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road sage

An act of God. That's what legal types call disasters that are beyond human control. Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, wild fires, tornadoes – all these devastating calamities are acts of God. Despite all of our technological advances and scientific progress, we're powerless before them.

There is another kind of disaster that I can assure you has no connection whatsoever to a higher power. It is entirely man-made and arrives without warning. When it hits, it can disturb the lives of hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting citizens. I'm referring, of course, to construction.

I was hit by the hurricane of construction last week and, though my experience is tied to my hometown, it's one that is endured by countless drivers in innumerable cities around the globe. In Montreal, they've closed 55th Avenue under Highway 520. In Calgary, they've been working on the southeast ring road for ages.

In my case, there had been signs of impending construction for months. Work crews had been chipping away on Toronto's Gardiner Expressway and on Lake Shore Boulevard by Leslie Street. They were making room for the "Leslie Barns," a name that conjures up images of green fields and sheep, but is actually a monstrous garage for streetcars. What's important here is that these two roads are key arteries for tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of daily commuters.

For months, there had been delays, but it was manageable. Then, on Sept. 19, catastrophe befell us. Leslie Street was shut down at Lake Shore and there was virtually no way for the drivers who pour into the east end of the city to go north. The effects were immediate and brutal. At the end of the day, I found myself in standstill traffic around the Rogers Centre. I was at the end of a seven-kilometre traffic jam with no way out. Powerless.

This kind of construction is common. Around the country, municipalities are frantically trying to bolster decaying infrastructure that they've ignored for years.

Toronto is just the largest example. It's the urban equivalent of a 45-year-old guy who has existed on a diet of cheeseburgers and soda pop and hasn't exercised in 20 years. One day, it hits him that if he doesn't do something he's going to be in serious physical atrophy. So he hits the gym in desperation. Trouble is, because he hasn't done anything for two decades, he has to exert four times the effort to get half the results. And so we have every road torn up, every highway under construction, everywhere you look signs of construction (and yet, of course, no sign of anyone working).

As I sat in traffic, realizing that my commute would likely take between one to three hours, I went through the automotive equivalent of what, back in 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross classified as the "Five Stages of Grief." They were all too familiar. You may recognize a few.

Denial: Traffic couldn't really be backed up seven kilometres? Could it? The city had years to prepare for this road closure, surely it would have come up with some kind of plan. The strategy couldn't simply be, "Tough luck." No, this isn't happening. It can't be. No one, not even city officials, is that incompetent.

Anger: Why are all those drivers shooting up the right lane trying to cut into line? It's obvious that the lane is blocked up ahead. It's morally reprehensible. Why are there no actual construction workers anywhere in sight? This road is supposed to be under construction right? I mean, I see what appear to be all sorts of "construction equipment," but none of it is being used. I thought the economy was crap? Couldn't they get people to work 24 hours a day? I wish I could smash my car into something. I'll check the traffic reports on the radio. What's that, traffic reporter? Traffic is backed up on the eastbound Gardiner. Thanks for the investigative reporting.

Bargaining: Okay, if I can turn right onto Logan, I can take a left on to Commissioners and then a left at Leslie and then a right back onto Lake Shore Boulevard. I'm smart. I can beat this thing. What? Oh no. Everyone else turned right onto Logan and now there is a kilometre-long jam on Commissioners. I'll do a U-turn, back and turn right onto Carlaw and then a right on Eastern. Oh no…

Depression: Is it safe to text or make a phone call? I mean the traffic has not budged one inch in five minutes. The only way any of these cars could collide would be if the wind picked one up and knocked it into another one. I could call my wife and kids and tell them I love them. Tell them I would have loved to come home but I'm going to be stuck for all eternity in this traffic jam. The signs say this construction should last 12 weeks. I wonder if I'm actually dead and this is hell and I just don't know I'm dead yet. Nope. I'm still alive. Even Satan would not do this to people.

Acceptance: I never reach this stage.


Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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