Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Immigrant : Part One

I rocked-up to this seminar and told them about myself
They said "You seem like a trucking man and we are here to help."
They said there would be nothing to pay if I would commit to a two year stay,
So I filled in forms for the rest of the day and signed my life away.
____ My first recollection of the name "Big Freight" was from the March 2006 copy of Truckstop News. There was a half-page advert detailing a forth-coming recruitment tour by the Canadian company. I didn't own a computer but did have an e-mail address; so during a trip to the local library; I sent off my Cv and told them I would be at the South Mimms seminar on the Friday evening. Little did I know that the seminar was by invitation and limited to 20 job-seekers. There was a return e-mail saying that the company had enough applicants but, of course, I didn't read it and went along ignorant to the fact that I wasn't wanted.
____ Getting to the Travelodge Hotel at the South Mimms Service Area, just off the M25/A1M junction, proved difficult in the Friday evening traffic and I arrived late. The meeting was in progress, so I just sat down and listened without having to introduce myself. Another thing that worked in my favour was the poor attendance; just four couples from the 20 invited had turned-up. Eric Slatcher, Big Freight's recruiter, was on his first foreign  tour; the lack of bums on seats must have been a worry because I'm sure he knew I shouldn't have been there. But he was keen to sign up drivers to show his bosses that he could do his job. Eric was accompanied by Phil, an English driver who had already started in Canada. Both seemed extremely jet-lagged and the whole meeting was dominated by endless questions from a couple of the drivers wives; stuff that was totally irrelevant to me. It was only after everybody had gone home that I got to talk to Eric Slatcher, one to one. He was smoking a cigarette outside the front of the hotel; we chatted for about an hour and found we had a lot in common. He had gone behind a desk because of a heart-attack but I could tell he was still a truck-driver. We bonded like two drivers who find themselves parked-up together in a foreign country, telling tales, laughing, moaning about customs, customers and car-drivers.
____ Eric's recruitment tour had three more stops after South Mimms; the BP Truckstop in Wolverhampton, Whitwood in Yorkshire and Dublin in Ireland. He was concerned about the possible poor response to his invitations at the other venues. I think this is why he gave me the offer of a job there and then; which at least gave him something from his first seminar as none of the others from that night ever turned up in Canada.
____ For me, driving in Canada could have come two years earlier. Before the old Eastern Bloc countries joined the European Union; I had a dream job. Living in the Dordogne in France, driving for a German company, based in Munich and running the England, Germany, Spain triangle. It all came to an end in May 2004 when LKW Walter, the Austrian freight broker, cut the rate in half and gave all the work to the Poles, Slovenians, Lithuanians et al. There was no work in rural France and I had spent nearly two years doing agency and casual work whilst flying Ryan Air to and from Limoges Airport. Basing myself at my fathers place when in England; the exact same address when I first started truck-driving.
____ Faxes flew back and forth across the Atlantic and by the end of May I had all my ducks in a row and the all important police report that stated I was not a villain. I had references from past employers, certificates from school and a brand new passport. I took everything, plus the offer of employment, up to the Canadian High Commission in London and waited in the rain before securing an official letter that would give me entry to the promised land. [ This was 2006 and the goalposts have moved since then, so please don't think that reading this can be of help today.]
____ The health of my aging father was a big concern and my sister-in-law made it quite plain that she did not want me disappearing across the ocean and leaving her with all the work and caring. There fore I just intended to stay the two years before returning. Another concern was that it could all be just too good to be true. Big Freight were paying a guaranteed $3500 a month as well as the cost of the air ticket. But maybe I was signed up to slave labour; I needed plan "B."
____ Zoom Airlines were the only carrier flying direct to Winnipeg and although it was only one flight a week; it was good value at $420 from Gatwick Airport. Thursday, 15th June, 2006 and I was en-route to the New World. Bicycles flew free; so I took my bike and all my cycle-touring gear; if it all went tits-up, I would just ride away into the sunset; do a bit of touring and come back home. When I arrived the customs lady asked what was in the huge bike bag.
"Everything I own." I replied.

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