Driving Away

“Go west,young man.”
-Horace Greeley

“Don’t just take off like a migrating bird,”my father advised me. His voice was getting edgy, as it normally did whenever we had a conversation. His latest cigarette had just disappeared in one long, exasperated drag.

It was the spring of 1979 and I had just turned twenty three years old. I did have my degree and had just spent a year studying Translation at l’Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres. I was polishing up both my French and my hockey; my hockey had received more attention than my French.

“We’ll pick up a Drive-Away car in Montreal and drop it off in Calgary. All we have to do is pay for the gas and I guess one oil change,” I informed him.
“What the hell is a Drive-Away car?” my father wanted to know.
“It’s a car that you pick up in one city and then, you know, drive away.” I was trying to be as helpful as I could.
“And who are you driving away with, may I ask? Is it that freeloader Robbie ?”
Robbie was a friend from Bishop’s University who had spent the previous summer at our house. We had worked at landscaping jobs together and the agreement was that he paid something for room and board. I guess that we hadn’t been specific enough because after three months all that we had received in payment were three rather scraggly skyrocket junipers that Robbie had picked up gratis from a tree nursery. Then he left for a two month tour of Europe with the money he had saved from his room and board.
“No, it’s two girls and a guy that I met in Trois-Rivieres. Two pf them don’t have licenses so I’ll be doing most of the driving.”
Not the right thing to say. The few times Pops had let me drive while he was in the car he would sit in the suicide seat, hanging onto the dashboard with white knuckles, wincing and making some sort of hand signals which were supposed to slow me down. I didn’t drive with him very often.
“You probably won’t make it past North Bay. Jesus Christ.”

My father was not an easy man to convince. So I promised that I would take a week, plan my trip and maybe catch a train to Calgary. The next morning after my father left for work I convinced my mother to give me a lift to the bus station. I would meet my friends in Montreal.

“Tell Dad I took the bus instead of the train,” I said to my mother hopefully.”I’ll send you a postcard when I find a job in Alberta.”

We picked up an Oldsmobile 98 at the Drive-Away office. “Looks very nice,” Pierre opined. He was one of the four of us heading west to make our fortunes, or at least to try and find a summer job. “This will roll us across the country, pas de probleme.” I wondered if his opinion was worth considering. He had never passed the driving test and this was the first time that he had been west of Drummondville.

“Did anyone bring a map?” asked Liz. She had studied at Trois-Rivieres and was from Prince Edward Island. Liz had been in something called the Language Monitor program, where anglophones went to a Quebec university to study French for free in return for a few hours a week tutoring francophone students in English. It was all paid for by the Trudeau government back in the days before we gave much thought to government deficits.

“Map? Who needs a map? All we do is keep heading west.” I’ve always liked to voice my opinion, whether it made any sense or not. “The hardest part of the trip will be finding the Trans-Canada Highway. I’ll drive first.”

“What can go wrong?”

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