Sunday, April 18, 2010

To an unknown motorist

Last Thursday, I rode downtown to see an art exhibit at OCAD. The daughter of an old friend of mine goes there, and has a picture up in the exhibition. You don't know that, of course. Because of the location of OCAD on McCaul Street, it made sense for me to ride back west along Queen Street. You know that much, because you encountered me just outside Trinity Bellwoods Park, near CAMH.

You might not even remember the rest. I rode in the right lane, close to but not hugging the kerb, in the right tire track. The middle lane had a left-turning car in it, and you couldn't get past me, so you blew your horn, and as soon as you could you sped past me, too close for comfort. Since the left turn lane you wanted had cars it it already with the light turning, you only made it about 100 meters ahead when I caught up with you without much difficulty. You probably don't remember starting straight ahead, avoiding eye contact.

You ran a very small but definite risk of hitting me, with very unpleasant results for us both. Maybe you just saw me as a slow object in front of you, and didn't notice that the cars at the intersection you needed to get to had stopped moving completely. You beat me to the red light, but you didn't save a single second.

Before you got your car, you probably watched a lot of car advertisements. And most of those those advertisements told you an enticing story: of personal freedom in time and space, of figuratively and sometimes literally flying, of empty roads and open space and speed. And if you compare the experience of driving in Toronto or any other city with the car advertisements, you can't help but see that when you buy a car, you buy a pack of lies along with it. Maybe you simply wanted to make a tiny part of the promises you paid so much for come true.

But those of us you speed by have stories too. They have less romance, fewer open roads and sunsets and happy endings than the stories in the car commercials, but they have the advantage of truth. I hope my story would have changed your mind if I told it to you. I have a spouse and a kid. I design and write software to manage fund-raising campaigns. I work on First Nations justice, I have spent seven years doing literacy work (tutoring) and five years working at suicide prevention. Whatever you do, you can't make the stories in the auto commercials come true. Don't bring my story to an end trying.

No comments: