We were dead? Was this the beginning of a second version of Lost, one in which people en route to a weekend getaway in the woods are sucked into a vortex and find themselves stuck, forever, in a never-ending traffic jam on the TransCanada Highway? As hour number one slipped by, it seemed very probable.
The highway stretched before us - a solid line of cars and trucks disappearing onto the horizon. Traffic stood still. Drivers abandoned cars to stretch their legs and chat. What was going on? Was this purgatory? Had anyone driving committed suicide recently? Wherefore this traffic jam? No one knew. Perhaps the clogged artery was the result of another construction crew, like the one encountered earlier, in which motorists waited 90 minutes at a crawl only to find, at the end of our rainbow, orange-vest-wearing workers humping cones. The radio was checked but to no avail. There were no news reports mixed in with the nation's best country music. Finally, a rumour trickled down - there had been a two car, one tractor trailer collision near Belleville.
Another 40 minutes later we drove past. An accident had indeed occurred, and whatever frustration we had experienced was replaced by a shameful gratitude. We were moving slowly but at least we were still moving.
Ah, the trip to the cottage.
Americans dream of riches, freedom and world domination. Canadians dream of solitude, solitude and a lake. The lake is central to the Canadian psyche. All great Canadian novels involve a lake, and a woman who stands beside it and thinks about all the crap she's taken throughout her life, and at the end a guy from the First World War shows up and then she splits and then her granddaughter shows up and thinks, "Wow, look at that lake."
Urbanites, who normally won't step on anything that isn't paved, spend money and time to delve deep into the woods and experience the sort of life (fishing, swatting mosquitoes) their forebears spent hundreds of years escaping. When they imagine driving in rural regions, city slickers picture pickup trucks roaring down country roads with eight-track players blasting Lyrnyrd Skynyrd. Not another car can be seen, but, if one does appear on the hazy horizon, it's full of fun-loving good old boys off to a corn roast.
Reality runs quite the opposite. A trip to the cottage means a heaping helping of highway congestion. In southern Ontario, those seeking solace by the lake expect three- or five-hour commutes. It's not uncommon for people to leave at 4 a.m. to miss traffic. Those who live on the west coast can add ferries and bridges to their waits. Humans living in less populated areas probably don't have big cottage commutes and, staying true to the values the fathers of Confederation conceived when they bribed this great nation into existence, they'll try and find some way to turn this lack of traffic congestion into regional victimization.
In many ways the cottage country traffic jam is worse than its urban counterpart. Being stuck in traffic on your way to work has its advantages (you're not at work). Getting stuck in traffic on the way to your Arcadian Shangri-la means you're not sitting by an algae-clad body of fresh water holding an ice cold Fresca* or the cottage favourite "Royal Canadian" (five ounces of rye and an ice cube with a remorse chaser). You're trying to escape stress and strife and get back to what's real: staring blankly out at the wilderness while you pretend to be reading.
For those who elect to remain in the city, the cottage commute is a sweet treat. They like to imagine cottage dwellers suffering on the highway and enjoy summer in the city because, as one twentysomething told me, "You old (expletives) are gone." So, I guess there is an upside.
If you check the Internet you will find many people suggesting ways to mitigate the frustrations of cottage traffic, especially if you're travelling with kids. Tips include: bring water, and an Xbox or DVD player. I do not concur. Staring out the window of a slow moving car, a sweaty pillow by your head, the low hum of adults discussing interest rates in the background, is a rite of passage. Placing electronic game devices in cars is an insidious attempt to weaken our youth. The guys who stormed Juno Beach didn't spend their childhoods playing World of Warcraft in the back seat.
It all makes you wonder how folks used to get to their country destinations before automobiles were invented. Well, they took the train and then they took a boat, or a horse or they walked. They travelled light. They enjoyed a cigarette in the darkness as they strolled toward shelter. But mostly they never went to the cottage. They just worked their asses off in fields and mines and factories because they had no money and no health care and spent their short lives putting one foot in front of the other, dreaming of the day their descendents would be decadent enough to drive a horseless carriage to the country.
*Please don't write in to abuse me for liking Fresca.
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