"You're a very lucky man, Mr. Dalton," the voice said. It was a compassionate voice, a bit stern, but Mark had no trouble believing what the man said was true. He'd been stranded overnight on a side r...
“You’re a very lucky man, Mr. Dalton,” the voice said. It was a compassionate voice, a bit stern, but Mark had no trouble believing what the man said was true. He’d been stranded overnight on a side road near Timmins with no power, no heat and without any warm clothing.
He’d set a couple of fires inside the cab to keep warm, but nothing could stave off the relentless cold. It had been his dispatcher, Bud, who’d been the one to ask the O.P.P. to look for him, and if he hadn’t Mark might still be out there, frozen in his seat waiting for the arrival of spring.
Mark opened his right eye – the left one still being too swollen to perform such a stunt – and looked at the doctor. He wanted to smile in appreciation of the man’s efforts, but his cheeks were too sore and felt as if they might shatter if he creased the skin.
“Usually people in your situation wind up losing a finger or toe… sometimes even bits of their ears or nose. But you managed to hang onto all your digits.”
“Fire,” Mark rasped, sounding (and feeling) an awful lot like Doctor Frankenstein’s monster.
“Yes, they told me you burned things inside your truck. It probably saved your life.”
This time Mark smiled, but only for a moment as the pain in his face made him stop.
“You should be out in a day or two,” the doctor said, turning to leave. “After that, a little rest might do you good.”
The doctor left the room, but was replaced almost immediately in Mark’s field of vision by a larger man…a much, much larger man.
“Bud?” Mark managed to say.
“How ya doin’?”
Mark opened his other eye, but still couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was Bud, standing there as plain as day. But if Bud was here, that meant he’d driven some five hours through the snow, just to, well, just to visit him in the hospital. Mark felt a tear welling up in his eye and blinked in an attempt to keep it from rolling down his cheek. Not only didn’t he want Bud to see him cry, but he didn’t want to risk the salt from the tear burning his skin.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hey, can’t a friend come and visit?” Bud said, pulling up a seat next to Mark’s bed. “I was worried about you.”
“Yeah, sure,” Mark whispered.
Bud ignored the comment and put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “I’ve come to expect not hearing from you for days at a time, but when the customer said you hadn’t showed…that you were late. That’s when I knew you were in REAL trouble.”
“I’m gonna be okay,” Mark said.
“I know, they told me. They also said you should think about someplace warm for a while. Not so much to thaw out, but for, you know, the rest.”
“I haven’t had a vacation in years.”
“That’s why I’m sending you to Mexico.”
“I don’t want any long hauls for a while.”
“That’s not it,” Bud said, pulling an envelope out of his inside jacket pocket. “It’s called Club Aventuras. It’s a bit out of the way on the Yucatan Peninsula, but it’s on the beach and it’s all-inclusive.” He placed the envelope on Mark’s chest.
Bud raised his hand. “Now don’t get all warm and fuzzy on me. It’s just a week, and I got a deal on it.”
“You didn’t have to do this…”
“No kidding, I didn’t.”
“Gee, I don’t know what to say. No one’s ever bought me such an expensive gift before.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a second,” Bud said. “I bought you the ticket, but you’ll be paying it off the first few weeks you’re back at work.”
Mark had to laugh. For a moment he’d thought that Bud had gone all soft on him, but of course, the man would never change. Bud was as sharp as a tack, and as cheap as one too.
“Well, I’ve got to go,” Bud said, getting up from his chair. “Load’s due in Winnipeg tomorrow morning.”
“You’re driving?” Mark asked, getting a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Who’s truck?”
“Yours, of course,” said Bud. “Mother Load is the best rig of any of my drivers. Since you weren’t using it…”
Mark thought about putting a stop to it, but there were plenty of things worse than having Bud drive his truck for a week while Mark worked on his tan.
“Take care of her,” he said, but by then Bud was gone from the room, the sound of his boots echoing down the hallway.
With a sigh, Mark took the envelope off his chest and opened it. The ticket was there, and it was real. In less than a week, Mark would be sunning himself on the beach in Mexico – as incredible as it seemed – making sure not to get burned.
Mark landed in Mexico without a hitch. His luggage however, was another matter.
No one working at the small airport spoke any English and the people greeting the new arrivals had plenty of other people to attend to, so when they finally brought him his luggage an hour later everyone else had already boarded the bus and were on their way to the resort.
“Just my luck,” Mark said aloud, wondering if Bud had gotten a deal on the tickets because it hadn’t included baggage handling…or a ride to the resort.
“You need a ride, Senor?” a cabbie said, grabbing his bags and starting to put them into the trunk of his cab.
Sure, now everyone speaks English, thought Mark, pulling his bags out of the taxi trunk and holding them close. “How much for the ride?”
“Forty dollars, American.”
Mark didn’t have any American money on him, but even if he did, it seemed like way too much money. “The resort is only five minutes away.”
The cabbie smiled. “The road is very treacherous, Senor.”
For that much it better be a minefield, Mark thought. He was just about to throw his bags back into the trunk of the cab when he noticed an old tractor-trailer parked by the side of the road, and a young man working under its hood, checking the oil. Now, truck drivers he understood. “Thanks, but no thanks,” he told the cabbie.
“Nice truck,” he said by way of introduction. The truck was old, but obviously well-maintained. It’s most distinguishing feature was a giant winch bolted to its front bumper. “What make is it?”
“Dodge,” said the driver. “1968.”
No wonder Mark hadn’t recognized the make. There hadn’t been Dodge semis on North American roads for who knew how long?
“I drive a truck too. In Canada… Peterbilt.”
The man shook his head, as if a Peterbilt was beyond his wildest dreams.
“I’m going to Club Aventuras, but I missed the bus…”
“It’s on my way,” the man nodded. “Get in.”
“How much?” Mark asked.
“For me, nothing. But you will have to pay five dollars.”
“Canadian dollars, okay?”
Mark agreed, and minutes later they had exchanged introductions and were on the highway headed for the club.
Jose Hernandez had been driving trucks since he was 15 and was currently looking to buy his own truck so he could drive long-haul into the southern and mid-west United States. Mark told him about his own career, Mother Load II and how the roads were so much smoother the further north you went.
This road was covered in bumps, and where there were no bumps, there were potholes.
The old Dodge belched black smoke with each shift, rattled like a tin box full of nails, and took each bump as if the shocks had long ago been replaced by solid steel rods.
Mark couldn’t imagine driving for more than an hour, maybe two at the most, under these conditions.
“Nice ride,” he smiled, clenching his teeth to make sure none of his fillings rattled loose.
“Yes,” Jose answered. “This road is the good one.”
The good one, Mark thought, not even wanting to think about what the bad one might be like.
And then they rounded a bend in the road.
About a mile ahead, Mark could see the resort and the gorgeous blue ocean beyond.
He couldn’t wait to get there, but for some reason Jose was slowing down. “I will take your money now.”
Mark wasn’t sure what was going on, but he did as he was told, handing over a $10 bill.
He watched Jose carefully, expecting him to pocket the money, but instead,
he rolled down his window and let the bill flutter in the breeze.
Suddenly, two men appeared on the roadway, bandoleers over the shoulders and rifles in their hands.
“This is a toll road,” Jose said. “These men will shoot if I don’t pay.”
He let go of the bill and it disappeared, gently falling onto the roadway behind them.
“That’s not right,” Mark said. “They can’t charge you to use this road.”
“You don’t have toll roads where you are?”
“That’s different,” Mark said. Sure the government was in his pocket often enough, but at least they provided services for the tolls and taxes they collected…like decent roads. “This is robbery.”
“If I can’t pay, they steal from the back of my truck. If I refuse, they will hurt my family.”
Mark just shook his head in disbelief. And he thought making a living as a truck driver was hard in Canada.
“That doesn’t make it right, you shouldn’t have to pay to use a public roadway.”
A shrug. “What can I do?”
“Maybe I can help you.”
Jose laughed under his breath. “You’re a tourist. What can you do?”
“I don’t know, but you’d be surprised.”
– Check back next month for Part 2 of The last resort.