I took my car in for its regular checkup this week and when I did so, it reminded me of Gill’s Christmas trip here.Towards the end of her trip home, she needed to make a couple of short trips — one to Stratford (half an hour from here) and one into Toronto to see her publisher. For the trip to Stratford to see a friend, she borrowed my car and drove herself. The weather had taken a decidedly awful turn with very high winds, blowing snow and freezing temperatures. I, as always, worried about the driving conditions. The road to her friend’s is notorious for whiteouts and other miseries of winter driving. But my intrepid little explorer would have none of my gloom and warnings that it might not be smart to undertake the trip that day.
“You worry too much, Ma. Straight to panic mode always!” To placate me (i.e.: shut me up), she consulted Mr. Google for road conditions. “See Ma? They say the roads are clear and no snow is expected. It’ll be fine!” And off she went, in the same mindset as someone who was just driving to the corner store for bubblegum.(Come to think of it, she looked like someone off to buy bubblegum.) She wore her toque, mitts, tights and ‘winter coat’. Now, in England, this coat is quite acceptable…I dare to say some might even say it’s overkill for their relatively tame winters. But ready for Canadian winter it is not. But it’s the only coat she has here, so it would have to do. On her feet? Plastic Birkenclogs.That’s right…plastic shoes, not boots. I was about to suggest she put a blanket and extra set of boots(even if they were too big) in the car ‘just in case’, as any sensible driver in Southern Ontario does. I knew it would be too much to suggest matches, food, water, and a first aid kit. But, seeing the ‘oh not again’ look on her face, I said nothing. If she went off the road into a snowbank, she’d be on her own…with my poor car and a slightly questionable driver’s license. No matter.
The day worsened here. I suspected the driving to and from Stratford would be a nightmare. I was correct. I won’t say she was ashen when she arrived home, but as details dribbled out, I could tell it had been a miserable drive: whiteouts, not being able to see the road, following slowly the lights of the car in front of her to keep her bearings, knuckles white as she held the steering wheel in an iron grip. She wanted to stop when one of the warning lights went on on the dashboard, but she was afraid to pull over. She didn’t know what the light indicated so she prayed the car wasn’t going to burst into flames. She had to keep going. Seeing the horror of the experience on her face, I knew I didn’t need to say anything. She had a new respect for our winter driving conditions.
The trip to Toronto was a familiar one for us. When she lived here, she often took the morning train to Toronto and I’d pick her up from the evening one. It was like old times — she packed a snack, bought overpriced coffee at the station — with the added tension of me worrying about the dash light that was still on. She had Googled to find out what the symbol meant. I, of course, hadn’t a clue. And, again, of course, I couldn’t lay my hands on the manual that I thought was in the glove compartment but wasn’t. I did find, however, some of her CDs that must be at least twenty years old. But they weren’t helping with our current problem. It seems the tires were low. Again, I went directly to panic mode without stopping go.
“But what if we have a blowout? Or it makes the steering wonky? The roads are slippery…we could have an accident!”
“It’s not far to the station. I’m sure we can make it and then you can go to a garage or something and top up the air.”
Sheepishly, I hung my head. “But, but…I don’t know how to do that! And I don’t have a clue what the pressure should be!” I confessed.
“What? You’ve been driving a car for all these years and you don’t know how to put air in the tires?! Have you no self-respect?” She was disgusted. I could tell.
“You heard me. I’ve never had to…I have it serviced regularly so I’ve never had a problem. I know I come from the world of dinosaurs, but I always had someone around to do that shit for me. Or the gas stations, back in the good old days when they pumped your gas, cleaned your windshield and checked the tire pressure, took care of all that. All this new-fangled bullshit where you have to pump your own gas and bag your own groceries is for the birds! I do not belong in this world…”
“Well, Ma, I hate to let you in on the secret, but you AREN’T actually of this world anymore…but you’re cute. Tell you what, on the way back from the train station, I bet if you stop in at Canadian Tire and bat your eyelashes and look helpless, somebody will take pity on you.”
And so they did…and they were very pleasant as they did so.