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Unaccustomed

Mark reached Halifax without further incident. He'd had some trouble with a road-raging driver behind the wheel of a lowboy along the way, but he'd taken care of that maniac at a weigh scale back in O...


Mark reached Halifax without further incident. He’d had some trouble with a road-raging driver behind the wheel of a lowboy along the way, but he’d taken care of that maniac at a weigh scale back in Ontario.

What Mark wouldn’t have given to see the lowboy driver’s face when the inspectors called him out of his truck and started looking for a gun. That was classic, thought Mark, and probably one of the few times the guys who manned the coops had actually been a help to him. If only all his memories of his trips past the scalehouses had been so happy.

After unloading the plastic pool toys at a warehouse just outside Halifax, Mark had lunch at a Tim Horton’s while he read through a copy of The Halifax Chronicle-Herald. After lunch, Mark pulled out his cell phone and called Bud about his next load. He’d actually called the dispatcher the day before, but true to his nature, Bud didn’t have anything nailed down for the next day and he’d asked Mark to call back after he’d delivered his load.

“It’s Mark, Mark Dalton.”

The Mark Dalton?”

“The one and only.”

“What can I do for you?”

Mark just shook his head. In all his years driving for Bud, Mark had never called him socially. The only reason Mark ever had for calling was to get his next load, but Bud always treated his calls as if they could be about anything.

“What’s the weather like in Toronto?” Mark asked, just to see what sort of response it would garner.

“What do you care, it’ll have changed by the time you get here.”

“You got a load for me, then?”

“It’s what I do, isn’t it?”

“Just tell me where it is.”

“Well, it’s in Montreal.”

“But I’m in Halifax right now.”

“I know that, but the load is in Montreal, it’s being unloaded as we speak.”

“From a ship?”

“That’s right.”

“And it couldn’t be unloaded in Halifax?”

“You deliver your loads to the right warehouse, or is any one that’s got a loading dock just as good as another?”

Even though Bud couldn’t see it, Mark gave the man a strained and highly exaggerated smile.

“All right, give me the address in Montreal, then.”

Bud gave Mark the address.

When he was finished writing it down, Mark asked, “What’s the load, anyway?”

“According to the shipper, it’s floor covering.”

“You mean like carpet and floor tiles?”

“I guess so. The stuff is from Germany and it’s headed for New York State.”

“They don’t make carpet in the United States?”

“Guy said there’s some new German Heritage building going up in Hamburg, New York, and they need special stuff from Germany for it.”

“When’s it have to be there?”

“You’ve got three days, plenty of time.”

“That’s if nothing goes wrong,” said Mark.

“C’mon, Dalton,” chided Bud. “You’ve been driving for years. With your experience, what could go wrong?”

The next morning, Mark picked up a trailer backed up to one of the warehouses just outside the Port of Montreal.

The doors of the trailer were already sealed when he got there, which Mark wasn’t happy about since he always liked to know exactly what he was carrying.

He asked the shipper to open up the trailer so he could check the load.

The back of the trailer was stacked with rolls of carpet, which was exactly what was listed on the shipping invoice.

Mark couldn’t be sure if the carpet filled the entire length of the trailer, so he was left to trust that the shipper and the Customs broker had provided all the proper documentation he’d need to cross the border without any hassle.

After the trailer was sealed, and before leaving the loading dock, Mark was given a customs invoice that listed the load he was carrying as floor coverings.

When he reached the border at Niagara Falls, he would have to see a Customs broker to have the load cleared and then it would be on to Customs for what he hoped were just a few friendly questions and a wave across the border.

Between Montreal and the border it would be up to Mark to fill out an inbound manifest which listed what was on the truck.

The forms were easy enough to complete but he’d still have to be careful since Customs officers no longer helped drivers fill them out. If a Customs officer had to correct anything, or help a driver complete the form, it generally meant a $1,000 fine.

So when Mark was sure he had everything he needed, and all his Ts were crossed and his Is dotted, he put Mother Load into gear and started the journey west.

Although crossing into the U.S. at Brockville or Kingston would cut an hour off his trip, he tried to stay away from those border crossings.

He’d had a couple of bad experiences entering the U.S. through northern New York State so he tried to avoid it as much as he could.

Besides that, driving the 401 would save him close to $50 Canadian in tolls, so that made his decision to cross at Niagara Falls a slam-dunk.

After a couple of stops along the way, Mark was closing in on the Lewiston, N.Y. border crossing and was wondering if he’d be able to find his destination in Hamburg in time to unload today. If he had a straight run in he might make it, but since he would be crossing the border it was more likely that he’d have to wait until morning to unload.

As he neared Niagara Falls, Mark took the left exit for Lewiston, which was designated as the crossing for all truck and commercial traffic entering into western New York state.

But before he crossed the border, Mark had to be checked out by the Customs broker hired by the shipper. He was unfamiliar with the broker listed in the paperwork, but shippers worked with brokers they were comfortable with, so all Mark could do was trust that between the two of them all the paperwork was in order.

The broker clearing his load was a young woman who seemed to be in a hurry.

Mark checked his watch and noted that it was near five in the afternoon, and probably close to her quitting time. In no time at all, she had the back of the trailer open, saw the rolls of carpet and was satisfied that everything was in order.

“That was fast,” Mark said as she signed her name to all the forms.

“I was on vacation as of 15 minutes ago,” she said.

“Goin’ anywhere special?”

“Yeah, my honeymoon.”

That would explain her rush, but hopefully she was like the guys at Midas whose motto had been for years, “First you get good, then you get fast.”

“Well, I wish you all the luck.”

“Thanks, you too.”

Mark wasn’t sure why he’d be needing any luck, but as he was running up through the gears leaving the brokers’ yard, a cloud of steam began to billow out from the front of Mother Load.

Mark slowed down, turned his rig around and parked it in the brokers’ yard. Then he jumped out of the cab, popped open the hood and had a look at the Cummins.

One of the radiator hoses had a pinhole in it near the radiator intake and was spewing steam like a kettle.

Mark shook his head, then looked around the yard wondering if the luck the broker had wished upon him had been bad.

Mark thought about turning back into Canada to get the problem repaired, but he was just about as far from an American repair shop as he was from a Canadian one.

If he patched up the hole he’d be able to drive the few kilometres over the border and then a mile or two to a shop on the other side.

So that’s what he did.

Taking a roll of elasticized tape from his repair kit, he set about wrapping the hose. The hole was in an awkward spot on the hose and he had to position himself into the engine compartment to make sure he had a tight seal. On the first revolution, he slipped, getting some oil on his face and hands, and on the second time around, he lost his balance and struck his head on a clamp. After that he was more careful and managed to wrap the tape around the hose without further incident, sealing up the hole well enough to get him over the border. But as he was pulling himself out of the engine compartment, his shirt got caught on a bolt and he could hear fabric tearing.

“Damn it!” he said, finally moving into the light.

His shirt was torn at the right shoulder and his hands were dirty, but at least his Peterbilt was well enough to be on her way.< P>Satisfied he’d be able to cross the border, Mark climbed into the cab and started up the engine. Then he climbed out and took a look at the hose to see how it was holding up. There was a little drop of water on the tape, but it wasn’t steaming anymore. Mark felt confident he’d be able to make it to a repair shop on the U.S. side. He closed up the hood, climbed back in the cab and put Mother Load in gear.

At the border, he was lucky to find a booth without a line-up. He stopped next to the sign asking him to wait, watched for the light to turn green and then pulled up to the booth. The U.S. Customs officer looked like he’d just graduated high school and couldn’t have been more than 21 years old. His shirt was neatly pressed, and he was wearing a tie that was clipped tightly to the front of his shirt. He looked as if he were trying to grow a moustache but all he’d been able to manage was a little dirt under his nose.

“Hi there!” Mark said.

The Customs officer looked at Mark with an expression of surprise on his face, with wide eyes and a mouth that was open in the shape of an egg. Mark had a bad feeling about the way the officer was looking at him.

“Park your rig over there!” he said, pointing to an area where trucks went to be inspected.

“But you didn’t even ask me a question, or look at my papers,” Mark pleaded.

“Just park it over there, then get out of your truck.” n


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