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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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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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Driving a group of five (one pilot, one co-pilot, three flight attendants) to Montreal the other day, I was privileged to over-hear the following conversation.

Flight Attendant #1: So, I heard the company is revising the pre-flight checklist for co-pilots.

All: Really?

Flight Attendant #1: Heard it right from [big-wig's executive assistant].

Co-Pilot: I haven't heard about this. What's in it?

Flight Attendant #1: It's very concise.

All: Well, tell us!

Flight Attendant #1: It'll be coming out next week, I guess there's no harm in spilling the beans.

One: Don't touch anything.

Two: Shut up.

All (except Co-pilot): Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Co-Pilot: That's not funny!

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Among my passengers there seems little in the way of consensus about my status. Professional, like a Greyhound driver, and so beyond tipping, or more like a long-haul cab driver and thus, deserving of a cash thank-you?

Thus far, things range from nothing at all, to a handful of change, to my very first passenger, a pilot by name of Mike, who has decided to slip me a folded tenner every time I drop him off somewhere. Usually, I don't even get a chance to man-handle his luggage (keep your minds out of the gutter, kids! I'm talking about his suitcases). Needless to say, I like Mike, though he is also friendly and respectful, to me and to his co-workers.

But most of my passengers don't tip at all. Some of these are very nice (except that they don't tip), while others leave messes behind as though part of my job obviously includes picking up their empty coffee cups and banana peels.

But today's fare, a flight attendant from Montreal, to which city I delivered her last night, took the confusion to a whole new level.

The first hour or so of the trip saw me listening to the radio while she made call after call on her mobile, some in French, some in English (Montreal is a genuinely bilingual city).

But she was done with phoning around the time we crossed over into Quebec. She then started up a conversation and soon invited herself into the shot-gun seat. We exchanged brief biographies, she told me about her work (she spent last summer traveling with the Blue Jays — very nice guys, apparently — and the state of English and French in Canada (an awful lot of Quebecers don't realize that there are significant numbers of French Canadians outside of Quebec as well).

And when I pulled up beside the employee parking lot at 23:00 hours last night, I hoped out of the vehicle and got her luggage out and onto the pavement.

"Wait a minute," she said, crouching over her purse. "Let me get some change." (Well, I wouldn't be dining at the Ritz, I thought, but looneys and doubloons add up.) But when she rose, she handed me a single bill and said, "American."

"Thank you very much," I said as I unwrinkled the unfamiliar currency. And immediately regretted my pro forma expression of gratitude. A buck!?! A dollar had been something I had had to force myself to pretend was exciting when my grandmother would hand my brother and I a fresh one dollar bill — and that was back around 1975, when one dollar would buy four comic books.

My first buck
(perhaps I should have it bronzed)

By the time I thought to hand it back to her, perhaps with the suggestion that I couldn't accept such magnificent generosity merely for doing my job; or that she obviously had fallen on hard times and so must need the funds more than I do.

For the sake of my continued employment, I suppose it's all for the best that I didn't think fast enough to spew the sarcasm in her general (let alone her specific) direction.

But really. A dollar for two hours of my time? Quite seriously, nothing at all would be preferable.

Meanwhile, back at the office circa 01:30, the night dispatcher had kindly made arrangements with another driver to give me a lift downtown, but I demurred, smiling. It was much warmer than it was the night before, I said, and I could use the exercise.

"Okay," she said, "if you are sure."

"I'm sure," I said, "thank you very much anyway, though.

"Okay. Thank you for your help."

And that (I thought) was that. I drove the van over to the parking lot and hopped on my bike, waving at a co-worker as I peddaled into the night.

It was maybe two kilometres into my trip (around Hunt Club and Uplands, for those of you familiar with Ottawa's geography) that I heard a sudden hiss from my rear time. And soon after, felt the unmistakable bump of rim on pavement. My tire had decided it didn't like a patch-job I'd done a few weeks ago. I suppose the temperature might have had something to do with it.

Ottawa's a small town. Transit is essentially non-existent after 1 in the morning, so I started to walk, thinking to hail a cab.

Ha ha! Ha ha ha.

I walked about eight kilometres, through ice-and-snow covered sidewalks, pushing my bike, before a cab finally deigned to have mercy upon Young Geoffrey. It was one of those mini-vans fitted to take a wheelchair in the rear, so getting the bike in was a piece of cake. Add I was tired enough that I didn't begrudge the extra fee (five bucks) for taking my wheels as well as myself.

Still, the driver was friendly and laughed as I recounted my tales of woe. And more, handed back the tip I gave him come the end of the ride.

No moral to this story series of anecdotes, but I ended the night feeling quite a lot better about my fellow humans than I did between dropping off my charge in Montreal and finding myself ignored by the umpteenth cab before my guardian angel pulled up to the rescue.

And ... exuent. I fear I babbled.

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Me and my riding machine (the hockey stick, yes, was an affectation) after a 14 k run from the Ottawa International Airport, January 15, 2012. Thanks to the Phantom Photographer for the image.

Well, that was a first for me: my bicycle chain froze.

Yes, Gentle Readers, Young Geoffrey has his bragging hat on again.

13 kilometres there, 13 back. And that last half was at a temperature of -18 C (that's about exactly zero Farenheit for you Yanks).

The frozen drive chain meant that I had to keep up a constant pressure on my pedals. Any time I eased up (let alone dared to try pedalling backwards!) the thing would escape the cogs and just slide forward when I tried to move forward again. Only thing that would fix it was to dismount and jiggle it back and forth with my glove a few times, then get back on ol' paint.

Truthfully, it's really not that hard to do; the worst part is that the roads are narrower because of the snowbanks (and yes, a little more treacherous due to patches of snow and ice improperly cleared. I ride faster in the summer).

Surprisingly (at least it was to me, when my parka gave up the ghost a few years back), the key to staying warm is what your mom probably told you: layers.

The proof is in the freezing

That's right: if a screen-cap is proof, then I've got proof!

I wear a headscarf (like an Arab or a slavic babushka) under my helmet; a pair of jogging pants over my pants; a t-shirt, button-shirt and sweater beneath a leather jacket. Add in a pair of glove inside a decently warm pair of mitts and — voilà! — I usually need to unzip and loosen the scarf before I reach my destination.

And that's about it, really. Just bragging.

I suppose I can add that I'm really glad that I braved the weather for more than bragging rights. As some of you might recall from Facebook, I managed to pick up a flu that knocked my onto my ass last week (despite having had the shot; Raven didn't get it and so far hasn't got the flu, either — go figure), so my body was craving some exercise.

Aw right, maybe I've lost the magic touch when it comes to these personal entries. Or maybe not. What do you think?

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