4 November 2011

How stupid ideas become plans, and then fail.

I have written that once a month, I rent a car, pick up my mother, and take her for a drive somewhere nice.  Once a year, I try and take her out for a longer drive, to somewhere a little more special.  I then call that long drive my gift to her for Christmas/birthday/Mother's Day/any other gift giving occasion.  She doesn't seem to mind not having anything to unwrap under the tree.

A few months ago, I decided it was about time to take her on The Long Drive- but where?  there were several possibilities.  What stuck in my mind was her reaction to our photos of our recent trip to Montreal.  When she saw the photos of La Basilique de Notre Dame, she had said: "I always wanted to go there, but it was always closed every time I went.  Oh well."

You may wonder why she says things like that.  I answer: because it works.

At first, I was willing to write that off as tough luck, and to simply say that sometimes we don't get what we want.  Then I remembered my father on his death bed telling me: "Raise your family.  Take care of my grandchildren.  And check in on your mother from time to time."  I don't know how that turns into a command to take her to Montreal (in all honesty, I can swear to you on a stack of bibles that he would never have taken her himself, no matter how much guilt she laid on him. I unfortunately lack his sang froid.)  but somehow it did.  Mom is old (let's just say she won't see another eighty plus years)  and if she was ever going to achieve her dream of going to Montreal and seeing the basilica, and a few other places, it was up to me to take her.  Which, I might add, sucks.

So, Montreal it was.  First of all, I needed the money.  I had none, so I dismissed the idea of taking her. The next day, money came in the form of a little regulation in the union contract.  Any day we work more than two hours of overtime, we get a dinner allowance of twelve dollars.  That money comes out of petty cash and is not considered part of our income.  This year, in August and September, I earned about two hundred dollars of dinner money, which I never told my wife and which she never knew, until she read those very words.  Whoops. 

So I had some money.  Could we get to Montreal and back on two hundred dollars?  With a car rental, yes, but I didn't want to rent a car and navigate a new city.  Furthermore, because of our schedules, the only day I could take her would be a weekday, which meant I would not only be facing Montreal traffic, but rush hour Montreal traffic.  So what about other forms of transportation?  A train, my favourite way to travel, cost too much.  Two hundred would get us there, and leave us.  So no trains.  What about buses?  Most bus lines- too expensive.  We could get there, but not eat.  Then one of my coworkers told me about Megabus, and their deals.  I checked it out.  Toronto to Montreal, ten bucks each.  The pair of us to go there and back would be forty.  That was doable, very doable...

...Except we would be leaving and starting our return trip at some pretty ungodly hours.  She would have to be at the Toronto bus terminal at about six in the morning.  Maybe I could get my brother to do it.  I could just hear that conversation:

Hey, brother, how are you doing?....good...good...Listen, I got a question for you.  Do you think you could drive Mom to the downtown bus terminal and get her there by six?... no, I mean six in the morning.... hello? Hello?

So that was out.  The only way to do it would be to go and get her myself, which meant renting a car. Which meant money.  Which also meant I would have to park that car, in downtown Toronto, for a day, and a night.  Which meant more money.  And, once we got to Montreal, then what?

The bus depot is not too far from where we would be going.  If it were me alone, I would do it on foot.  However, for mother, it is a little far.

Montreal has an excellent subway system.  In many ways it is superior to Toronto's.  Some of the stations are close enough to where I wished to take her that only a little walking, well within her capabilities, would be required.  But there were two catches:  First, I don't know if the Montreal stations have elevators.  I am sure they must have, or at least some must have them, but when I was there before I did not see any.  They have escalators, but Mom cannot move fast enough to board an escalator anymore, and the stairs would be a bit much for her.  Second, I repeat that I love everything about the Montreal subway system, except for the trains themselves.  They are a little narrow, and they have few seats.  There is no way mother could stand on a moving train, and I don't hold much hope that any passengers on any train in any city these days would give up their seat for an old lady.  So the subway trains were out.

Which leaves cabs, which cost money.  So we would be paying for a car rental, paying for parking, paying for a bus, paying for cabs, and then food, and then paying for something to do or stay while we waited for an ungodly hour to depart from Montreal. 

But if I was renting a car anyway, why not drive it to Montreal?  It was exactly what I did not want to do.  But I could hear Dad on his deathbed, and Mother's sigh as she resigned herself to never seeing the places she wanted to go, and my own children who need a good example of how a child should take care of their mother after I'm dead and rotten.  A car to Montreal it was.  I called Mom and told her I would be picking her up early Wednesday morning for our drive.  I didn't tell her where we were going.  I never do. 

I was aware that my plan was ludicrous.  I was going to take an octogenarian, who likes to have two naps a day,  on a six hour plus car ride, walk her around to her limits, then drive her back, and hope she didn't have a stroke on the way.  Plus there are the thousand variables that come on a drive- traffic, construction, all kinds of stuff that can mess with your plans. Going to Montreal involved careful timing.  I had to leave here at a reasonable hour, but arrive there while the places I planned on taking her were still open and, above all before rush hour traffic.   I made a few backups, just in case.  If Montreal became impossible, as I fully expected, I would switch and go to Ottawa.  They have some nice churches there, plus the scenery of Parliament and the river gorge.  She would like that very much.  Failing Ottawa, I would take her on a drive along Highway 2 and see the fall colours.

I expected Mom to not be ready when I arrived at her house at 6:30 that morning, thus ruining my plans.  But she was ready, and excited about a long drive.  I expected to run into Toronto traffic, the worst in North America, apparently.  But all the traffic was heading in the opposite direction.  Our road was clear.  Rather than daring to hope, I just wrote it off as dumb luck, and expected disaster to be delayed.  I thought my plans would be dead by Kingston.

But we blew past Kingston, the road still wide open, a sunny blue sky, and no trouble in sight.  The only problem that cam around Kingston was when we passed a road sign giving the distance to the next few cities, including Montreal.  "You're taking me to Montreal, aren't you?"  Mom said.

"Why would I do that?"  I asked. 

""You want to show me the basilica," she said.  I could feel her excitement. 

Crap, I thought.  Now she'll be disappointed if we don't make it.

We stopped off at the En Routes along the way, got a little bite to eat and walk around for a few moments, then back into the car.  As we drew closer, mom seemed to get more excited, though she doesn't show excitement that much.    I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

We stopped at our last planned stop before Montreal itself, an En Route near Morrisburg.  it was just afternoon.  My plan had gone perfectly thus far.  I couldn't believe it. We were on time.  At this rate, we would be in Montreal a little after one- perfect timing.  No plan of mine had ever gone so well.  I became excited myself.  We got into the car.  "Next stop, Montreal!" I said.  I was excited now.  My plan was working.  It was too good to be true.  I put the key in the ignition, and smiled at my mother as I turned it.  With a faint snap, the key broke off.

And that, gentle reader, was the death of both my great plan and all its two backups.  I used the fob to turn the key stub.  The engine started, but I didn't trust the fob to be able to start the car indefinitely.  I thought if I could use a pair of pliers to turn what was left of the key, that would be more reliable, and some of the plan may be salvaged.  I went to a hardware store and bought some cheap pliers, but the engine refused to turn over at all.  I called for help.  CAA arrived, and they explained that the fob had a chip in it, and without that chip being in contact with the key, the engine would not turn over.  I tried the fob, and the engine turned over.  By now, two hours had passed.  The window of opportunity had closed, All I could hope to do was limp the car home.

I apologized to Mom for this failure.  "It's alright dear," she said, sounding indeed as if it were alright.  "I got out for the day, the weather has been beautiful, and it;s enough for me that you wanted to take me there."  somehow, that made me feel more guilty. "Well, mom,"  I said.  "I think God doesn't want you to see that basilica." I drove back along highway 2, but the fall colours never came out this year. 

I got her home, and she told me she'd had a wonderful day.   I went home.  Somehow, I did feel better.  A large part of the trip was for me as much as it was for her. I wanted to alleviate future guilt.  If she were to die, and I hadn't even tried to take her there, I would have regretted it badly.  Now, at least I tried.  I can even try again.  This time, though, it'll be a weekend.

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