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road sage

My late stepfather Geoff Lester was from Melbourne, Australia. He had many colourful sayings. Perhaps my favourite was “Hit me. Don’t s**t me.” Essentially, it means if you’re going to do a number on me, do the number. Don’t make me sit through some song and dance before you do.

That motto comes to mind whenever I think about Ontario’s new lockdown, or any of the various lockdowns and curfews that are in place across the country. Ontarians are to avoid all non-essential travel. What constitutes essential is up for debate. Not to my mind. How can I put this – I need to drive around aimlessly. It is essential.

Which goes back to my stepfather’s aforementioned saying. You want to shut us up in our homes with – as we used to say in the Ottawa Valley – “a fly-swatter and a case of Export,” then do it. Do what they’ve done in the United Kingdom, Italy and host of other COVID-19-besieged nations. Limit travel between cities. Give workers paid sick leave. Lock us down. Supersize it. Don’t give me six months of Lockdown Lite.

Like many Canadians, I’ve been in isolation for many months already. In March and April, when the first lockdown’s rosy blush was upon my cheeks, my great indulgence was going for the occasional daily joyride in my Mini Countryman ALL4. These trips were the ideal form of lockdown movement. There was no human contact. I was sealed in my car and never left its cold interior. I was not the only one who indulged in car therapy. I saw fellow enthusiasts on the roads with me.

Will this release still be available? In Quebec, they’re already under curfew.

For now, at least, in Ontario, the police are not allowed to stop pedestrians and ask them if their walk is essential or pull over cars and ask if it is really of the utmost importance for them to be on the road. They can’t come into your house and count the number of non-family members present. One thing these troubled times have shown us, however, is that change is inevitable. Today’s impossibility becomes tomorrow’s inevitability.

We therefore need some way to differentiate those drivers who are breaking the rules of lockdown and those who are merely trying to lock down whatever mental duress they are under. This way, police officers will know who to pull over.

Why not use the same system as they employ for learner drivers in British Columbia – where novice motorists must display the an official N sign in the rear of their vehicles? Let’s use the alphabet. We can use rear-view letters to signify the sort of essential non-lockdown-breaking drive we’re taking.

A – Aimless. Think Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by … and then reversed and went the other way, then tried the highway but there was a little too much traffic, so I drove along Prince Edward, and then Eminem’s Just Lose It came on the radio so I drove a bit longer until it was over and then back home.”

D – Depressed. Nothing to see here officer. Just a regular citizen driving around wondering why, if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, there is evil in the world, as he drives past a bunch of empty stores, bankrupt small businesses and restaurants. Wow, would you look at the length of the line outside the liquor store! You know officer, I think American playwright Thornton Wilder put it best, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it ... every, every minute?” What’s that, officer? No? Okay. Thanks for clearing that up.

G – Gatbsy. I’m glad you asked me that question, police constable. There is indeed a perfectly good reason for me to be driving around empty city streets at ten in the evening. I’m trying to figure out why someone would call their car-parking company “Gatsby Valet.” I’m sure they’re a good company, but, I mean, there are three car accidents in The Great Gatsby. The book climaxes when Daisy Buchanan kills Myrtle Wilson by running her over, and then Myrtle’s husband, under the impression that Jay Gatsby was the driver, shoots him and then kills himself. I mean, does that make you think positively about valet parking? It’s kind of like naming your business “Icarus Travel.” Pardon? Certainly, police constable, here is my driver’s license and registration.

F – No explanation necessary.

Of course, if your biggest concern is going on a drive to clear your mind, you’re doing pretty well. Problem-wise, it’s a good one. So many have it so much worse. When the history books are written on COVID-19, they will recall it as a rich person’s war and a poor person’s fight. Suffering is everywhere. Unless you’ve got the money to fly to Florida and get a vaccine. Most of us don’t. So, forgive us if we go on the occasional contact-free joyride.

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