Wednesday, July 22, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

On Tuesday evening I had dinner with my mother.

She’s 65 now, and is starting to show signs of becoming a little old lady. She’s a little hunched over, a little smaller than she used to be. She putters around her old house, tending to her many houseplants, trying to keep dust from accumulating on the stacks of books that fill every corner of almost every room. She dotes on my adopted cat brothers, and laments the damage they do to her furniture. She likes a good, strong cup of tea.

We had a very civilized evening, discussing theology over homemade sheppard’s pie and roasted vegetables.

After nine o’clock, I decided I’d better start heading home. Even though it was dark and raining out, or perhaps because of that, my mom offered to drive me all the way home instead of letting me to take public transit. My home isn’t far from hers, but my mom is not a confident driver, especially at night, so it was going to be a bit of an ordeal for her.

(For anyone who doesn’t know: I don’t have a driver’s license. That’s a story in itself. Let’s just say that I inherited my driving genes from my mom.)

We set out in good spirits. My mom took her special route through a maze of winding side streets. She likes to stay off streets that are more than two lanes wide if possible, and completely refuses to drive on any highway. We made it most of the way to my house on the back streets.

Finally she had to go north on Yonge St., one of the central arteries of Toronto, in order to pass under the 401, one of the major highways. As we approached the 401, traffic slowed down. Orange signs and traffic cones directed all the cars to merge into the right lane. And then, lo and behold, ahead of us the road was completely blocked.

Traffic was being forced off to the right. At first all we could see to the right was the on-ramp to the 401. My highway-phobic mother gripped the wheel with white knuckles, thinking she’d be forced onto the highway. Then she saw that a side street branched off from the approach to the on-ramp. Saved by the skin of our teeth.

We turned onto the residential street and proceeded into the dark. We started out facing due east, but the road soon began to twist and turn unpredictably until we were both disoriented. Any intersecting streets also seemed to wind off at odd angles.

We were getting deeper and deeper into one of those fancy-dancy areas, where mature trees arch overhead and on either side there are wall-to-wall mansions with fountains and wrought-iron fences, spot-lit in the dark to look like movie sets. There was one other car on the road, following close behind us.

When we had been driving for quite some time with no apparent progress, my mom decided to pull over so that we could consult a map. The car behind us pulled over too. I guess they were following us in the hopes that we could lead them out of the maze. As I pulled out the map book and fiddled with the overhead light, they gave up on us, turned around, and went back the way we’d come from. We were alone.

In the weak light, I squinted at the map book. This book was a pocket version, which had approximately 3-point type. The tiny letters swam in front of my eyes.

“I can’t read this!” I wailed. “Can you read it?”

“I can’t read it,” said my mom.

Eventually, with much peering and frustration, I managed to find a map of the area. As I suspected, the street we were on essentially looped back on itself, as did many of the cross streets we were passing. It was all one big, elaborate cul-de-sac. Finally we decided that the best way out was to do what the other car had done: turn around and go back the way we came. At least maybe we could get back onto Yonge St., go south to the next main street, and drive around the construction.

Getting back to Yonge St. was easy. Getting onto it was not. The proximity to the highway which had just saved us was now working against us. The side street we were on came to a stop sign. Whooshing past at vigorously accelerating speeds, cross-traffic was heading up the on-ramp to the 401. A couple of cars ahead of us found brief gaps between the oncoming vehicles, and slipped through to the other side. Then it was our turn.

The rush of oncoming headlights seemed endless. Meanwhile I could see a line-up of cars growing behind us, wanting to get through the intersection. We were going to have to thread the needle.

“Holy shit,” said my mom.

Then a gap opened up. My mom reacted quickly, stomping on the gas and getting us across the dangerous on-ramp approach. We made it back to Yonge St. and, eventually, to my home.

“Pat on the back for you!” I told my mom, and spent some time praising her driving skills. I was really proud of her.

However, maybe next time I should take the underground train. That’s a heck of a lot simpler (and it would have been faster too).


Anonymous said...

I suggest the underground railroad as well.

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping your mom's trip home was less aggravating and nerve-wracking! Whew! I'm tired just reading about it!

Kate said...

She called you when she got home, right?

Sparkling Red said...

Unsigned: The subway trains are never diverted off course because of construction.

darcknyt: She took another route home, so there were no more tricky detours.

Kate: Not last night, but I spoke to her today. She stopped by the bookstore on her way home and bought a large-print map book. :-)

Warped Mind of Ron said...

LOL... she reminds me of a friends mother. She is almost exactly the same when it comes to driving. I could name any point in our city and she would find some weird route that avoids the use of any highway or large road,yet she drives at highway speeds. :)

LL Cool Joe said...

I was thinking of your poor Mom getting home again. I dunno, I'm glad you didn't take the underground, it was probably good for her in a way. Nerve wracking, but anything that gets the old adrenaline going is good. :)

SoMi's Nilsa said...

As someone who relies on a car for everyday things (like getting to work), I cannot imagine being plagued with a fear of driving. I would think it would be so debilitating. Having said that, I'm guessing people like your mom figure out something that works for them and stick to it.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: For the record, my mom drives as slowly as possible. Every drive takes twice as long if she's at the wheel, compared to speedy Ken.

Joe: Yes, it's good to have a little adventure and overcome adversity. That'll keep her from being old before her time.

Nilsa: Having built a life around driving avoidance, it doesn't seem too restrictive. However, if I had a car-dependent lifestyle and lost my ability to drive, I'm sure that would seem like a horrible handicap.

powdergirl said...

Yea Mom! She sounds very sweet and I love roasted vegetables!
Hope her return trip was bit smoother: )

Scarlet said...

What a suspenseful post! OMG, I am so relieved to learn you made it home safely...and she did, too.

Like you, I vote for the underground railroad next time.

Vanessa said...

You know, it's pretty cute - you had an adventure with your mom. :D Glad everyone made it home safe and sound!

Claire said...

Oh man. That made me stressed just reading it!


wigsf said...

I understand not wanting a driver's license when living in Toronto. The city has a serious lack of roads, but c'mon. If I can get a driver's license, anybody can!

Sparkling Red said...

Powdergirl: I hear it was quite smooth. :-)

Scarlet: The trains are very reliable, and fast. No stopping for red lights!

Vanessa: It was a bonding experience, although I'm not sure that we really needed to be more bonded. Perhaps we should try for a separating experience. ;-)

Claire: It was hair-raising. I had passenger anxiety.

wigsf: Oh, I'm sure I could get a license if I wanted to. I just don't want it enough to go to all the bother.

Dianne said...

go Mom!!

I can empathize with the entire trip and with both of you

I didn't drive until I was 35. I was in a terrible accident at 18 and never got past it.

When my son started driving I decided I had to

When I first drove I never went anywhere on a highway and -- get ready for this --- I never went anywhere where I'd have to make a left against a lot of traffic

merge!? hell no

slowly but surely I pressed on and today I am assertive and sometimes downright aggressive

Jenski said...

Oh, my, goodness! Glad to see her ride home was straightforward from your comments!

Nickname unavailable said...
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Sara Fryd said...

Congrats to Mom. I'm 63 and spent 22 years of my life on the Los Angeles Freeway system driving to and from work. Now I live in Tucson and rarely get on I-10. BTW I absolutely loved Toronto! What a gorgous city.

Aurora said...

That *was* a suspenseful post!
I feel quite on edge with my mum driving, since she's just got her license again after 30 years of not driving. But sometimes, it's just good to get a rid.