Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nuthin' to it

There was a time when I could not drive, and if I think back far enough, when it did not occur to me to be afraid of driving. Who hasn't hopped into their dad's lap, grabbed the wheel and squealed with delight at the prospect of having a giant heap of metal obeying their every command?

Eventually, I came to find the prospect of such an endeavour to be daunting, although the thrill still won out. (Thanks dad, for tempering that thrill with patient instruction, and for getting me out of that snowbank...and that pesky 4-way stop...and thanks to both mom and dad for not completely freaking out about that little mix-up in the mall parking guys are great.) Once the whole issue of learning to drive was out of the way I, like most teenagers, became a big fan of my newfound mobility. Driving was pretty fun, and no longer very scary. Until Toronto.

Driving around Kingston in my youth, and even popping on the highway for short bits or slightly longer bits when University came, was great fun. But I always thought of Toronto as that big scary place where small town drivers go to die. Literally. Big city, lots of cars, one-way streets, aggressive drivers. I always swore I'd never drive in Toronto. And if only I hadn't fallen in love with a die-hard "Downtown Toronto" native, I may have escaped initiation. And what a shame that would have been.

In the early days, I held strong. I would drive from Kingston or London as far as Yonge Street. I would get off of the 401 and drive approximately 500 metres to a Swiss Chalet parking lot, where my all-kinds-of-wonderful boyfriend cum husband would meet me after a 45 minute journey involving the subway and a sexy pair of Roots boots. Remember those? Anyhoo, he did it willingly (as though he had a choice), and I let him for a few years at least. Then one day, and I can't remember why, I decided that I would do it. To be honest, it was most likely some kind of desperate situation where I had to leave Toronto and J couldn't drive me out and so I had no choice in the matter, but I like to think that it was a pivotal moment in my maturity when I grabbed the bull by the horns and really, who am I hurting if that's the way I want to remember it? Although there is a distant memory of my eventually-to-be father-in-law attempting to scout out the least painful route for me while doing an excellent job of masking his incredulity at what a wimp his son's girlfriend was...but I digress.

Where the heck am I going with this post?

Ah, to Montreal. But first, New York City.

Oh, back to Toronto for one second. So I did it. I drove from Toronto to somewhere else, I survived, I had a rush of adrenaline and a surge of self pride, and my husband has not since set foot in that Swiss Chalet parking lot. These days, it no longer occurs to me to feel nervous when I drive in Toronto, and that suits me just fine.

You might think I would have learned a valuable lesson from all of this. Something about fearing things for no good reason and making mountains out of molehills. Well, you would be wrong. It'll take a heck of a lot more than that to get through to this girl. Toronto became New York City. And it was always Montreal.

My husband and I have been driving to New York City since before we were married. And I swore I would never drive in that town. I would drive as far as New Jersey, perhaps close to the George Washington Bridge, but never over it. No sir. Those are some crazy drivers. Then we moved to Brooklyn. We didn't have a car, but we did have occasion to rent cars once in a while. So eventually I drove in Brooklyn, and it was fine. Just like driving in any other town, as it were. Same traffic rules, same helpful green and red lights, everybody doing basically what they're supposed to do. But I still refused to drive in Manhattan. As it happened, I escaped without having to. Whew. Still no lesson learned, apparently.

And then there was Montreal. I have been afraid to drive in Montreal since I first heard someone say they were afraid to drive in Montreal. But my fears don't come completely out of ignorance. You see, I have been riding in cars that have driven through Montreal since I was a toddler. I remember yelling, maps tearing, brakes slamming, and more than a few missed turns. I'm pretty sure I've blocked the rest of it out. It was never a peaceful experience. Especially that time I announced that I absolutely must use the bathroom right now. That went over well.  In any case, a history of harrowing experiences coupled with the quirky habits of the highways running through Montreal to have exits on both sides with little to no on-ramps, to be less than reliable with their signage, and to have lane changes and exits INSIDE TUNNELS...have made me quite comfortable with the decision that Montreal was the one city I would NEVER. DRIVE. IN.

Until today. Today I conquered Montreal. I drove right into the Old Port. Then I drove to the Biodome. Then I drove home to Ottawa. Just me, and my sidekick in the backseat. Sure, I was nervous. But not nearly as nervous as I should have been, considering the number of years that I've been dreading this moment.

And you know what? I have to say that I think that little loudmouth in the backseat makes all the difference. I'm much braver since becoming a mom. In fact, the first time I remember feeling my newfound courage was driving our giant Toyota 4-Runner through the narrow, windy streets of St. Georges in Grenada, dodging children in the street with 3 foot ditches on either side and parallel parking on a wicked-steep hill. What made me do such a thing? Mama needed an ultrasound, and I'd be damned if I was going to give up a chance to see my little baboushka kicking around in there because I couldn't get a ride into town.

Yes, I think I'll hang on to my sidekick, and make sure I bring her along the next time I'm in New York City. I'm going to need someone to flip the bird as I leave those yellow cabs in the dust.

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