Toronto to Montreal to Toronto in 27 Hours

I’m on the road snaking north and east with the traffic. A bumper flies off a car traveling the opposite direction; it happens so fast that maybe it almost didn’t. And now there are deer. Four of them including a few horned bucks. Not too many points but too far away to tell. Can’t turn my head because I’m driving. I note with relief that they’re on the opposite side of a fence.

The radio. I haven’t listened to it in years but now it’s my best friend (there’s no iPhone adapter in this car). As the city recedes so does musical variety. Steve Miller band. Aerosmith. Is that Motley Crue? I can tell by the music that Kingston is approaching. If we ever lose GPS or street signs I’ll still know how if I’m in the St. Lawrence River Valley just by the music. Dear god. Supertramp.

The first flakes of snow are starting to fall. And fall faster. And suddenly the other cars can’t handle the road anymore. A hatchback has backed into the bush. A truck has trucked into the ditch. Wait, there shouldn’t be a tractor trailer parked there. Focus, focus, focus. Don’t watch the snow; it’s like a siren that wants to pull you off the road. Trust that the lanes are there and drive through it. Use the car and drive because the snow can’t last forever.

And it doesn’t. But other folks are tired. The gentle turn in the 401 at Lancaster, designed to wake you up, almost fails for another hatchback: the curve becomes the ditch as he goes straight but the rumble strips wake him up and he recovers in time.

Keep driving. Keep driving.

And new music fills the car. Beats. Rhythm. Not classic rock. A city approaches.

Montreal’s highways are a mystery. I could have sworn I drove down this road five minutes ago. Why is a plane flying directly above me? Didn’t I just turn right three times? Oh wait, there’s the city.

Rocketing towards it in the dark. A 12 kilometre tunnel that slowly fades the radio to fuzz. I pop out beneath a construction site as a light snow falls.

I check in to my hotel. The heat is barely on and I can almost see my breath. Was The Exorcist filmed here? It’s late but I need to do a bit of work. I go to a bar in a hotel; not mine. The bar is big, too big for the crowd in it and the elegant decor feels almost embarrassed. I sit at the bar and sip cocktails named for another city. I return to the hotel and sleep in the cold after the clerk insists that his technique to turn on the heat will work; it doesn’t.

Awake. Wash. Why is the faucet detached from the wall? Why doesn’t the stopper in the sink work? I must remember to never stay here again.

Need breakfast. Saw a Starbucks nearby. Dear god, these are the friendliest people on earth. I didn’t realize how good Dr Dre’s headphones were, Mr. Barista. Thank you for the pin to add to the other ones on my bag.

Meetings. The reason I came. They’re good.

And I’m back on the snake’s lair of highways around Montreal. Concrete crumbles and rebar is exposed. Graffiti appears in random locations.

A train is steaming west like me; I slowly pass it counting cars along the way. The Surete drives at exactly 100 and we all slow pass them just over the limit.

I stop outside Quebec in the fringe of Ontario where the French language is making a last stand. At an unnamed restaurant that’s more like a cafeteria, smoked meat and fries seem to hold the community together. The proprietor is a hustler and tries to upsell me a clam chowder; I politely decline and ask if it’s locally sourced from the St. Lawrence. A wry smile.

Back in the St. Lawrence River Valley and that means more classic rock. Again the Aerosmith. And the Motley Crue. How is it possible that I haven’t heard a Crue song in ten years and then twice in two days. Supertramp, round two. Zeppelin: three different songs. The same damn Steve Miller song as yesterday. And the Five Man Electrical Band‘s Signs. Twice. Must be Cancon.

The 401 is noticeably faster than Quebec’s highway 20. The OPP cruises along at just under 130; oblivious to anyone slower than them but warily eyeing trucks.

I briefly catch American radio. It’s all debt reduction and cash for gold ads. Tired of your silver tarnishing? Have tacky gold from the ’80s? Our buyers have over one million dollars to spend this weekend. Head to the Ramada in Messina. I picture an over-lit room with a pile of ugly jewelry in the middle; barkers surrounding it and handing out bills to nervous men and their depressed wives. The reality is probably more banal.

The first rumblings of classical music and hip hop. Toronto approaches. This ride is almost over. Traffic thickens but doesn’t noticeably slow. Two lanes become three, then four and the bifurcate into “express” and “collectors” that move at indistinguishable speeds. Signs overhead predict the future of the road and cars jockey for position.

And then it’s over. My exit appears. I’m off the highway and home and everything slows to a stop.