Mackerel Skies


It was a fun day yesterday, but stressful in places.

Erin was scheduled to do a book signing at a Chapters in Newmarket. Now Newmarket is a bit of an odd duck of a community. It’s a town about 75,000 strong located well north of Toronto. Established well over a century ago, it has a small, turn-of-the-century downtown, but it has been almost swamped by Toronto’s sprawl development. However, it’s still one of those communities at the edge of the Greater Toronto Area which has managed to maintain its identity.

And also, being at a different edge of the Greater Toronto Area than Waterloo (north versus northwest), transportation between the two can be a bit roundabout. Ontario’s country roads are laid out in a sort of a grid system, but our 400 series highways are pretty Toronto-centric. I left myself two hours to get to Newmarket and, following the advice of Google Maps, we headed into Toronto via Highway 401, bypassed the northwestern part of the city on Highway 407, and made a run north on Highway 400. It was Saturday, I figured. We’d be avoiding rush hour traffic. What could possibly go wrong?

After running into construction which narrowed Highway 407 from three lanes down to one (for a half-dozen guys and a truck. Why?), we turned onto Highway 400 and entered congestion. By 1 p.m., we were late and had about fifteen minutes left to go — assuming the traffic magically sped up to normal highway speeds. Fortunately, Erin was able to call the bookstore on the cellphone and let them know that we’d be late.

There was no construction on Highway 400. There were no accidents. All there was, was traffic volume. Highway 400 is the only 400 series highway between Toronto and its cottage country and this particular Saturday, people thought that they’d head up to the northern lakes, thinking that they’d avoided the bulk of the traffic they’d have faced if they had gone up Friday evening.

Well, you never know, maybe they had.

I could not understand what was making traffic on the highway slow down to under 20 kph, and then speed back up to highway speeds. It just goes to show that drivers flow like water. Waves of slow traffic were sweeping down the lanes, just because. In the end, we arrived at Chapters Newmarket at 1:30. Total driving time: two hours, fifteen minutes (about forty-five minutes longer than Google Maps advertised).

Now despite Highway 400 being the only 400 series link between Toronto and cottage country, I really doubt that widening the highway or extending highways 404 or 427 is the answer, because Highway 400 wasn’t the only game in town. As I was planning my trip, I noticed there were a route which was more direct, albeit as country roads: Highway 7 to Guelph followed by Highway 24 to Orangeville and Highway 9 to Newmarket. That’s the route we took going back, taking our time, stopping in Orangeville for dinner, and enjoying the scenery enroute.

Total driving time: two hours, fifteen minutes. And, of course, significantly less sore knuckles (from gripping the wheel).

We’re too attracted to the fast way; so much so, that we’ve ignored routes which might be a little slower in theory, but certainly less travelled, and possibly more interesting. Airport Road between Toronto and Collingwood: clear of traffic. Highway 10? Pretty smooth travelling. Highway 27? Smooth sailing. I’d wager that all of those people, frustrated by the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 400 could have found room, here or on other alternates. And while they wouldn’t have had a top speed of 100 kph to guide them, they’d have more places to stop and stretch their legs.

The book signing went pretty well. These Chapters events, like others held in big box bookstores, can be rather dire if you are not a well known author. It’s a cavernous space, and you’re dwarfed behind the table as perfect strangers pass you buy. But we were selling The Mongoose Diaries and a very exuberant Vivian was acting as the perfect prop. Over two hours, we end up selling six copies. And the management was very friendly and supportive.

And, as I said, we travelled back through southern Dufferin county, containing the headwaters of three Great Lakes, and quite enjoyed the scenery. Then Vivian played in our condominium complex’s playground, under perfect mackerel skies.

Congratulations to Erin for finishing the first draft of her young adult fantasy novel Plain Kate. The story, begun November 2003, now stands at 57000 and is going to be great. Erin remains a better writer than I am. I used to say that what she lacked in the plotting department, she more than made up for in terms of character development and the lyricism of her prose. Here, however, she found her plot. Only took her four years.

Though I’m one to talk. That’s roughly the length of time it took me to finish the first draft of The Night Girl, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve found the plot, yet.

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