I’ve got some anger. I work on it. I fuck up.
Driving in Toronto is a freakshow. A lot of places claim the zinger “We have two seasons — winter and construction.” In Toronto, we have one season: Freakshow. We’ve been stingy and uptight for as long as I’ve been here — about 25 years — so we haven’t invested in infrastructure or kept up with maintenance. The population has exploded — we’re the biggest city in Canada, with about 6 million in the metropolitan area — but we have the infrastructure capacity we had in 1990. We argue constantly about public transit, but do little except raise fares; when we do expand or address the need somehow — by adding some capacity, building something, or adding a four-foot-wide bike lane — businesses, neighbourhoods, and politicians scream and whine about what the infamous Rob Ford described as a War on the Car. Pedestrians get struck by impatient drivers. Cyclists die. Drivers push and rage and crash into each other. Buses have to fight for space. Everybody is angry — or they’re going too goddamn slow.
By my 15th year as a commuter I was a lunatic. I’d started out driving very carefully, very Zen. Now I was a rager, a pusher, a prick. My finger never went down. My horn wore out. I was in therapy — for this and other angers that had lain underneath my lifelong depression. Once, on the way there, I got into an accident. It was fully 50 percent of what I talked about there. In time — four years, twice a week — it got better.
I learned that I sought control. I knew that if everyone else drove as intelligently — and as quickly — as me, things would be better all around. I yearned for robot cars to save us all. I couldn’t stand the chaos, and I would not surrender to it.
I figured out some tricks to calm down. I started to force myself to only pay attention to and follow the car directly in front of me, instead of trying to see the big flows, the upcoming dodges, and the craziness of all the other drivers. I resolved to not give anyone the finger, substituting the Old Man’s Shaking Fist (a gesture my partner taught me) when I needed it, because no one gets really angry at that, and it is funny. And I tried not to think about the system: the permanent lane closures caused by, say, Donald Trump’s fucking tower, which lasted for something like five years; the craziness of not timing construction, so that occasionally all downtown east-west arteries were concurrently broken — these things were beyond my control. Listen to music. Relax. Focus on your own driving. Go slower. Slower.
I’m happy to report that today, another four years on, these things have become second nature. I’m a pretty good driver, nearly every day. The roads are not better, the city’s still pretty fucked, movement-wise. But the period where I was changing from one nature to the other was pretty two-sided, and I could flip instantly from resolved and responsible to batshit-crazy pretty fast.
One sunny afternoon, a great, gorgeous day, I’m picking up my partner and her mother, to take her mom out for a nice dinner. She’s getting up there, and can’t walk for too long. I’m waiting with the car; my partner’s gathering her mother. And the road I’m on — a Costa Rican-mountain-rubble road in the heart of Toronto — is down to one scrunched and curving lane due to condo construction. A constant lineup of irritated vehicles traces the path. And the parking spots, where they exist, are filled with construction vehicles and piles of rubble. I find a spot near the apartment entrance with only a few pylons in it, and pull carefully into it. Two tires are on the curb. But people can get by.
It’s the best I can do. I’m happy to have found a solution that works. I put on my hazards. I make friendly faces at the pedestrians who walk by — the regular “what can you do, this city, oh man” smile we give each other sometimes. Nobody’s mad. Everybody can move. And I’m picking up my mother-in-law.
Suddenly I notice a cop walking up. He’s expressionless, completely blank-faced, but staring right at me. I don’t do well with authority (need to be “in charge”), but I certainly admire the hard work of most police. Parking guys — not so much, but alright. I smile at him. He pulls out his ticket book and starts writing me up. I get out of the car.
“Hi there — I’m really waiting for two seconds. I’m picking up my mother-in-law — she can’t walk much — and you can see there’s nowhere else to wait—” I begin.
“You can’t park on a sidewalk,” he responds, looking up from writing.
“Of course not — but I’ve only got two tires up. If I’m not here, I’ll block traffic. All these cars won’t be able to move.” I gesture. It’s a lot of cars.
“You can’t park on a sidewalk.”
“I understand — but I have no option. People can get by, and I’m really just about to leave. You can see there’s nowhere to pick someone up anywhere on this street.” Human beings talking.
“You car needs to be on the road.” A robot reading the rules.
“Indeed. But I’m trying to do what’s smartest here. Do you want me to stop traffic? People will go crazy.” He keeps writing. “Are you going to ticket me for this? What would you do in this situation? I’m not responsible for this construction mess.” He keeps writing. “Seriously dude — you’re being unreasonable. If I leave altogether, my mother-in-law will come down and not know where I am. She’ll be confused. Just be a human being — just wait ten seconds.”
“You can’t park on the —”
And I lose my mind.
“You fucking robot, I understand that! Can’t you think critically? At ALL?”
(Probably reasonably) he does not respond. He writes.
“You’re being an asshole. You can see the fucking situation. You’re creating this situation — just walk down the fucking block for two seconds and come back and the problem of my non-traditional parking solution will be gone! Why don’t you spend time helping traffic move along instead of picking the stupidest, simplest problem in sight to ticket?”
His facial expression, to his credit, never moves. This makes me insane. My mouth is moving faster than my reason. I’m up against a fascist. He hands me the ticket, and I come out with this wonderful sentence (and loudly):
“Fuck you. GET CANCER AND DIE!”
He walks away. I get back in my car, punch the steering wheel and yell.
My wife and her mother come out.
It’s a sunny day.