The nation has just finished celebrating the 150th year since Confederation, and for many outdoorsy Canadians, just back from patriotically making merry by a lake, one thought is uppermost in their minds: "I am never, ever, ever driving to the cottage again. I don't care if you bronze the deck; I don't care if the maple tree sprout spouts and dispenses ice-cold Pilsner on demand; I don't care if the talking bears paddle up offering back rubs, and I don't care if you can pick fresh s'mores off the pine trees. I am never going to subject myself or my family to that traffic again."
And sure enough, like the legendary pain of childbirth, they forget the torment and find themselves driving up the following week. Except you can't take an epidural to numb the pain of Highway 400. When you are stuck in a cottage commute, a trip that should take three hours can often take two or three times that.
Yes, it's "cottage season," for those lucky enough to have one. For those who live year-round in rural regions, it's "that season when all those idiots come up from the city, but at least they spend money." For municipal politicians, it's "time to close off that lane again for no reason."
So how do you deal? One option is to simply stay in the city and let the lake come to you. With the torrential Book-of-Revelationsesque weather we've been having, all you have to do is set up a few lawn chairs in the basement, crack a cold one and wait for the flood.
Still, if you're determined, there are ways to beat the cottage-traffic blues. Most people with kids plug them into iPads or in-seat DVD players. Personally I think that's cheating. Turn off the iPads and make them read. If you're suffering, why shouldn't they? Back in the day, my backseat entertainment system consisted of a pillow and box of old comics and paperbacks. The words, "I'm bored" would be greeted by a ten-minute dissertation from my economist father on a) how little this fact interested him b) various ways he was prepared to handle future repeated delivery of said information and c) a promise to "fix" said boredom if required.
One way to pass the time in a 10-hour delay is to have the passenger read "blind items" from the Internet. These are sordid anonymous tales of celebrity misbehaviour (drug abuse, infidelity, sexual misconduct). They begin with lines such as "apparently this foreign-born A+-list mostly-movie actor had no qualms cheating on the former actress he calls his girlfriend…" Then you can each take turns guessing which celebrity is involved. You can kill hours doing this. My favourite site is crazydaysandnights.net. If you have kids and are worried about content, create euphemisms for dirty stuff. For instance, "this B- celeb has been 'vigorously lifting weights' with his co-star for three months."
Another way to pass the time is to talk about all the great stuff you're going to do when you get back from the cottage. The world is an endless realm of possibility when you're stuck in a traffic jam due to a collision. That novel you've been thinking about? Good as done. Weight loss? Check. Finally figure out a way to keep the house tidy? Take it to the bank. This one works best on the way to the cottage because, after you brave the traffic and finally get there, you can go to the porch, mix a cocktail and forget the entire conversation. On the way back home there's more pressure to actually follow through.
Finally, there is always quiet resignation. Surrender. Hours and hours spent in a crawling automotive sprawl is a small price to pay for a piece of the Canadian Dream.