This week I will be driving from Halifax to Ontario to perform in shows in London, at the Yuk’s club there in the city. When people hear that I am driving all the way there and back, they usually say things like “You’re crazy, why drive when you can fly and be there faster?” or “You’re nuts to drive all that way without staying overnight in some hotel” or “Why don’t you drive with someone to alleviate the boredom or share the driving?”. All valid points, but for me driving has been a huge part of my life, I prefer it to flying only because the control I have over my time is more satisfying to me, I hate having to be at the airport early, only to sit and wait for the plane to let me board, then to sit and wait for the plane to be loaded, to go through the in-flight safety regulations, to have to wait until I’m given the opportunity to eat something (if that’s even an option) and to have to get up and inconvenience other people if I have to get up and go to the washroom. Flying to me, it’s not convenient at all.
Driving to me has always been about freedom and the journey to discover something along the way, which is alien to some people who are mostly concerned about being at their destination and not inclined to notice anything along the way. For me, it’s always been about what’s new and what haven’t I ever seen before, and that’s been true all my life driving. When I was younger and first got my license I would sometimes be given the weekend to stay home alone while my family went to visit my Aunt and Uncle 3 hours travel north from our house. Those weekends when I was home alone I usually got the itch to travel and see what there was to see, and for most teens my age that was about driving around the city and seeing what everyone else was doing, cruising around the main drags and checking out the ladies and playing your music really loud to attract attention. For me, living in Brampton there wasn’t much of a cruising culture going on, there wasn’t really a main drag and even if there was I can’t say there was a lot of driving going on. For me, my favourite thing to do was travel with my friends and just see where a road took me, driving down back roads in the middle of nowhere in a little red Toyota coupe that my Parents had gotten for me from my friend’s Father; it was an early 70’s car, with a severely bent frame and tons of body work done on it, how it passed safety I don’t know, but it never bothered me, it was my car and I used to love driving around in it, despite all it’s flaws and problems. The engine ran higher revs than normal because it burned oil otherwise, the alternator wasn’t properly working because if I had to run the car with the headlights on, the defroster running and the windshield wipers running then restarting the car was a mess as the battery died. Too much being run at once I guess. Luckily it was a manual transmission, so I learned pretty early on how to push start the car and get it running again when it had died.
As with everything else in life with me, music was also important, and this Toyota had come with a fully working 8-Track stereo unit installed and luckily for me there were still places to buy 8-Tracks which were already obsolete but found in bargain bins in the stores. Once I had the license to drive and the car to drive I wanted some music to travel with, because it was good for the background. Most of the time in the car it was my therapy and conversation place, we would talk about life and the future and past with each other as we travelled, and my limited choices were important as they all meant something to me; Led Zeppelin II, Rush’s A Farewell to Kings, McCartney & Wings’ Back to the Egg and The Knack’s …But the Little Girls Understand…there may have been one or two others but those were the ones that stick out. I have memories of driving down dark deserted roads listening to Ramble On with such clarity, hearing the words not knowing that they were influenced by The Lord of the Rings, hearing the picture the song created. Rush’s Cygnus X-I making a dark drive eerie and pretty scary hearing the opening and looking up at the night sky as I drove, giving me goosebumps as Geddy Lee screamed the lyrics in his high falsetto, the laidback charm of McCartney’s Baby’s Request or Arrow Through Me and the insistence of the Knack’s Baby Talks Dirty, making moods change as I travelled.
As I grew older and the car that was my freedom was scrapped due to it’s age and other economic factors in play I lost a lot of that ability to travel where and when I wanted as I was using someone else’s car and didn’t want to take it very far when it wasn’t mine to do so. It wasn’t until I finally bought my own car, a 1978 Pontiac Firebird, that I was able to go back to travelling along the backroads of Ontario again, taking my friend Scott Lutz with me this time as we both were bored with sitting at home on a Sunday night and twiddling our thumbs. We travelled all over, talked about whatever came to mind and had some of the most awesome nights of our life.
Things that stand out for us I think would be both weird and wonderful; ending up in Wasaga Beach around 3am through a series of twists and turns and blind luck, sitting in the parking lot near the beach on a cold fall evening when there were no crowds and the place was all boarded up for the season we were approached by a patrol car which instead of stopping and getting out to see what we were up to instead did a donut around the car and then took off like a shot. Driving one night until the morning came and as we approached a valley, we stopped and got out of the car and just stared ahead for a long time because the view was spectacular, the road ahead dipped down into the valley and came out on the other side, but all you could see was the fog that filled the valley making it look like you were standing on the edge of a vast ocean, and all you could see was this massive fog that looked like clouds had landed and filled the bowl of the valley, with this white spire from a church being the only thing sticking out of the fog to show it was actually land and not an ocean. As we drove into the fog there was a whole little community down in the valley with willow trees and level ground and the fog wasn’t like a wall but more like ribbons that connected along the roadway and snapped with a ghostlike parting as we travelled through the valley in a slow and cautious speed. To this day I can’t remember where it was or even if it still exists, but Scott and I agreed it was one of the most breathtaking views we’d ever seen.
Of all our trips, the most surreal one had to have been when we mistakenly ended up in a farmer’s field; we’d been travelling along a road going west and when we got to an intersection we saw the main crossroad was Winston Churchill Blvd and you could go north or south, or you could continue west but it was a dirt road. As I already knew what Winston Churchill looked like it looked like the dirt road was the better option so we kept on travelling west, which was not a smart idea because as the road continued the grass in the middle of the road had gone from just barely touching the bottom of the Firebird, to actually being tall enough to slap onto the hood of the car. It was at that point that I realized that this wasn’t a dirt road as much as it was a farm lane, probably used to drive a tractor on and as I was driving a lowered vehicle on a track that was used by high sitting tractors I considered what might happen to us traveling along in the dark in a field where any moment the car might dip into a creek or rugged trail and snap the suspension or tip us over. Scott and I laughed about our predicament and even came up with the scenario that we’d end up having to be rescued by a tow truck driven by Zeke & Clem who would end up being Deliverance style mountain folk. Even funnier we thought of the movie “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and we’d end up being in the middle of nowhere and see a sign for taxidermy and butchery. As we continued through the field we saw a street lamp ahead and knew we’d made it back to civilization from the field and as we got closer we saw the dirt trail ended up going back onto a main road where there was house lit up near the street light, and there was a couple leaving for their car as the owners of the house were waving them goodbye from their front door. There was a sign on the front lawn, and I swear to God I am not lying, the sign said “Bob’s Taxidermy and Meat Shop” and as we got onto the paved road from the dirt surface Scott and I looked at the sign, looked at each other and screamed “AUGH!!!” then did the same out the window as we looked again at the sign, and then sped off into the night. Somewhere in this world there is probably someone who tells the story about how they had just had a lovely night in with friends and as they were saying goodnight a Firebird came out of a nearby field and two men inside screamed like idiots as they drove off into the night.
Whenever I’ve been back in Ontario I’ve made a point to try and travel again with Scott and keep up our tradition of having a conversation and drive and just going to wherever the road takes us, with my last trip in September ending up with us driving to Niagara On The Lake after 1 am and seeing a whole herd of deer travelling alongside the main route. It’s why I love the route’s less traveled, there’s so much more to see. n this trip I hope to see more interesting things as I travel back and forth across the miles, and I hope this little entry hasn’t put you to sleep.