Mark’s phone rang, cutting out the oldies on satellite radio Mark had been listening to. He touched the small green button on his steering wheel and said, “Hello?”
“Mark, it’s Bud.”
It sounded urgent so Mark dispensed with the whole “Bud who?” thing and said, “What’s up?”
“There’s a new brokerage company I’m going to be working with and they want to start shipping regular loads to the US. Three per week.”
Mark said nothing, considering what Bud had said.
Basically, Bud was offering Mark the chance to have a normal life working Monday to Friday and spending weekends, not exactly at home, but at least doing whatever it was he pleased.
It was Mark’s chance to have a regular job, a predictable schedule and a steady income.
That would be great, Mark knew. It was the sort of thing just about everyone in the trucking industry wanted and had to work years to achieve.
And now…here it was.
But Mark wasn’t sure he wanted it.
Although older now, and having been driving trucks for close to 20 years, Mark still liked to do different things, go on new adventures.
Maybe, he thought, if I had a wife and some children and needed to settle down he might take the offer, but he really didn’t want that right now.
So he explained as much to Bud.
“Listen, Mark,” Bud explained. “This is a new company starting out.
“They’ve already got regular routes to the US, who knows where they will be in a year or five. I’m not asking you to take these loads for your sake – you’re already on the top of my list and can basically have any load you want.
“Think of this as setting up a new customer for the other drivers that work for me. It’ll mean steadier work for them. And a lot of them want that sort of thing.”
Mark hadn’t thought about the impact this might have on other drivers in Bud’s stable.
Looking at it that way, it would be a good thing for everyone.
“Look,” Bud continued. “I need the first few loads to be done right. Then, when things are more established, I can hand the loads off to other guys. That’s why I need you to take the first loads.”
“You need me to be your guinea pig,” Mark said.
“Absolutely. You’re the best guinea pig in the business.”
“Alright,” Mark said. “For the other guys.”
Mark drove to Milton, just west of Toronto to pick up the first load, a shipment of metal parts destined for a factory located on the east end of Cleveland.
“Hi, I’m Mark Dalton,” he said when he met the shipper. “I’m here to pick up a load headed for Ohio.”
“Right,” the young man said. “It’s not loaded just yet.”
Mark pressed his lips together to keep him from saying the wrong thing.
Too many times in these kinds of situations Mark did not resist he urge to blurt out the first thing that came to his mind only to regret it – and have to apologize – later.
“You don’t say,” was all Mark said, wondering if this young man in a plaid shirt, tapered jeans and a $40 haircut had ever driven a truck in his life, let alone crossed the border with a load.
“It’s just being loaded now.”
“You know, I get paid by the kilometer.”
“I realize that, and I’m sorry.”
Mark wanted to mention he wasn’t earning anything standing here talking, but the guy had already apologized to him, so saying anything now would just made Mark look like an ass.
“I’ll be in my truck,” Mark said at last. “Let me know when it’s ready.”
A half-hour later the shipper knocked on Mark’s window and told him the load was ready and could be picked up around the other side of the warehouse.
“Is it all good?” Mark asked as he took the envelope from the man.
“I hope so.”
“Hope so? What do you mean, hope so?”
“Well, to be honest, I haven’t done a lot of these before.”
“How many is not a lot?”
“Well. None, actually. This is our first shipment.”
Mark did not like the sounds of that.
There were so many things that could go wrong with paperwork for loads going over the border that this had all the makings of a bad situation.
Nevertheless, Mark had agreed to do this…for Bud and the other drivers working for him, so it was best just to get on with the job at hand.
“Maybe you get lucky,” Mark said. “And everything’s done right.”
“We’ve looked after everything at our end,” the man assured Mark. “Now it all depends on you.”
Mark bristled at the hint that he might be the one to make a mistake, but let it slide because, after all, this guy was new and Mark was the part of this load with the years and years of experience.
Mark drove around to the other side of the warehouse and found his trailer.
He was careful with the numbers because all of the trailers in the yard were new, identically painted, with identification numbers all similar to each other, varying by a number here and a letter there.
After he was sure he had the right trailer, he hooked it up to Mother Load and eased out of the yard.
On the highway, however, due to the delay in the yard, Mark was fighting traffic all the way to Fort Erie and a trip that should have taken him about an hour-and-a-half tops, ended up taking well over three hours.
But, Mark reasoned, if being a bit late and stuck in traffic is his only problem with this load, then he’s laughing.
There were so many other things that could go wrong he didn’t even want to think about them.
Luckily, when Mark reached the border, there were more cars than commercial vehicles making the crossing and he was able to get to the customs gate quickly.
But…after a wait of 20 minutes, Mark was informed by the customs officer looking after his entry into the United States that there was a problem.
“Of course there’s a problem!” Mark exclaims. “Why wouldn’t there be a problem? There’s always got to be a problem!”