The philanthropic Yuletide classic “Do They Know it’s Christmas” begins with Paul Young singing the lyric, “It’s Christmastime, there’s no need to be afraid.”
Apparently, Paul Young has never tried to park at a Canadian mall during Christmastime.
You know what, Mr. Young, you had great hair and a tight physique, but you know nothing of fear and Christmas. There are many reasons to be afraid at Christmas time and many of them run on four wheels. Christmas means traffic, even during years when a deadly viral pandemic hasn’t swept around the globe. Christmas driving is a nightmare. I doubt that it is a coincidence that British pop singer Chris Rea followed up his 1986 hit song Driving Home for Christmas with the hit The Road to Hell in 1989.
During Christmas 2020, we had a reprieve, as much of the country was in lockdown and the roads were clear. In 2021, we’re out on parole. Shoppers are in malls. Diners are in restaurants. Alcohol enthusiasts are in bars. Movie-goers are in the cinemas. Workers (some of them) are in offices and factories.
And everyone, it seems, is on the road.
The numbers alone would make the foundation for a nightmare, but there are other factors at play.
Take, for instance, the aversion many city dwellers are showing for public transit. Ridership is down, partly because people are afraid of contracting COVID-19 on public transit. Isolation in an automobile feels safer. It’s also down because public transit in this country is grossly underfunded. Most countries do a better job.
As a result, Canadian public transit is lousy. Ridership on the Toronto Transit Commission (famous for the slogan “The Better Way”) dropped by 88 per cent during the height of the pandemic and was only at 45 per cent of prepandemic levels in September. Three weeks ago, the TTC, which has cut services, tried to attract riders by announcing they could expect longer subway waits and bus route cuts. The Better Way? Try “The No Other Way.”
And so, this Christmas season many Canadians are getting around in automobiles and the traffic is congested. If you want to get around most cities quickly, hop on your bicycle; the bike lanes are deserted. Strange, that cycling would become less attractive when it’s snowing and the temperature dips below freezing.
Red and green are colours normally associated with Christmas but this year, it’s orange that is all the rage. Construction has spread almost as fast as the virus. You can’t drive down a street in a city, suburb or small town and not see the roads decked out with bright orange cones and signs proclaiming, “Expect Delays.” Who can forget Scrooge’s joyous speech at the end of A Christmas Carol, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future but most of all, I will expect delays!”
The cause can be simple road construction or water mains. In most cities, it’s the erection of more condominiums. There are near-constant traffic delays. In the major cities, there isn’t a heritage building or landmark they won’t bulldoze in two seconds flat in order to throw up a condo so ugly it looks like something Mussolini ordered over the telephone. If the politicians who run Canadian cities ran the city of Rome, the only thing that would be left of the Colosseum would be a single arch with a Circle K convenience store and accompanying condo stuck behind it.
Of course, the true Christmas traffic scourge are the drunk drivers. As inevitable as a snowfall, these drivers risk their lives and the lives of others in order to get loaded and drive home. What is it about the birth of God’s only son that makes folks want to pound back alcohol and drive? What is it about Christmas? Do people who observe other religions drive around drunk during their holidays? I don’t think so. Maybe prospective drunk drivers should crack a Bible. Jesus died for your sins, but his message wasn’t “So just keep on sinning.”
True, he did say, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
You people know what you are doing. Everyone knows that drinking and driving is dangerous and morally wrong. If you want to get drunk, fine, just don’t drive. Stay home and drink. Call me, we can keep each other company, just don’t kill anyone.
Speaking of me, if you have no other reason not to drink and drive think of this columnist. My research includes scanning the news. You know what you get when you search terms like driving? Stories about drunk driving. It’s a litany of pointless death and destruction.
So, the forecast for Christmas driving 2021 is – expect delays, inevitable construction, public transit cuts and wait times, fast bicycle lanes and please don’t drink and drive.
A Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.