As omens go, this was a doozy.
Curt Henry is waiting for his wife, Pat, to pick him up for their daily drive home through legendary commuting hell and has just received a text from her.
Pat is being held hostage by a balky underground parking lot gate elsewhere in downtown Toronto.
For an infrequent commuter assigned to join this arduous journey, this increases my feeling of dread to paralytic levels. If we can't get past the parking lot, what are our chances of surviving a 53-kilometre endurance test through what is supposed to be the worst commute in North America?
Curt, a financial planner with RBC, tries to calm my fears by insisting his average commuting time is about 75 minutes. But who is he kidding?
Nobody tells the truth on how long they spend in traffic, the same way they never tell you what kind of mileage their car gets or how little they tip. This sounds more like two hours to me. That's why I had envisioned something like the fall of Saigon, an ordeal that would require plenty of water, snacks, a sleeping bag and a can of Mace to fend off crazed commuters.
As it turns out, such panic is unwarranted.
Once Pat defeats the parking machine, we depart in their battle-tested 2005 Honda CR-V at 6:12 p.m., 10 minutes behind schedule.
While driving daily from the far reaches of Milton, Ont., to the corner of Wellington and Simcoe may seem like madness, the Henrys' eschewing of public transit makes sense. There's usually three of them – daughter Crea is out tonight – so paying three train or bus fares makes no sense.
That's the only possible explanation for their vehicle approaching the 450,000-kilometre mark, unless they have a cottage in Alberta.
Still, there are times they wish they were on a bus. Like the three-hour commuting nightmare caused by the season's first snowfall – a full inch that had some calling for the army.
But on this day, we sail through as if we're in a car commercial. Of course, a guy with 450,000 kilometres under his belt has learned a few tricks, such as never getting on the Gardiner Expressway too early.
The CR-V moves at a relatively acceptable pace on Lake Shore Boulevard, at times actually hitting the speed limit. By 6:26 p.m., we're on the Jameson ramp to the Gardiner, also known as the Highway of Slow Death.
But today it's moving eerily well, as if the long-predicted zombie apocalypse has finally come.
We pass a guy talking illegally on his cellphone near Kipling Avenue, and near Highway 427 at 6:31 p.m. Showing my inexperience, I ask if we're heading to Highway 401.
"No," they scream in unison, as if I'd suggested mooning the guy on the cellphone. Always a mess, Pat informs me.
We sail along the QEW, sign after sign telling us that traffic is moving well. "Four in a row," Curt marvels. "A record."
It wasn't the only record that day. After exiting at Ford Drive and winding through the mainly car-free back roads of Oakville and Milton, we arrived at the Henry home at 7:10 p.m.: 58 minutes after leaving the big, bad city.
The satisfaction the Henrys felt in such a pleasant commute was sadly short-lived. Three days later, they spent a total of five hours on snowy roads.
The record is safe.
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