How Slow Can You Go?

When you’re out for a typical drive, how fast do you travel? Under the speed limit? At the speed limit? Or over the speed limit? I’d venture to guess that most Ontarians would choose the latter, especially for those who drive on the provincial and 400 series highways.

So, if most of us are already driving over the speed limit, why doesn’t the government recognize that fact and increase the maximums? Crazy talk, you say? Not at all.

According to an editorial in the July 21st edition of Maclean’s magazine, that’s exactly what’s happening in British Columbia. The story explains that the province’s Transportation and Infrastructure Minister recently announced a wide range of changes to B.C.’s highways, including raising the speed limit on dozens of them.

Maximums are being bumped up by as much as 20 km/h on certain highways, with some limits jumping to 120 km/h, the highest in Canada. The article notes that the increases have been opposed by several groups, including the RCMP, the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police and environmental agencies. Their reasons include everything from safety issues to environmental concerns.

However, according to the article, “In truth, there should be no appreciable impact on safety or the environment. The changes will simply allow people to get where they’re going in a lawful and timely manner.”

Maclean’s says there is plenty of evidence showing that most people’s speed is a reflection of driving conditions and road characteristics, not posted limits. As well, contrary to what you might think, “Raising limits doesn’t produce faster average speeds; it merely makes lawful what is already common behaviour.”

The article goes on to say that it isn’t the speed itself that causes accidents – it’s the difference between the fastest and slowest drivers. “A large gap between drivers’ speeds is most often found in situations with artificially low speed limits and this can lead to dangerous passing attempts, unpredictable behaviour and driver frustration: all of which most certainly cause collisions.”

As proof, the story notes that the last time B.C. raised its speed limits in 1997 serious collisions dropped by 18 percent over the next five years, despite traffic volumes increasing by about one-third during the same period.

In deciding to raise the limits again this year, the B.C. government used a background report that states, “Speed limits should be set so that they include the behaviour of the majority of drivers and provide an appropriate maximum speed.”

The guideline used to determine the new limits is the typical speed travelled by 85% of those using the highway. By that measure, it’s pretty obvious that speed limits in Ontario are completely out of whack.

In fact, transport trucks in this province are mechanically limited to a maximum speed of 110 km/h – ten clicks over the actual speed limit on the 400 series highways. And, unless I’m totally oblivious to everyone around me on the 401 or 402, most of the passenger vehicles are already driving faster than those transports.        So, what is the province accomplishing by keeping the limits artificially low?

The Maclean’s article says the changes in B.C. will allow law enforcers to put their efforts into combatting the truly reckless drivers amongst us and, thereby, making the roads safer for everyone: “The moves should free police to focus their efforts on stopping the 15 percent of drivers who exceed accepted norms and behave in ways that are obviously dangerous to themselves and others: driving drunk, distracted driving, racing, etc.”

British Columbia and Maclean’s magazine are certainly not the only two proponents of an increased speed limit. A website called http://www.stop100.ca advocates increasing maximums to between 120 and 130 km/h on Ontario’s 400 series highways. More than 28,000 people have signed a petition on the website supporting the increase.

The Stop100 site includes editorials from several sources to back up their fight, including The Globe and Mail and The National Post, along with lots of information on various studies that support an increase in speed limits.

The website also notes that 120-130 km/h speed limits exist in more than 60 countries and states worldwide – and that many countries with higher speed limits have lower or similar fatality rates to Ontario.

What are your thoughts? Do you routinely exceed the speed limit, especially on 400 series highways? If so, do you believe you’re guilty of breaking the law and should be punished for doing so – along with the large percentage of other drivers who also typically exceed the maximum? Or do you think it’s time Ontario re-examines a policy that is constantly ignored by most of its drivers? Equally important, how do we drive home that point with our provincial government?

Advertisements

Happy Birthday, Little Pony

April 17, 1964. For most of us, that date probably means nothing. But, for lovers of the iconic Ford Mustang, it’s one that’s etched forever in their collective memories. Fifty years ago this Thursday, the automobile that started the so-called “pony car” craze arrived in showrooms across North America and, as the cliché goes, the rest is history.

CAA Magazine features the latest version of the Mustang on its current Spring 2014 cover with an in-depth story on this remarkable car’s popularity. They’re not the only lovers. Articles in numerous publications have appeared over the last month as admirers worldwide celebrate the history of this legendary vehicle.

In its first year, Ford had hoped to sell 100,000 Mustangs. During its launch week, CAA says four million people visited Ford showrooms and 22,000 placed their orders.

One year later, over 400,000 had been shipped and that number would swell to a million within 18 months of its introduction. To put that in context, CAA quotes Time Magazine, which said later, “By Detroit’s favourite yardstick – sales – the Ford Mustang is the most successful car ever introduced.”

When it was unveiled at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, advertisements heralded, “Unexpected look – unexpected choice – unexpected low price.” That price was just $2,985, a bargain even in 1964 terms.

Compared to similarly priced vehicles, the Mustang, with its European sports car-style long hood and short back end, was a beauty. CAA quotes former Autoweek magazine editor John Clor: “Economy cars of the day had nothing on them – rubber floor mats, Spartan interiors, dog-dish hubcaps,” he says. “The Mustang touched all the right buttons. Inside it was refined, and outside it looked special.”

Although the car is about as American as apple pie, CAA reports that it also has a unique Canadian connection, with the first two Mustangs ending up in our showrooms. Airline pilot Stanley Tucker of St. John’s, Newfoundland bought the very first unit.

The second Mustang that was shipped, a base six-cylinder model with just 110-horsepower, ended up going to Whitehorse. Ironically, despite the wild popularity of the car across North America, that unit sat unsold in the dealer’s showroom for a year before it was let go on a trade for a ’57 Plymouth. Apparently, Yukoners missed the memo on the pony car craze.

And a craze it was. The car appeared in the James Bond film Goldfinger in its first year and, along with numerous other movie, television and videogame appearances, will probably be best remembered in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, which CAA says, “was, is and will always be the coolest Mustang ever.”

Like all great things, however, the car also had its ups and downs. It became big and bloated – and sales started to dip. Eventually, it was redesigned and reintroduced as the Mustang II in 1974, with mixed reviews.

Five years later, a European-styled model based on what was called the “Fox platform” was introduced, one that managed to hang on for 15 years.

In 1994, a fourth-generation model hit the streets sharing a design that attempted to recreate the vehicle’s pony car roots. Eleven years later, CAA says, it “went even further in that direction, embodying flamboyantly retro styling inside and out.”

Which brings us to the 2015 model, scheduled to arrive later this year as a perfect 50th birthday present for Mustang lovers everywhere. And I do mean everywhere, as it will be sold in parts of Asia and Europe for the first time, spreading the worldwide phenomenon even further.

CAA swoons: “The newest iteration of the pony car has a lower profile than its predecessor but still maintains an athletic stance. A shorter roof height and sculpted hood and door panels (for greater aerodynamics) add up to an overall taut sleeker design.” Three engine choices will be available, including a mind-blowing 5.0-litre V8 cranking out 420 horsepower.

In many ways, this iconic car has now come full circle, returning to its roots while looking forward to the future. “We crafted this car with the goal of creating a contemporary interpretation of Mustang – an American automotive icon that symbolizes optimism and freedom for millions of people around the world,” says Jim Farley, a Ford executive vice president.

Most certainly, there is some irony in those remarks. When it was introduced 50 years ago, the Ford Mustang was seen as a revolutionary sports car that would shake the rust off the boring, bland 1950’s and herald in a new generation. And it did. The 1960’s changed the world like no other decade in recent memory, setting us on a turbulent, uncharted course that has yet to be fully resolved.

For all of Ford’s hopefulness, when you look in the rearview mirror of a new Mustang, 1964 appears completely askew and further away than ever before. In rekindling memories of “optimism and freedom,” we’re conveniently forgetting about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy less than six months before the Mustang’s introduction, the escalation of the Vietnam War, race riots, and a rainbow of other world-changing events.

You can probably pick any point in history and fantasize about how it was a “better time.” In reality, the so-called “good old days,” were rarely particularly good and usually carried with them their own chorus of challenges and worries.

On this, the occasion of the Mustang’s 50th anniversary, perhaps our best bet is to use the nostalgia it creates to rekindle our own excitement about what’s important in our lives.

For auto lovers and the more than nine million people who’ve bought one, the original pony car may be just the ticket to help reignite their fire. “Ford Mustang inspires passion like no other car,” says Raj Nair, a Ford group vice president. “The visceral look, sound and performance of Mustang resonates with people, even if they’ve never driven one. Mustang is definitely more than just a car – it is the heart and soul of Ford.”

What fuels your heart and soul? What does it take to re-fire your passion? And how will you celebrate that re-ignition? Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

 

13 Biggest Regrets Of 2013

New Year’s resolutions. We make them. We break them. We bend them. We shape them. Instead of resolutions, I prefer to look back on the previous year and think about what I could have done differently – ways I can make myself a better person. It’s probably a fool’s errand, but it gives me a stick to measure my life’s progress, even if I don’t like what I see down the road.

In that spirit, here are 13 regrets from the past year – and my weak attempts at why I think I can do better in 2014:

1) Working too many days: There’s a reason this is number one on the list. It’s because most of the other 12 items flow from this one issue. During the first 11 months of the year, I worked 316 out of a possible 334 days, taking off just 18 days – or about 1.5 per month. Not only is this bad for my home life, it also affects my ability to tell stories properly and cover what’s important in our communities. Something’s got to give. When there’s no balance between working and not working, life becomes a runaway train.

2) Not listening: There’s an old expression, “going in one ear and out the other.” People tell me something – whether it’s my wife, the people I’m interviewing, or even the annoying telemarketer trying to sell me a cruise to the Bahamas – and I nod my head, write it down and swear it will never leave my mind. Then, five seconds later, it’s like it never happened.

3) Being too long-winded: If you’re reading this, you know what I mean. Considering one of my jobs is “Editor,” I realize I do a pretty poor job of telling stories briefly. Write tight, Nixon.

4) Neglecting my friends: I have the most loyal friends in the world. Also the most patient, forgiving and undemanding. If you’re one of them and happen to be reading this, please accept my blanket apology for all the emails, letters, or phone calls I was supposed to return. Mea culpa.

5) Missing stories: In my full-time job at two small town newspapers, this is probably the biggest complaint I receive. I’m not talking about the “You missed covering my five-year old’s clarinet recital” variety, although we get plenty of those, too. I’m talking about the legitimate, newsworthy stories that, somehow, elude us. Those are the ones we really feel bad about – and also the ones we count on you to help us with. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not psychic, we don’t have some hidden news source, and things happen right under our noses we don’t even hear about. If you’ve got news, we trust our readers to tell us about it.

6) Not fixing my house: I’ve written about this before and, let me tell you, it’s not getting any better. This is probably one of the major victims of the “working too many days” syndrome. My poor house.

7) Not remembering names: Perhaps it’s just a variation on “not listening,” but when I meet someone for the fifth time and still can’t put a name to a face, it makes me think I have some rare medical condition that prevents me from being able to remember names. To the hundreds of people this happened to in the last year, I truly apologize, what’s-your-name.

8) Not following up on stories: They say “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and that’s never truer than with news stories. I have such great intentions about following up on stories I’ve heard about, but as each week begins to snowball, the lesser items get buried deeper and deeper in the pile. Many people have discovered that whacking my head with a 2×4 is the best way to get me to do something. Painful, yet effective.

9) Bad eating habits: Maybe this is my way of saying I need to go on a diet and, therefore, just another typical New Year’s resolution, but working and driving so much has destroyed my ability to eat properly. How my stomach is still in one piece (or however many pieces it’s supposed to have) is an unsolvable mystery.

10) Breaking promises: As a person who prides himself on being reliable, honest and trustworthy, when I fail to follow through on something, it’s very hard on me – and something I vow not to do again – every single time I do it.

11) Falling behind on housework: Similar to “not fixing my house,” but probably even worse. Exhibit A – the unraked leaves in our backyard. And that’s just item number one on the world’s longest list.

12) Failing to stop and smell the roses: This can be combined with not learning how to relax. As the world flies by and the years pass more and more quickly, I realize every day how much of life I’ve missed – and is now lost forever.

13) Not spending enough time with my family: I talk a lot about my lovely wife and my three amazing kids. In reality, however, you’d be shocked to know how little time I actually spend with them. I could make a thousand excuses, but they’d never be enough to undo my neglect. Quite simply, I just have to do better. The 12 other regrets on this list are nothing compared to how I feel every time I let these four people down, because the rest of life would not be worth living without their love.

Becoming a better person is never easy – and having regrets isn’t the same as living your life the way it should be lived. Will 2014 mean an improved Eric Nixon? Only if I want it to be and work harder at making it happen. If that doesn’t occur, you’ll be forced to read my FOURTEEN biggest regrets this time next year. And, trust me, nobody wants that.

 

State Of Disunion

Unifor. Ever heard of it? If you have, you’re one step ahead of me. It happens to be the largest private sector union in the country. The “super union,” which was announced more than six months ago and officially came into being in August, represents the amalgamation of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions. In total, Unifor has over 300,000 members – and, yet, like me, I bet many Canadians don’t have a clue it even exists.

The idea of joining the two unions was born back in May 2011 when CAW’s president Ken Lewenza and CEP’s boss Dave Coles were attending a Canadian Labour Congress executive meeting, listening to speech after speech about the declining state of Canadian unions. The two chiefs decided that something needed to be done to reverse the slide.

The story of Unifor’s formation is nicely told by author John Lorinc in the December 2013 edition of The Walrus magazine, along with a counterpoint story about a scrappy union called UNITE HERE!, itself an amalgamation of two U.S. unions (the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union). UNITE HERE! Canada represents about 50,000 workers across the country in a wide variety of industries, mostly in lower paying occupations.

Despite being a fraction of Unifor’s size, the smaller union appears to be doing a better job of attracting new workers to its fold, mostly through a grassroots campaign that listens to workers’ concerns and tries to find solutions.

Reaching out to its workers was a key problem that already existed within CAW and CEP’s membership. In fact, one of the goals of Unifor is to provide “a new structure and identity that would better represent its members, organize and empower all workers (whether in the union or not) and build a more cohesive and strategic movement of working people.” Whether that’s happening or not remains to be seen, but it’s something that certainly needed to be addressed.

In my lifetime, I’ve been a part of numerous private sector unions, several of them associated with CEP. My first experience was in my early 20’s when I worked at a paper mill in Northwestern Ontario. Since the “P” in CEP stands for paperworkers, you’d think the union would have some understanding of the nature of the work its members did, but I often found that wasn’t the case.

As a new employee and first-time union member, I remember going to the bank when I was hired and seeing a fairly large sum of money had been taken out of my account. These were my union dues, which were being deducted regularly from my meagre savings, even though I had yet to work a day with the company, was on a “call crew” where I was only brought in when needed, and wouldn’t actually start getting a paycheque for several weeks.

I suppose I didn’t understand how unions worked at the time – and didn’t again when I was laid off for several stints but continued to have union dues deducted – but it seemed unfair to me to be paying a union when I wasn’t even being paid by the company.

You might think a union representing paperworkers would understand the sometimes-sporadic nature of the employees it represented, but you would be wrong. That was just the first in dozens of head-scratching moments over the years when I tried to rationalize what the union was ordering me to do – and what common sense seemed to be telling me I should be doing, instead.

Several years later I belonged to a union called NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) while working at a television station. That seemed to be a good union that understood its employees and the nature of the work they did. But, as has happened with many smaller unions over the past 20 years, NABET was eventually swallowed up by a bigger union called – wait for it – CEP. It was at that point I wondered how one union could effectively represent me in such diverse occupations.

To me, that’s the crux of the whole problem, one that seems unlikely to improve under Unifor. The new union may talk about getting back to the grassroots and listening to its members’ concerns and all that positive-sounding stuff, but it seems a bit hard to believe. Bigger rarely seems to be better, as most companies have discovered when they’ve grown larger and larger.

Many people have asked, “What does the name ‘Unifor’ mean?” In fact, so many, it’s one of the five “Frequently Asked Questions” on the union’s website. Here’s part of the answer: “The name “Unifor” is intentionally ambiguous. It means different and personal things to a union membership that is increasingly diverse. The name doesn’t peg us to any one sector of the economy, or a particular workplace. Unifor is a union built for workers. But it’s also a union that reaches out to the unemployed and self-employed; to marginalized and racialized groups union (sic); to women and young workers. Simply put Unifor is a union for everyone.” Alrighty.

If I told you the new union’s name was the result of the efforts of a polling, communications and brand strategy firm, a design company, focus groups, member surveys and townhall meetings, would you be surprised? Between the generic sounding name and the non-descript “U” logo, the response from union leaders, members and the general public has been, at best, underwhelming.

But, branding aside, what really matters is whether anything will change at CAW/CEP/Unifor. Only time will tell if the mega-union will move in a new direction, attracting the same kind of grassroots dedication of UNITE HERE! and truly representing its members’ real needs and concerns – or if it will remain stagnant because it’s increasingly out of touch with the reality of a country where manufacturing jobs, Unifor’s bread and butter, continue to disappear.

In any case, the task ahead won’t be easy. Unions are being bashed everywhere you look, by political parties like Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, by the media and by many Canadians who either don’t belong to one or feel neglected by their own current union. If Unifor hopes to regain its focus and reenergize the labour movement, it’s going to have to happen soon. Otherwise, it’s going to be too late.

 

Slip Slidin’ Away

If you’re searching for some sure signs that the official start of winter is near, you don’t have to look far. Cars in the ditch. Fender benders. Rolled over transport trucks on the 402. And repeated warnings from the OPP to “Slow Down!” Every year it’s like déjà vu all over again. Is there something about humans that immediately erases our memories at the end of every previous winter, causing us to have to re-learn the most basic rules of winter driving?

If you’re looking for another sure sign that snowy weather is here for another year, it’s the sudden appearance of all those lists of safe driving tips. You know what I’m talking about: “15 Ways To Beat Old Man Winter,” “Top Secrets Of Being An Awesomely Amazing Snow Driver,” and “Everything You Need To Know To Survive Winter Roads.”

They’re all the things you routinely ignore because you’ve heard them all before. Trust me – that’s what I do. I’ve been driving in winter for more years than I care to remember, so who’s going to tell me how to improve my driving skills? Not you – Mr. Listy McListmaker!

Having said that, a couple of days ago I saw a message from the Ontario government about a two-minute YouTube video they posted a few weeks ago called, “Top 10 Tips to Prep for Winter Driving”. Yawn. So, preparing to be bored out of my skull and scoff at all the things I already know, I watched.

And, you know, a funny thing happened. Even though most of the information was pretty basic and something I’ve likely learned at some point in my life, I also realized that, over the years, I’ve managed to abandon almost all the things they mention in the video. And I bet that many of you have, as well. (If you’d like to watch it yourself, type the above name for the video into the YouTube search bar and VOILA!).

For instance, they tell you to clear all the snow from your windows, mirrors, lights and roof. Like me, I imagine you routinely forget to do at least one of those (probably your lights) and, by doing so, you add risk to your own driving and everyone else on the road. Or, how about starting your car and waiting for your windows to clear before you start driving?

Here’s one I bet nobody does: “Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement when you’re behind the wheel.” I usually get to that about half an hour into my trip and, typically, I don’t even pull over to take my coat off – I’ll just do it while I’m driving. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

The video also includes two places to get provincial highway conditions before you leave for your trip: Ontario.ca/trip on the web or “511” on your phone. As well, it also gives you a non-emergency number for the OPP Provincial Communications Centre (1-888-310-1122) that you can call anytime to get assistance when you’re travelling.

The video also urges you to pack a winter survival kit (yep, I don’t have one of those either!) that includes items such as a flashlight, small shovel, blankets, extra clothing, winter boots, non-perishable energy foods, a candle (for heat) and matches.

If you become stranded, don’t panic. Check to make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of drifting snow before running your engine and open your window slightly for fresh air. And stay in your vehicle for safety and warmth.

Gas up before you go. Not only will you have plenty of fuel to get you to your destination if the driving is slow and allow you to run the vehicle longer should you be stranded, the extra weight will also give you more stability on bad roads and prevent moisture problems in your fuel system.

Finally, keep your cool. As the video cautions, “Shortcuts in winter weather ultimately won’t get you there any faster.” Perhaps that’s the best advice of all – and something that so many of us fail to heed.

We rush to leave for our destination without checking ahead or properly clearing our vehicle. We don’t allow ourselves the extra time we need to get where we’re going – so we drive faster than we should. We don’t consider the best way to get where we’re going – just the fastest. And we don’t plan ahead – which is the entire message the video is trying to deliver.

So, for those of you who’ve made it this far in your reading, congratulations! Even if you know about and practice everything I’ve written above, it never hurts to be reminded one more time. I’m off to prepare my winter survival kit right now and, if you haven’t got one of your own, I hope you’ll do the same. Stay safe and, like the video says, keep your cool.

 

Top Ten Types Of Motorists That Drive Me Crazy

At one point in my life, it felt like I spent more time in my car than either at home or at work, racking up close to 50,000 km every year. In addition to taking its toll on my brain cells and my automobiles, it made me appreciate how many truly bad drivers there are on our roads. When I say “bad,” I’m thinking of the types of people who routinely engage in illegal and life-threatening actions behind the wheel – with total disregard to their fellow motorists.

What kind of things am I talking about? Well, let’s go for a test drive and find out. In no particular order, here we go!

1) Speedy Gonzales – Hey, we all drive a little over the speed limit, often when it’s not advisable. But these people take it to the outer limits. On a recent trip on the 401, I am not exaggerating when I say at least 100 cars passed me doing more than 40 km over the speed limit and 20% of those were veering into “stunt racing” territory of 50 km+. Passing on the left. Passing on the right. Weaving in and out as if they were auditioning for an upcoming NASCAR race. Where’s the fire, people?

2) Pokey McPokemon – The previous drivers’ arch-enemy – and every bit as dangerous, especially when they pull out directly in front of you without even pretending to glance into the oncoming traffic. “Sunday drivers” look like speed demons next to these meandering monkeys.

3) Stop In The Name Of Love – You know those bright red octagon signs with the word “STOP” emblazoned on them? Here’s a news flash: they don’t mean “drive straight through” or “hit the brake pedal once and keep going.” Apparently, these non-stoppers skipped the part of driver’s education where they teach you what road signs mean. Or they’re illiterate. Or quite possibly both.

4) The Oblivingtons – Last I heard, you’re not supposed to drive a car with a paper bag over your head, but these people are so oblivious to what’s going on around them, they might as well be.

5) Distracto The Human Auto Wreck – The Oblivingtons’ superhero son. He never met a cell phone, hot beverage, electronic device, cigarette, dashboard button, kid in the back seat, babbling passenger, doggy in his lap, piece of scenery, car accident or anything else that failed to keep his eyes from being anywhere except the road. Focus, dude. You’re driving, remember?

6) The Wanderer – Like a politician who can’t decide where he stands on a particular issue, this hopeless case likes to enjoy as much of the road as he can: the paved/gravel shoulder, the neighbouring lanes and all the lanes on the other side, too. Also known as “The Drifter.”

7) The Anti-Cruise – I’m the first to admit, I’m addicted to cruise control. I like to set a speed that fits in with the rest of traffic and try to maintain it as much as possible. This dude is my nemesis. He’s the guy who passes me 12 times – and who I end up re-passing 12 times. It’s almost like having a stalker – but less creepy and a lot more annoying.

8) Room For One More – If you don’t drive in a larger city, you might not recognize this doofus. He’s the very last one through an advanced green – long after the pointy arrow or flashing light has ended. He’s also the last person to go through the light that’s already turned red. He’s easy to spot – listen for the sound of cars honking and he’ll be the one they’re tooting their horns at.

9) Mr. I. M. Special – I love this guy! Typically, he drives a muscle car or jet-powered motorcycle and will pass anyone at anytime in any weather. He loves playing chicken with both the person in the oncoming lane and the person he’s passing, quite content to watch one or both of you drive off the road to avoid colliding with him. A truly special, empowered person who believes he leads both a charmed life where he can’t die and one where everyone bows down to him. He’s also the guy who cuts in front of you in a movie, grocery or restaurant line and figures a) you’re too dumb to notice b) he’s entitled to be in front of you because he’s special and c) you’ll never confront him about it. They invented a special word for him, too. But, we can’t print that word in a family blog so, once again, he gets to skate by in life, just because he’s so darned special.

10) Ripley’s Believe It Or Not – There is one bonus category that must surely be considered the Hall Of Fame for bad driving. These are people like the contestants on “Canada’s Worst Driver” – but they’re not on an abandoned track far, far away from the public – they’re on the same roads as you and me! These are the people who make you shake your head, scream at the top of your lungs and tell everyone you know, “You won’t believe what I just saw.” There really should be an exclusive place for people like this. Prison, perhaps? Or the morgue? Or on some low budget FOX television show called “Most Outrageous, Dangerous and Insane Drivers?” Wherever that special place is, I really hope it’s not close to me next time I hit the road.

Who are your least favourite drivers? Leave me a comment with your own personal list of egregious motoring low-lights and let me know what incredible infractions you’ve witnessed over the years. In the meantime, be careful out there. You never know who might be around the very next corner.

 

A Loyal And Trustworthy Friend

Have you ever had a friend that you’ve relied on every day, year in and year out? A friend who’s with you through thick and thin, good times and bad, fair weather and foul? One who never lets you down, no matter how much you lean on him? If not, I guess I’m a pretty lucky guy, because I’ve got a friend who’s all that and more – and has been for more than a decade.

Of course, my companion is not what you might typically associate with friendship. Actually, my friend is a car. To be precise, it’s a 2001 Toyota Echo, the first car I’ve ever bought new in my life, so it’s been with me since it first hit the road in October of that year, shortly after 9/11. If you’d like to know exactly how much time we spend together, I should probably mention that, a week ago today, my Echo achieved a huge milestone in its life, passing 500,000 km.

You read that right – 500,000 km! That means that, together, we’ve travelled a distance greater than the earth to the moon (which is an average of 384,000 km). Ten times the distance around the earth at its equator. Or close to 100 times the distance from Montreal to London, England. In other words, we’ve covered a lot of miles together.

Mr. Echo and I drove to London (Ontario, this time) an average of five days a week for an entire decade together. For that first ten years, I averaged about 42,000 km per year. That’s about 400 hours each and every year we spent together. So, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well.

And I’m not the only one. Each of my three children learned how to drive in the Echo, which happens to have a manual transmission. Do you realize what kind of beating a clutch takes when three 16-year olds are learning how to operate a vehicle for the first time? Let’s put it this way, if grinding gears were the Echo’s way of voicing its complaints, this car was mighty unhappy being used as a training vehicle.

My mechanic knows this car intimately, having replaced almost every part at least once, and the brakes a lot more than that. Gas stations across Southwestern Ontario know it pretty well, too, although it takes a lot fewer fill-ups to satisfy the Echo than most cars. And even the tow truck drivers are pretty familiar with it, having rescued me more than once.

The Echo has certainly endured its share of bumps and bruises over the years. There was the time I slid off an icy road delivering my daughter to figure skating and ended up balanced on top of a guard-rail. My daughter still remembers that one quite well. Or the time I hastily backed out of our driveway into a flatbed trailer parked illegally across the street. Mr. Echo still has a dent in the trunk from that one – and requires a sharp slam on the right side of the car to get the trunk closed because of it. Or the time I tried to avoid hitting a raccoon and managed to rip all of the plastic shielding from underneath the car. Ah, the memories.

The “Check Engine” light on the Echo has been permanently illuminated for the past two years because I’m too cheap to pay the $1200.00 to have it fixed. Ditto for the air conditioning, which has been blowing hot air for years now. The windows whistle and complain whenever the wind gusts above a light breeze. There’s a crack on the windshield that looks a drunken spider tried to mate with it. The seats squeak so much you’d swear a mouse is hibernating somewhere inside – and very well might be.

However, despite all the abuse it’s taken, the eleven+ years it’s been ferrying me all over the province, the half million kilometres it’s been rolling along, the Echo has rarely let me down, constantly getting me where I’m supposed to be going in relative comfort. Just like the mighty Timex watches of old, it’s taken a licking and kept on ticking. That’s not something you can say for too many things anymore, especially in the disposable society we live in.

Echo and I have been pretty much inseparable for so long, it’s hard to imagine living without each other. Despite a rough patch in the fall when I had three major repair bills in just a few short months, the Echo still seems like a pretty good investment. It’s kept me running for a lot of years, so I figure I owe it a little bit in return. Thank you, Mr. Echo for being a loyal and trustworthy friend for all these years and over all those kilometres. One million – here we come!