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After dropping off passengers at the Trudeau International Airport in Dorval, I headed back to Ottawa driving an empty van, torn between the comforting inanities of the sports station on the radio (go Habs go!) and the distorted eco-rock of the eternally-rejuvenating Neil Young, playing with the much-younger men of Promise of the Real.

Anyway, though I'd make a quick stop at a nearby hotel to pee, about half-way back to Ottawa I began to feel that pressure again, the one that says, Really, Young Geoffrey! You do like your fluids, don't you! And it's true, I do.

After balancing the twin desires — the relief of a good pee vs the desire to get home as soon as possible — the urge to pee won out over a frankly pretty brief stop.

I flicked my turn signal on and pulled off the highway, stopping entirely off the paved shoulder, turned on my hazard lights (yes, as a cyclist, a driver and a pedestrian, I've become a bit of a signal-nazi; and no apologies), and got out from behind the wheel, walked around back to the passenger side and opened the front passenger door, in order to more discretely go about my business.

Job done, I zipped up, closed the door and started back around the vehicle again. Only to see, as I reached the driver's side, a car pulling up onto the shoulder behind me. One with flashing lights on the roof.

Oh my Christ! was my first thought, am I going to be busted for indecent exposure!?!

But surely not! There was no proof I'd exposed anything, was there? It was dark and I'd completed my ablutions before they were anywhere near me!

Still, I could only wait to find out. I turned to face them as an officer emerged from either side of the car. The driver carried a flashlight, but she didn't point it aggressively towards me, but rather just illuminated the ground between us. "Good evening!" I said, waving at them with my gloved right hand.

"Hi," said the cop, "are you all right?"

"Oh," I said, a little non-plussed. "Yes, yes, I'm fine thank you."

"Well good," she said, "we just stopped to make sure everything is okay."

"Yes, it is," I said, then added with completely unnecessary candour, "I just had to, y'know, empty my bladder." (Idiot! came a voice from the back of mind, never volunteer anything!) But no harm done. She smiled and said, "Well good night, then," and she and her partner turned back to their car.

"Okay, thanks," I said, waving. And I thought, making sure "everything is okay" is what cops should do!

But when I got back in the car, I had to wonder, would that have been the whole of the interaction if I'd been a brown or a black man?

And that — after she finished laughing — was just what Raven said when I told her the story after I got home" "Yeah, because you're white!"

I'd like to think that she (and I) are wrong about that, that those particular cops really were among those "good cops" we hear about every time a Sammy Yatim is gunned down like a made dog that's not even on the loose, but it's hard not to wonder if I was only benefiting from my white skin.

Anyway, here's Neil Young and Promise of the Real, to give you something else to be angry about. ("Monsanto").

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It was a small flight crew, all male: two pilots and a single flight attendant.

The Captain was a tall man, and beefy, the First Officer maybe a decade younger, not so tall and quite thin. The Flight Attendant was bald-headed and a blocky face, a bit like a super-hero. He too was at least 10 years younger than the big Captain.

Now, one thing that surprised me a bit about flight crews is that they don't work anything like, say, the crew of the starship Enterprise; they don't work together for extended periods of time. In fact, this crew of three gave me two separate pick-up times for tomorrow. One day together as a team, then Crew Sched. shuffled them around like so many cards in a deck.

So quite often, if a crew got along during the day and they aren't too tired, I will be privy to the people either getting re-acquainted after a long absence or getting to know each other for the first time.

Today, it was clearly the latter.

The first man to break the ice was the First Officer, who spoke with an accent I couldn't place. One second I thought he might be from somewhere in the Indian sub-continent, the next I wondered if he was originally from Australia. No matter. "You know I just read about an interesting study," he began. And continued, after getting some encouraging sounds from his colleagues, "It seems they've discovered a food that makes 99 percent of women completely lose interest in sex."

"What is it?"

"Wedding cake," he said, to appreciate chuckles and a brief spate of pretty standard "observations" on the differences between men and women. Eg, "Men want the woman they marry to never change, and are always disappointed; women want to change the men they marry — and are always disappointed!"

The jokes more or less came to a conclusion when the Captain allowed as how he has now been married for 23 years. "I missed my chance to murder her," he observed sardonically.

But that remark somehow led the conversation to go from hackneyed jokes to talk about marriage and relationships in general. It turned out that all three men were married and that all of them had kids. And the jokes gave way to talk about how hard it can be to maintain a relationship, that it takes work not to drift apart from the person you married.

The Captain said that he and his wife, acting on the example of a pair of her relatives, have made a point of making the time to spend an hour a day with each other, sole purpose: to talk. ("We'll usually have a drink — once in a while two — but the point is to pay attention to each other.") He went on observe that touch is important as well and said that they went out of their way to be tacticle with each other, to make a point of brushing their hands together patting one another on the back in passing, even if they are otherwise occupied in their own activities. This, from the guy who'd started by making jokes about murder.

The others agreed and offered their own strategies and examples. And from there, the talk turned to kids and grand-kids and before I knew, the cell-phones were out and pictures and videos of roundheads were being passed around for mutual admiration.

All this in a drive lasting barely more than 15 minutes. It was one of the cutest 15 minutes I've ever experienced as a driver. And from such an unlikely beginning!

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The vehicle behind was a nondescript SUV. I thought it might be a Ford, but it was too begrimed with salt-stains and slush to be sure. What I did know was that it was hanging way too close to my ass, at best no more than a car-length from my van's rear bumper.

Regular drivers get all too-familiar with the idiocies that come to those given the twin delusions of privacy and power that come with being the wheel of a motor vehicle. If you don't drive a lot or are more often a passenger, they might sound like petty annoyances, but in truth thy are behaviours that put everyone on the road at risk.

  • Changing lanes (or turning) without signalling;

  • Texting while driving. (Yes, I see it all the fucking time.) And,

  • And tail-gating.

The refusal to signal baffles mostly because it's so easy to flick on a turn-indicator; it takes little more muscular strength than it does to bat an eyelash, and the lever is located right next to the steering wheel — so why the hell not do it?

Texting while driving? Well, that never seems innocuous, just pathologically entitled. As if the culprit just doesn't believe that anything bad could ever happen to them. And doesn't care if they cause something bad to happen to someone else.

Of them all, tail-gating seems strangest, especially when a smaller vehicle is sniffing the ass of a larger. Why in the world would anyone want to drive at a high speed without being able to see the road in front them?

Nevertheless, it happens a lot and, after more than three years of driving for a living, I've developed a strategy. When someone gets a little too close and stays there for a while, I tap on my brakes, as clear a signal of Yo! Keep a safe distance! as I can think of. Nine times out of 10 (or maybe eight), the driver behind me will see the error of their ways and back off.

This time, buddy drifted back a bit, but only for a quarter kilometre at most. Then they closed the gap again and stayed there.

Paying closer attention now, I noticed my pursuer also had a tendency to weave, just a bit, into the left lane at one moment, onto the paved shoulder at right the next. Drugs, booze? Texting?

Whatever. I didn't like it. I stepped on the gas a little; maybe a little speed would lose them.

No such luck. Buddy matched my increase and stayed with me. I passed the first car I could, but buddy did the same, then settled back onto my tail.

Again and again and again. And again.

This went on for more than 50 kilometres. I first noticed the SUV before exit 88 on the way to Montreal, and realized there was no explanation but that Buddy was stalking me sometime around exit 34.

I took to tapping my brakes with increasing force and frequency, but the results were the same: a brief retreat, then a return to nose-on-tail. I pulled out to pass a transport, then another van, putting two vehicles between us, but it wasn't long at all before the grimy SUV showed again in my side-mirror. This time it stayed in the left lane, pulled almost level with me.

Was it going to pass me at last?

No such luck. After lurking on my left for maybe two or three minutes, the vehicle slipped back and took up its accustomed place in my rear-view mirror, like some malevolent phantom, too close and way too familiar.

Whelp. I stepped on the gas and (ever the thoughtful driver), flicked my turn signal, then swerved in front of him, passing the slow-moving BMW that had blocked my path.

Buddy sped up. Buddy passed the Lexus and settled, once more, into the slot no more than five metres behind me.

Creepy? Creepy.

I tapped my brakes hard and long. He backed off. To maybe 10 metres. And stayed there for a while, before closing the gap again.

"Jesus Christ," I muttered. "This is getting fucking weird."

Was the driver someone I had inadvertently cut off a half-hour before? Had I made a gesture that looked like an obscenity to them?

I could think of no bad turns nor accidental obscenities; I'd heard no blaring horns nor seen any angry headlights a-flashing.

I was, in truth, getting seriously creeped out. When I thought they'd been about to over-take me, I'd wondered if a bullet might shatter my window as the SUV went by. A fantasy given weight by the sheer inexplicability of the pursuit.

By the time we crossed into Quebec — at least 40 minutes since I'd noticed I was being followed — I was thinking of asking one of my passengers to call the Quebec Provincial Police. But a flight attendant came to my rescue: she'd had too much coffee and wondered if we might make a pit-stop.

Oh yes we might!

Rigaud is about 13 kilometres over the frontier, with two exits. I ignored the first because I'd spotted a Greyhound bus up ahead and determined to use it.

I stepped on the gas and gave chase. Halfway to the second exit I settled in close behind the bus (and the SUV settled in close behind me). Hooray for knowing the road well!

I waited until the last possible moment, then ‐ for once without signalling — I pulled out to the left of the bus on a tight curve, drew level with its nose and stayed there until the exit was in sight. Then I put the pedal to the proverbial metal, pulled in font of the Greyhound and hit the off-ramp at full speed As I hit the brakes I saw my pursuer sail on by in the passing lane.

I told myself it was unlikely in the extreme that buddy intended me any "specific physical harm", but the relief I felt belied those assurances. Unlikely things (I answered myself) do sometimes happen. Only a half-hour from the Trudeau International Airport, I was more than happy to know I wouldn't be leading a crazy person to my destination.

I leaned on the brakes and we rolled towards the Arrêt sign at the end of ramp, then turned right, and right again, to pull into the parking lot of a rest stop, where my unknowing saviour could get out to take a pee.

If you'd asked while I was monitoring my rear-view mirror if I was scared, I'd have said "No". But once we were back on the road, unmolested, I realized I'd been lying to myself.

As I rather imagine most of the women who might read this will understand all too well, to say there is something unpleasant in being followed — whether or not there is any overt threat behind that attention — is to really understate the case.

What did he (I presume it was a he) want? I guess I'll never know. But that was a pretty unpleasant drive.

Note: The events recounted above took place in late March 2015.

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Here in Ontario (as in much of North America) we have this thing called Daylight Savings Time. Judging by that name, it means that we arbitrarily set clocks forward by one hour in the spring, then roll them back again in the fall. The link I provided above probably includes an explanation as to why we do it, but I'm not even going to scan it, because I know I'll have forgotten the reasons come morning.

Even so, since the clocks rolled back very early (either 0201 or 0101, depending on your point of view) this past Sunday morning, I've had not one, but three near death experiences. And so, being of a fairly primitive — or should I say intuitive? — mathematical constitution, when I see three of anything in a short time, I see pattern. And I jump to hypotheses, if not to conclusions?

Could the fact of the "time change" have thrown people's good sense off?

  • Item: Coming back from Montreal on Monday morning, I was driving west on Davidson Road, approaching the intersection with Bank Street. For a wonder, the light was green and so I did not step on the brake, but instead carried on. Nevertheless, with mental caution. In the opposite lane, and turning left, was a dump truck. Through many thousands of kilometres, I believe I have developed some driver's intuition, some facility with reading the body language of motor vehicles, and even from a few hundred metres away, there was something not-quite-right about this truck (I've had a Bad Experience with a dump truck before, which might have something to do with it too). And so it was that, when that monster's driver decided to turn left as I was crossing the intersection at 80 kilometres per hour, I had checked my right side-mirror and new it was safe to swerve in order to avoid that metal saurian's nose crashing into my vehicle's left side.

    "JeZUZ kerIST!" quoth Young Geoffrey, as he watched the beast blithely make its turn in his rear-view mirror. When he apologized to his passengers, the senior flight attendant was not offended. "That's okay," she said, "that was a legitimate reason to swear."

  • Well, shit happens, eh? I shrugged it off.

    But today ...

  • Item: I'd dropped off my crew and was heading north on Uplands towards the gas station on Hunt Club. Ahead of me, a white sedan pulled into the left-turn lane, signal flashing. Clearly, going to the airport.

    Or not. Once again, there was something, some hesitation, not quite right with the vehicles body language. I checked my right-side mirror and raised my right foot, let it hover over my brake. And not shit, buddy decided he didn't want to turn after all. Without even shutting off his left-turn indicator, he swerved right, maybe five metres in front of me.

    If that dump-truck would have sent me and my flight attendants to the hospital at best, my van would have totalled buddy's passenger car.

    Fortunately, I was paying attention. I leaned hard on the horn and just as hard on the brake. He heard me and stopped his ill-advised merge, saving me from crumpling his right side like a proverbial accordion. I cursed, shook my fist in the idiot's direction, then carried on my way, figuring that was it.

  • But if bad luck comes in threes, so to does good. Or maybe, paying attention can help to render bad luck moot.
  • Item: So there I was. The van was full, the airport behind me, and I on my bicycle was making the transition from the Airport Parkway to Bronson Avenue, a relatively complex interchange that includes a few merges near which I see, not infrequent, the broken plastic and metal results of people not paying attention.

    Fortunately for me, I was.

    This time, the idiot was coming from the right. I watched as the vehicle paused (as it should have, yielding the right of way at a merge) to let an oncoming car ... come on. And I watched ... as the driver then proceeded to move, utterly oblivious to my flashing headlight or my brightly-coloured reflective safety vest.

    Had I not been paying attention, my speed and hers were such that she would have hit me with her passenger door, possibly sending my hurtling into oncoming traffic. The collision wouldn't have killed me but the after-effects might have.

    Fortunately (again!) I was paying attention.

    My bike is old. No bells that I've tried actually fit the handlebars. But bells are slow to use anyway. And in a crisis, I don't want my hands to leave my brake levers or handle-bars.

    "Ting TING FUCKING TING," I roared, as I squeezed my breaks and (having previously checked my left side) swerved a bit to my left. But the driver — a woman perhaps in late middle age — heard my makeshift klaxon and slammed on her own brakes, allowing me to release mine and carry on.

That that third close call, or near-miss, released a fucking flood of adrenaline, I'll tell you that much for the cost only of having read everything that came before. When I got home, I felt physically exhausted, and emotionally drained.

Stress, they name is Idiot Driver.

For fuck sakes, people, when you're moving at high speeds, pay attention.

And now, to bed ...

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Of pilots, flight attendants and "accidental anorexia"

My run to Montreal this afternoon was uneventful, and quiet. The three members of that crew were each plugged in to their various electronic devices. I turned on the radio and caught up with the world via CBC.

Then came a two-and-a-half-hour delay before the return trip could begin. I drove off and grabbed a sandwich from a Montreal version of Subway and got some writing done in my mobile office.

Then back to the hotel, to await my crew.

Who were five: two pilots, three flight attendants; three men, two women.

Of those five, three napped most of the way (or so it seemed; one of them snorted periodically). The other two, though, talked with each other for most of the almost-two hour drive.

Of my two insomniacs, they are both youngish, reasonably attractive and slender. And, as it turned out, one especially is into fitness in a major and described in some detail preparations for an upcoming "mudder" — apparently a 10 kilometre run with obstacles and things to carry or something along those lines.

And talk of fitness soon evolved in a detailed — a very detailed — comparing of notes: fitness regimes; body-mass indexes and callipers; dietary percentages of proteins, fats and carbs; weight gains and weight losses.

"When I was younger, I wanted to get my fat down to 10 per cent," one said, and described in detail how that goal was achieved, through exercise galore and "about 1,000 calories a day. But at a certain point I was exhausted. I'd get home from work and just crash. And I finally realized that I had accidentally gone anorexic."

My passenger went on to reassure that realization brought a cure — it had been accidental anorexia, after all, — but I could not help but ponder the possibility that there can be too much of a good thing. That a life in which one literally counts every calorie consumed and estimates as nearly as possible every one burned (did I mention there are some awesome free apps to help you do just that? Well, there are), in which as much time is spent balancing fats and carbs and proteins; reading up on new and (presumably) better diets and exercise regimes; and, of course, engaging in a (sometimes literal) treadmill of exercise for the sake of weight ... that all that is perhaps a life not worth living.

Certainly, in all that long exchange, I can't recall a single expression that conveyed joy about the taste of a meal, or pleasure in the playing of a game, only a quietly earnest determination to carry on the fight. Against an improper weight and (one presumes) for the denial of the inevitable decline and fall of life itself.

Anyway, though I found it gradually perverse, I also found it a rather compelling one to eavesdrop upon. As someone who has seldom if ever been particularly happy with my own body's shape, I listened with an ever-stronger sense of "there, but for the grace of God, go I."

Which perhaps serves to underline what else struck me. All of this obsession with fat and weight came from two of the three men I was driving. The speakers were pilots, both of them. Men with wives and children and successful, traditionally masculine careers. Yet they seemed burdened with concerns I usually associate with unhappy and insecure teenage girls.

Anomalies or signs of things to come?

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You know, by and large, I'm liking my job. The pay's not to far north of minimum wage, but a day's hours (usually) are south of a full eight. Door-to-door is probably about seven hours, which I don't mind at all. Also, I like driving and my passengers range from distant to friendly; thus far, only one whom I would qualify as an actual prick (though most of them could use some lessons about tipping).

It doesn't hurt that the boss seems to be one to treat his employees as people, rather than "human resources". In my case, as someone who gets to work either by bike or public transit, he's made a point of ensuring that I get a ride home if it's especially late or especially cold (sometimes, in truth, I'd have preferred to ride, but felt it would have been churlish to say "no").

Rather revealingly — at least, I think it's revealing; does a sample of five or six out of maybe twenty drivers qualify as significant? — all of the co-workers I've had the chance to question have been with the company for years. Five years stands as the shortest stint so far. And further, with one exception so far, they've all gone out of their way to emphasize that they think it's a good place to work and that they like the boss. All of which suggests that my positive experience is the norm, not an exception.

So. Job. I like it, as jobs go.

Not that it's all open roads and scantilly-clad flight pilots.

Last Thursday saw me get back to Ottawa physically tired and my arms actually kind of sore.

It was our first real winter storm and I was very happy to find myself driving the boss' four-wheel drive SUV rather than a standard passenger van.

The trip to Montreal wasn't too bad. Snow and wind, only three cars in the ditch, and only an extra half-hour on the standard two-hour drive. But the trip back?


Snow. Rain. Freezing rain. More snow. Lunatic transport trucks roaring past with 15 or 20 centimetres between their vehicles and mine. Eight (count 'em!) cars in the ditch. Two-hour drive took four hours, and I arrived back in the office to have some of my co-workers questioning my employer's sanity.

Me, I just shrugged. It's not that dangerous, if you slow the fuck down — which, obviously, I did.

Meanwhile, talking to flight attendants has me (and Raven) contemplating the possibility of making "Come fly with me" our respective mottos. Working 12 days out 30 has a definite appeal.

(The photo, by the way, was taken by my passenger on the way to Montreal, as we crossed over the Lac des deux montagnes to get onto the Island.)

July 2017

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