board after 20 years of service. A proud couple had announced that their daughter had graduated law school in Winnipeg and would be articling the next six months in Saskatoon. But on the very next page was an ad that caught Mark’s attention.

This weekend, the Rocanville Fairgrounds would play host to the Saskatchewan Southwest Regional Roadeo championships. And…they would be accepting entrants up until the start of the competition on Saturday morning. Mark checked his watch for today’s date. That roadeo was this weekend.

“Excuse me,” he said to the man sitting at the table next to him. He had to be a local, most likely a farmer, judging by the sun-faded Co-Op ball cap on his head. “How far is Rocanville from here?”

The man smiled, “It’s just north of here, less than a half-an-hour drive time.”

“That’s great,” Mark said.

“Now what do you want to go up there for?”

Mark turned the newspaper around to show the man the ad.

“You aren’t thinking of competing in that thing are you?” He looked him up and down. “City driver like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

The man shook his head. “No sense in trying,” he said. “There’s a driver round here name of Rob Goldrick.” He touched his cap. “Drives for the Co-Op.” Another shake of the head. “He’s 10-time champion of the Southwest Regional. Won the whole darn province last year.” Then a smile. “City driver like you wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Mark wasn’t sure if the man was kidding with him or serious. He could understand that there was a certain amount of local pride that went along with these things and being from “somewhere else” Mark’s entry into the roadeo could be looked as that of an outsider meddling where he didn’t belong and quite frankly, wasn’t wanted.

“Do you have to be from around here to enter?”

“No, not at all. But I imagine a city driver like you would probably have better things to do on the weekend than spend your money on an entry and waste a whole day out of your weekend.”

Mark didn’t know how to answer the man. He was used to small-town hospitality, not downright unfriendliness. Nevertheless he smiled at the man and said, “Thanks for the warning, but I think I’ll enter just the same. It might be fun…and, you never know, maybe a dumb city driver like me might be able to learn something from these slick country plow-jockeys… I mean, truck drivers.”

The man said nothing, but glared at Mark with a pair of pitchfork eyes.

Outside, Mark walked purposefully back to Mother Load. “I’ll show them what a city driver can do,” he said under his breath. “Besides, I’ve been driving 20-plus years in all kinds of situations. How hard can one of these things be anyway?”

Although the entry table didn’t open until 8 a.m., Mark was there at 7:30 waiting for someone to take his money and enter him in the roadeo.

“Wow, you’re an eager beaver,” said the woman who eventually showed up at 15 minutes to the hour.

She smiled at him and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Mark was amazed. How obvious was it that he didn’t belong here? How much did he stick out from the rest of the drivers? “Why do you say that? Do I look that out of place?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just that we get about ten entries a year and we’ve got room for more than 20. You being worried there wouldn’t be a spot for you, kinda sets you apart.”

“Sorry.”

“No need to be sorry. Just relax, take you time and enjoy your day.”

“Thanks, I will.”

“Now, what division are you entering in?”

“Division?”

“Is that your truck over there?” she asked, pointing at Mother Load.

“Tandem-Tandem.”

“Oh, okay.”

At 9 a.m., the drivers gathered in a room in the fairgrounds rec hall for a meeting. The two main organizers went over the schedule for the day, letting drivers know that coffee and sandwiches would be arriving later in the morning and there would be an informal dinner after the awards were presented around five in the afternoon.

Then, after going over the rules, some of the drivers in the room were introduced. First up was 10-time champion Rob Goldrick. He stood up and gave the sort of confident wave that suggested he knew everyone in the room and where he stood in relation to every other driver there. They also introduced a man who the emcee said needed no introduction, Cyril Mitiuk. Mark turned his head and saw a slight wisp of a man slowly get to his feet. He was dressed in a faded pair of coveralls and when he waved, his boney right hand seemed to tremble from the effort. 

They introduced a couple of other drivers and then came Mark’s turn. The emcee said his name and then added, “He’s from The City.”

Where Mark was from, The City could mean all kinds of things, but in Saskatchewan, The City meant only one thing…Toronto.  Mark looked around and waved nervously. Everyone in the room was staring at him like he was not from The City, but from Outer Space. And that’s when the thought hit him: maybe a weekend in Regina wouldn’t have been that bad.

***

Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 2.


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