Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Big City, White Knuckles

First published in the January 18 issue of The Oxford Journal, by Sara Mattinson

“This is just the right amount of cars,” my mother said as we drove along the Trans Canada, returning from treating her to supper. “There aren’t  a thousand cars on the road.”
No, there weren’t. There were two cars coming in the opposite direction and three cars stretched  out before us. Counting cars and commenting on traffic patterns isn’t her usual occupation but my mother was about to head south for the winter. Facing the three day drive by herself to my sister’s home in Georgia had her on edge because now, at the age of 70, three days by herself on the interstate is too much. (It’s the price she pays for taking so many books and gifts for the grandchildren.)
Two things are true: We lose our nerve as we get older, and more traffic means more close calls or outright accidents. Mum and I were in Moncton when we narrowly avoided being sideswiped while making a left turn as the van in the other left turn lane began turning into ours. What was remarkable, however, was how nervous I remained the rest of the day. I was relieved to return to Nova Scotia but not pleased with my feelings. Driving in a city is a necessary skill to keep honed and after years of carefree driving in Toronto and Vancouver, I’m worried about losing my nerve. 
When all you’re driving for weeks on end are winding rural roads, driving in the city becomes a white-knuckle experience. The one and only time I used the Armdale Rotary in Halifax, there was 20 seconds when I truly believed that I was going to be stuck there for the rest of my life. And it’s one thing to merge into light traffic from the on-ramp to the 104 at Oxford; it’s another thing to merge into four lanes of solid vehicular motion. At five in the afternoon. In the rain. 
It gives me chills just writing about it.
But like using generators, sump pumps, and snow blowers, driving in the city is a skill every country dweller needs not only to possess but also to have confidence in, and there’s more to it than remember on what level of the parking garage we left the car. Mostly we go for medical appointments, perhaps a concert or a wedding or a funeral, but driving into the city is like a flu shot: it’s unavoidable and necessary even if it makes us feel sick. 
As for my mother’s trip down south, she had three close calls on Day Three. 
“I’m never doing this again,” she told me over the phone once she’d arrived safe and sound.  
I couldn’t be her daughter for 41 years and not know what that means: There’s a three-day road trip in my future.

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