Safety first: Part 2

by Edo van Belkom


Mother Load is in need of her annual safety inspection and while Mark is talking about that with another driver, a third man approaches and tells Mark he knows a mechanic that does inspections for $500…

Mark went to see the man named Ralph the very next day. He didn’t have much of a shop. In fact, it was just a single door garage that could fit just one tractor inside at a time. Next door to the shop was a used tire place and next to that was a sandwich shop.

Down the other way was a scrap metal dealer whose business seemed to overflow into the parking spaces beside and behind his shop. Mark was used to taking Mother Load to shops that had trucks lined up all the way around the building with six or eight bays operating all at the same time.

‘Oh well,’ Mark thought. ‘Must be trying to get his business going and needs customers.’ Why else would someone charge so little such a labor-intensive and time-consuming job as a safety inspection?

Mark parked Mother Load in behind the shop near the large door and realized the place had no sign outside to tell people where it was. He had been going by the unit number and that was the only thing that hinted Mark was in the right place.

After knocking on the small door next to the large bay for a couple of minutes with no luck, Mark walked around the entire strip mall and doubled back until he found a unit that had a sign that read Ralph’s Truck Stop over the door.

Mark went inside.

The front of the shop was pretty grimy, with a couple of old plastic chairs and a table that made for a makeshift waiting area. There was an ashtray on the table with several butts buried in a half-inch of ash. People still smoke inside? Mark wondered.

There was an office off to the side and Mark assumed that was where Ralph would be, but the room was empty.

“Hello!” he called out and the word seemed to echo in the cavernous back part of the shop.

Were there even trucks inside? There were no sounds of air hammers banging, wrenches falling, no compressor humming…no sound of anybody actually doing any work. Mark couldn’t help but think this was the quietest truck shop he’d even been inside.

He called out Ralph’s name again and a man suddenly appeared from somewhere in the back. “Yeah,” the man said. “What do you want?”

Mark was a little put off by that because everything he’d seen so far – including the man’s first words –seemed disconnected from the places he usually brought his truck to for repair. Still, he’d come this far. Why not give it a try?

“My name’s Mark,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“They call me Ralph.”

“Well, Ralph, a guy I know told me you do safety inspections.”

Ralph nodded. “Yes, yes, how much did he tell you I charge?”

It was an odd question considering who set the price in this kind of interaction, but Mark went along with it. “He told me $500.”

“Right! Where is your truck?”

“Just in the back,” Mark said throwing a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the back of the shop. “But I can leave it overnight. See, I know it needs some work so I’m spending the night at a buddy’s house watching the hockey game with friends, you know. So, you can take your time with it.”

Mark smiled. “I want to make sure everything’s right.”

“Come back in an hour,” Ralph said. “I’ll have it ready then.”

That was crazy. Mark knew the brakes were out of alignment, and there were two tires that needed replacing, just for starters. And then there were probably a half dozen other things that likely needed to be fixed or replaced. No matter how well Mark maintained Mother Load, there were always problems at safety inspection time.

Mark wanted to make sure the man understood.

“Now, I know it needs a brake adjustment, and who knows what the pads and rotors look like, so you’ll probably have to order those parts for sure. And the treads of two tires are right down to nothing and I don’t want them replaced with any cheap tires, so you’ll have to order those in, too. And it’s been making some noises in idle, and the clutch could be a little tighter…”

Ralph didn’t seem to be paying much attention to what Mark was saying.

But Mark kept on talking. “Like I said, I’m staying at a buddy’s house tonight. I’ll call you in the morning and come by in the afternoon. Okay.”

“Today,” Ralph said with a shrug. “Tomorrow. No matter.”

Mark was incredulous. How could anyone do an inspection so quickly, even if everything was brand new and working perfectly it would still take a couple hours to go through all the checks. “Do you even have the equipment to do the inspection?”

“I have another shop,” he said, waving his hand dismissively in the air as if gesturing at some place that was miles away.

Ah, okay, Mark thought. That makes sense.

“Come tomorrow,” Ralph said. “The truck will be ready for you.”

“And how do you want me to pay?”

“Cash!” The word was out almost before Mark was able to finish his question.

Well, thought Mark…it was a deal and there’s always a deal when transactions are made in cash.

“Okay, I’ll see you then.”

As Mark left the shop his ride was waiting for him. He got in the car said hello to his pal and almost immediately forgot about his truck. All he could do was look forward to a fun night with friends.

Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of Safety First.

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