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Alex Garg writes...

Thursday, August 5 - The Longest Freakin' Day:
On the road again...

Leo and I left Niagara Falls about 8:30 and had no problems getting across the border - I know, we were spoiled. Once we were across the border we sent Kelly a heads-up to let her know that we were on the way. After making that call, Kathy called to ask if I would pick up her roommate at the airport after she arrived - to which I agreed.

Hamilton should have given us a warning of traffic to come. I'm used to one-way streets, that wasn't an issue, but not an entire city of one-way streets. I managed it, however (though I almost went the wrong way down one of those pesky one-way streets), and found parking.

We found Kelly, I dropped off Squidgy's toys, Leo scared Squidgy off by taking many, many, many pictures of her, Kelly and I exchanged CDs (which I wasn't originally aware that we were doing, but it worked) and we were off once again.

Toronto is a very impressive city - skyscrapers, CN Tower, etc., much like NYC; and the traffic's about the same. This didn't help us when the GPS decided that we should see Toronto more closely and turn off the highway an exit too soon. We were never *lost* in Toronto, despite what Kelly and Leo might describe in their journals, we stayed on the same street the entire time - we just had trouble finding a suitable exit.

Anyway, because the GPS was kind enough to take us off the highway then peter out (going back to that problem of not managing to download the detail maps), Leo was left to navigate. He got us onto a parkway which led us back to the highway and we fled Toronto hastily.

A short time after noon Lord Sloth (Rob) called and wondered if we could still swing by and pick him up, and I had no problems doing so - well, I had no problems agreeing to do so anyway... sort of.

Cell phone coverage was less than sharp along that stretch of highway which led to some amusing conversation.

Rob: "I'm wearing a white shirt." + cell phone static = "What's your insurance?"
Me: "...State Farm...?"

Less amusing was the fact that when he said we should take the third exit into Kingston we just took the third in a series of seven exits and ended up far, far off course. However, like in Toronto we got through it and picked up Rob without further incident - unless you count the fun we had at the A&W store when trying to pick up food.

Let's not go there.

It was more smooth sailing from Kingston to Montreal, but it was in Montreal that things got very, very interesting and frightening. Like with any metropolis, traffic piled up when we were about 20 minutes out. Then it piled up some more. Then some more.

I've had this route planned for months down to the mile and minute - unfortunately, I must have thought that Rush Hour didn't exist in Canada because that's when I planned the minute I'd arrive in Montreal. On top of that, the drivers in that part of the country are, to put it nicely, insane. So, we were approaching a metropolis in Rush Hour conditions with the worst drivers Canada has to offer.

To this respect, Montreal is Canada's Washington, D.C. - I was home.

On top of the traffic, Rob let us know that he needed to be at the hostel by 6 (it was around 4:45 when we learned this) otherwise they were going to drop his reservation. The crunch was on.

As at home as I was with the traffic patterns, it took a second to dawn on me that I had crossed over to the other side - the tourist. I can't stress how often I grind my teeth at a Georgian who swerves from lane to lane playing dodge-car with Marylanders, or how often I need to charge around a New Yorker who is obeying the posted speed limit in spite of the flow of traffic. Now, I could imagine the Quebecers who took a glance at my Virginia tags and felt their hearts sink at the knowledge that this tourist was going to throw a wrench into their traffic.

And how I did.

All right, let's talk a little bit about that sketch tunnel that welcomes you into Montreal. Because, you know, it's sketch - at least if you're trying to get to University St. The signs... kind of don't exist for that until you get *out* of the tunnel, if you get out at the right exit. I did not get out at the right exit. So, confused, I got back *into* the tunnel and popped out even farther from where I needed to be. From there, things got weird.

I fumbled through Montreal until we got to a major road at which time I pointed towards downtown and hoped to cross University. Let's talk about this road that I turned on.

Okay, imagine your standard four-lane road. On the far right you have your bus/taxi lane, on your far left you have your turning lane - all normal; the middle two lanes are, instead, one big-ass lane that two cars share. To repeat - that two cars share.

Never have I heard of such a thing, much less driven such a thing. I would have been more than happy to turn off of it, but Leo had discovered that the road took us almost directly to Rob's hostel (it was about 5:30 at this point). Traffic was heavy, time was running out, and I was completely in the dark as to what was going on. Eventually I got sick of it all and just sank into D.C. commuter mode.

I must have angered many a Quebecer, much less scared Leo, Kelly and Rob - but I give props to my mad driving skills (Kathy, if you're reading this, stop laughing).

With about 10 minutes to spare we dropped Rob off a block from his hostel, and he reported later that he got his reservation with four minutes remaining. With that mission accomplished, we made it to the hotel (after having to briefly leave Montreal) and got ourselves squared away.

I had planned to arrive with enough time to relax myself, but the traffic ordeal had made it so that I had to leave the hotel to pick up Denis and Kathy pretty much as soon as I stepped into the room.

Off I went.

Getting to Dorval was simplistic - just had to take a highway and follow the signs. Again, the Maryland-like driving qualities of Quebecers, the setting Sun in my eyes and a really sketchy roundabout kept me on my toes. I saw that Denis' flight was two hours delayed and was going to come in about the same time that Mandi, Kathy's roommate, would be coming in, so fortunately I would only have one more trip after this one. I picked up Kathy without much of a wait and it was back to Montreal.

Determined not to make the same traffic mistakes I had made on my first ride in, I made new ones. This included screwing up the tunnel again *and* running a red light - first time for everything. Overall, though, getting Kathy to the hotel was much, much easier than getting my roommates there.

Had a little downtime in the room then it was off to get Denis and Mandi. At least, we left the room to do so. Kathy and I decided that since customs was adding an hour to people's wait times we would just hang around the lobby. Oh, boy, talked to a lot of people (Michael, Lenny, Mara, A Fan... lots more), saw Greg show up (tired) and then we were off.

Mandi showed up... Denis didn't. After an hour, Denis still hadn't shown up. After an hour and a half and learning that British Airways was undergoing a complete meltdown at Dorval... Denis didn't show up.

We waited until midnight for Denis and then figured that he'd be intelligent enough to realize that we weren't going to wait around all night and just take a shuttle. This he did - just two hours earlier, minutes before we showed up at Dorval.


Got to the room at 1 a.m., unrolled the airmat that my fellow office intern loaned me and called it a day - a long, long day.

Day's mileage: 480
Total mileage: 930

Greg responds...

Wow... you are a generous and dedicated soul.

Response recorded on May 18, 2006