The road to hell…

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but  I can tell you that it is actually paved with asphalt and good intentions and the occasional unfortunate squirrel.

I know because I went there today.

Hell(lite) is the drive test centre in Etobicoke where I had to go to take my ‘G’ road test.

It is at the end of an ugly strip mall in an ugly, industrial corner of suburbia and, as predicted by AC/DC, I had to take a highway to get there.

I pulled into ‘hell’ a few minutes early and spent these extra minutes straightening my vehicle perfectly in its space (I had come in slightly diagonal and didn’t want to risk a poor first impression).


nathangibbs / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Then I went inside where I handed over my paperwork to a surprisingly friendly lady and told her I was ready to be judged.

Daylight doesn’t make it all the way into the test centre office and the low t-bar ceiling and florescent lighting don’t do much to brighten the space up. The humiliation of those who have tried and failed to pass the many levels of driver certification floats in the dusty air. Tears have stained the threadbare greige carpet, and I could hear the faintest echo of anguished howls of teens who still require adult supervision on the road. The folks that work there seem quite pleasant, but the place is gray and tinged with despair.

But I may have been projecting…..

I’d been preparing for this day for weeks, years really.

It was time.

I was sent back to my car to wait.

As I waited I thought through what I had read about the ‘G’ test online:

  • According to some guy on the internet who sounds like he knows, I should PRAY not to get a yellow light – that is an automatic fail because apparently, there is nothing you can do that is right when that happens (while this seems like questionable internet advice, along the lines of when I became convinced that my last cold was actually malaria, I had taken it to heart and was really hoping not to get a yellow). I am not a religious woman so instead of praying, I tried to sort of spiritually wish for no yellow.
  • Remember to use the parking brake on the roadside stop. OR FAIL.
  • Make dramatic head movements to demonstrate mirror and shoulder checks – I have been practicing this all week and my children have noticed and commented. They think it is weird and that is saying a lot coming from a seven and four year old. Anyway, it is always better to look like a weirdo than to fail.
  • Stay in the right hand lane NO MATTER WHAT! OR FAIL.
  • Plus all the stuff that was actually in the handbook.

It seemed like forever but was about ten minutes before my test guy came to the car.

The test passed in a blur (within the speed limit of course) and I did get a yellow but, fortunately, contrary to the dire internet predictions, I was not ‘totally screwed’. I also curbed it on my parallel park (just a kiss really) but other than that, the test went well and I passed.

I passed!!

“See you when you’re eighty!” my favourite driving tester in the world said, congratulating me on becoming a fully legal driver.

I am dreading it already.

Driving Ambition

Very high levels of caution generally don’t make for a full or interesting life, so I have fought my inner scaredy-cat for as long as I can remember.

I haven’t grown into some jaywalking, craps playing, skydiver but, with great effort, I have braved up over the years.

Over the past ten years I’ve married, been sliced open three times, started a new career, and taken on a whole new level of worrying by becoming a parent (technically related to the getting sliced up in an ongoing way). But the scariest thing I’ve done as an adult so far is learn to drive.

In a fit of birthday self-improvement in my early thirties (aka quite a while ago), I decided to finally learn how to drive. I was scared to drive, or more accurately, scared to crash, but I was tired of being afraid, and utterly fed up at not being able to do something that most of the adult population takes for granted.

I bought a package of lessons from Young Drivers of Canada (yes, the age jokes were never-ending but I persisted) and went and got my G1 (in Ontario, there is graduated licensing: G1, G2 and finally ‘G’ – the full you-know-your-stuff-and-are-permanently-licensed one – you must take a test to pass each level to get fully licensed).

For my first lesson, my teacher took me to a quiet street, got out of the car and motioned for me to get in the driver’s seat. She told me to put my foot on the brake. I needed more instruction. Which one was the brake?

The next lesson, the instructor picked me up at my building near a very busy intersection. Again, she told me to take the driver’s seat.

“Don’t panic.” She instructed. “Just signal and pull out.”

Like it was that easy!

I turned on the car, foot on the brake (progress!) and flicked the signal-thingy. My mouth was full of dry terror and I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck.

“Okay,” said the instructor after twenty minutes of signalling. “Maybe we need to ease in a bit more…”

We switched seats and went back to the quiet street.

“I’m PANICKING!” I shouted, a few lessons later as I hurtled down a main street at approximately 9 kilometers an hour and an elderly woman started to lurch her way across the road, dragging her shopping cart behind her. I thought I might throw up.

After the big freak out/near killing of the old lady, I decided to take a break from my lessons.

I had many excellent reasons:

  • Driving is bad for the environment.
  • I couldn’t actually afford a vehicle so what was the point?
  • I was staying fit by walking everywhere.

But the truth was, I was afraid and I excused myself from trying.

For a while.

Okay, for a few years.

Eventually, I decided to finish the lessons.

I restarted the lesson package I had abandoned midway through although I had to pay the difference in pricing due to inflation.

I was more motivated this time (I had a baby on the way and a car that I could drive once licensed) so I swallowed my nerves and quickly got to the point where I started to not completely hate driving.

As part of the program, I attended two full days of classroom lessons where I was the only non-teen.

Some of the questions posed by my fellow driving school students are permanently burned on my  brain:

‘If you are going along a windy one-lane cliff road and a truck is coming right at you is it better to hit the truck or go off the cliff?’

‘Is a deer a stationary object? I mean, like, if it’s standing still?’

Camera Slayer / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was scared again. My young class-mates would be sharing the road.

But I kept going. I passed my G2 and started driving more.

I practiced a lot and even invented a style I called ‘Elegant Driving’ (this driving style features smooth gliding stops, excellent etiquette to other drivers etc). I tried to share some pointers on this style with my husband but he wasn’t receptive.

I had a couple of not so elegant, minor scrapes against the wall of our garage but otherwise continued to improve.

Time passed, as it does (long days, short years), and now I cannot imagine not knowing how to drive. And though I still aim for smooth fluid stops and irreproachable etiquette, ‘Elegant Driving’ has morphed into something a little less fancy to meet the demands of the road in the big city.

“Spank the horn Mummy!” shouts my four-year old from the backseat when she hears me mutter a comment at ‘BUDDY!’ who has just done something annoying.

I don’t panic or freak out anymore and I sort of like driving (except for on the highway, the highway is still terrifying).

There is still one more test I have to pass to get my ‘FULL G’. The ‘FULL G’ involves driving on the highway so I am once again a little afraid. Without it, my license will expire and I will have to start over.

So I am nervous and would love to put it off but I am out of time. Apparently, ten years is a long time to work through three license levels.

I know I can do this and I can’t let fear get in the way.

The test is in three weeks.

I wore the same dress as a senior citizen to a wedding

Other than bridesmaids or on-duty uniformed employees, no one wants to show up to an event in the same dress as another woman.

I am not sure why this is ‘a thing’. Shouldn’t it just be confirmation of your excellent taste? But it is embarrassing.

I had a really great dress. It was a rare splurge that was totally worth it and I always felt like a million bucks in that dress. I wore it to work and parties and pretty much anywhere I could. I loved it.

The dress and I were attending our friends’ wedding. I was standing around with my future husband admiring the pretty outdoor setting of the ceremony, waiting for it to start, when I saw a familiar pattern across the garden.

“Hey!” I said to Michael. “A lady at another wedding is wearing my dress.”

I moved closer to get a better look (not sure why but it was like when you see your hometown in a movie or on TV and you get all excited).

“She’s at this wedding,” Michael corrected me when he saw the woman. “That’s the aunt.”

I was suddenly less excited to see the dress.


The Toad / Foter / CC BY-NC

For a second I considered running home to change, but the wedding was starting in minutes and there was no way I could make it.

The dress was not subtle. It had huge polka dots in pink, black, red and white. I know it sounds ugly but it was a really nice dress.

It looked great on the aunt too.

Our eyes met and we smiled and made a little joke about how we could step in if there was a bridesmaid emergency.

I don’t embarrass easily but I admit, I felt a little awkward. I was thirty-four years old and wearing the same dress as a senior.

That is when another woman showed up in the dress. Hers was a different colour combination (brown, beige, orange) but otherwise identical.

My older twin (aka The Aunt) looked shocked. “That’s my step daughter!”

“You should’ve had this one covered,” I told The Aunt who nodded.

The step daughter looked seriously annoyed. She came over to us and said, “Hello” but in a pouty way that put my feelings of embarrassment into perspective – I did not want to turn all snitty like Evil Step Daughter as I immediately named her in my mind.

The only dress anyone is interested is the one on the bride, I reminded myself. No one will notice! And besides, who cares? 

I was wrong about people not noticing – they did and there were lots of comments and little friendly jokes. But I was right that no one cared except for Evil Step Daughter who accessorized her brown polka dot dress with a pained expression for most of the celebration.

It was a beautiful wedding. The couple were clearly madly in love and the bride looked gorgeous.

The Aunt and I danced like fools together for much of the night and had a great time in our pretty polka dot dresses.

 

Random but possibly valuable advice for avoiding an embarrassing moment at work

Odds are, if you are going to walk around with red furry handcuffs and a vibrator in your purse, someone is going to find out.

mag3737 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

It will most likely be your boss.  I know because it happened to me.

It was a long time ago, thank goodness, but the memory is one of those ones that stay fresh like the day it happened.

It was the day of my summer work party. A group event away from the office that would start with a pep talk from a few executives (and some deadly boring Power Points as it turned out) followed by cocktails, snacks and a major league baseball game.

I hadn’t been to a lot of corporate ‘parties’ so even though attendance was mandatory (never a promising sign I’ve since learned), I was looking forward to a night out!

I was the property manager of a small shopping centre in one of the ritziest areas in town. I had one last meeting before it was time to head down to the stadium for the party. The meeting was with a restaurant tenant.

My tenant and I were discussing something surprisingly contentious, like why the restaurant can not use passenger elevators for transporting garbage (property management is a strange business and you need to worry about all sorts of things you normally wouldn’t think of like the total foulness and wear and tear of garbage on elevators etc). The owner’s son, who ran a catering and events off-shoot of the restaurant, came into the meeting room.

“Hey Christine,” said the son, totally not caring that he was interrupting. He handed me a buzzing envelope. “You’re invited to the Naughty Girl wine launch.”

Huh?

I opened the envelope, and emptied it onto the table. It was a vibrator. It was shaking all over the table.  An invitation was attached to it with furry read handcuffs.
Father and son thought this was hilarious! They could barely contain themselves.

I had no idea how to react but tried for cool indifference, fumbling to turn the thing off. It was ricocheting off the table and making an unbelievable racket.

It was incredibly awkward!

“Seriously though,” said the son when he had stopped giggling. “What do you think? These are our invitations for Naughty Girl Wine. We’ve sent them to all the media.” He was quite proud.

“Wow.” I answered shaking my head, still wrestling the jittery sex toy to find the ‘off’ switch.

I finally succeeded and the buzzing stopped.

I could feel that my face was bright red but I was still aiming for ‘unruffled’ to show my tenants how cool and in control I was.

I looked at my phone and saw that it was time to end the meeting. I had to get to the summer party! Excellent timing. I needed to get out of there!

I threw the ‘invitation’ in my purse and headed back to my office to meet up with my team.

We made it to the Dome just in time and lined up to show our tickets so we could get to the private box that had been rented for the party.

Everyone was there, my boss and his boss were right behind me. The receptionist from my office was immediately beside me. I don’t remember who was ahead of me but as I watched them go through, I realized that my bag would be checked and remembered about the “invitation”.

I dangled the bag low, close to the ground and held the ticket out with my other hand, hoping to slip through unchecked.

“Miss.” the bag checking security lady called gently. Then, “MISS! I NEED TO CHECK YOUR BAG.” Her tone was a little menacing and it was clear that I was going to have to let her search my bag OR ELSE. Everyone sort of stirred and drew closer to find out what was causing the commotion.

And that was it. There it was for all to see. My boss. My receptionist. Everyone.

The one and only time that I have walked around with anything like the ‘invitation’ in my purse was also the one day that my bag would be publicly searched in front of my boss.

What are the odds?

The flush of new friendship

Striking new friendships in mid-adulthood can be sort of awkward – kind of like dating – and each interaction will either be the last or lead to the next, slightly more meaningful interaction.

A couple of months ago, the combined forces of a lengthy plane delay (nine hours stuck in Tampa airport!) and our children, caused us to meet a very nice family. The shared situation and the fun our kids had playing for at least five of those nine long hours opened a window to a possible new friendship.

We kept in touch when we were back in Toronto.

They came to our house for muffins. It went well.

A few weeks later, they invited us for an early dinner. We accepted.

It seemed like we were well on our way to making new family friends!

On the evening of the dinner, we arrived at their beautiful home about twenty minutes late (aka about as close to on time as we get). The children all ran off to play right away, leaving the adults in the kitchen to chat.

It was going well. The conversation was just starting to flow with a brief exchange about our mayor, Rob Ford (in Toronto right now, “Can you believe he [insert crazy-deed-of-the-week]??” is the conversational equivalent of: ‘Hi. How are you?’; and “Who on earth voted for that guy?” is like saying: ‘Fine, thanks. How are you?’) Right as we were about to all agree that Rob Ford is definitely unbelievable  (Translation for rest of world: ‘Nice weather we’re having!’) our two year old waddled into the kitchen with a diaper that was ready to explode.

I scooped the kid up, and grabbed my supplies.

I asked if there was a plastic bag I could have to dispose of and seal the load-bearing dipe but our hostess insisted that I must just bring it back and pop it into her compost bin. In the kitchen. Under the sink. Where we were all standing and eating hors d’oeuvres. I headed to the powder room with my smelly spawn.

My daughter instantly tensed up in the tight quarters of a two-piece washroom (unfortunately, we do not have a powder room or any washroom conveniently located on our ground floor, and being in diapers, she has zero appreciation for such things anyway) and refused to lie down with her head under the sink.

“Fine,” I said. “We’ll do this standing up.”

And with the  toilet poking into my back, I wrestled her out of the dirty diaper and into a clean one. It was going well but the used diaper was extremely full. Really, really, really full.

I thought about how I might wrap it in a way that would  somehow make it appropriate to place it in the middle of a dinner party. Nothing reasonable came to mind. I decided that it would be best (for everyone!) to flush the contents first.

I emptied the diaper into the toilet then wrapped it into a tight, tidy ball for the green bin, feeling sure I had done the right thing.

Until I flushed.

The water splashed around but not everything disappeared and the water didn’t really go down.

Crap!

“Poo!” shouted my daughter.

I flushed again and the water rose higher to just an inch below the rim.

Crap! Crap!! Crap!!!

I admit that a few crazy thoughts went through my head including:

  • leaving and never looking back (I would take the kid and just walk out the door, the rest of our family would catch up with us eventually at home)
  • closing the lid and hoping that it wouldn’t be discovered for a few days
  • flushing again and hoping for the best despite the odds
  • starting a small fire that could adequately distract from the situation.

But realistically none of the ‘solutions’ would work:

  • I would have to live with an angry family
  • our hosts would almost certainly know it was us that had left the ‘gift’ in their toilet
  • another flush would ratchet this problem up to disaster level almost instantly
  • no matches.

I called out to my husband, Michael, who is great with this sort of thing (his ability to handle gross situations is a quality that I could never have known he possessed or imagined how much I would value prior to having children). He recognized my emergency tone and came right away.

“Can you secretly ransack this house and sneak us a plunger?” I asked through the cracked open door while simultaneously thwarting my toddler’s attempts to re-flush and flood the entire ground floor.  She was getting a little crusty about being trapped in the washroom with me.

“What?” He looked confused.

Our child, never one to miss an opportunity, pushed her way through the open bathroom door, tights still around her ankles, and tottered towards the kitchen and our hosts.

“We need a plunger,” I repeated, opening the door the rest of the way so he could see for himself.

“Shit!” he said, stating the obvious. “Okay, I’ll be right back.” He headed for the kitchen where he (to my horror even though realistically there was no way we were going to be able to locate a plunger without them knowing and they had to have  already figured out that something was wrong) requested a plunger.

Unpleasantly shocked or not, they were quick to provide the necessary equipment and Michael de-clogged the toilet.

It felt longer but we had been there all of twenty-five minutes at this point. Dinner was in another twenty and we were all back in the kitchen again trying to move forward with the evening.

I don’t think that there is ever a time in a relationship (any kind of relationship) when it is ideal to clog someone’s toilet and doing so on your third ‘date’ probably does not bode well for the future. But we actually had a nice time and shit really does happen and maybe we will see them again.

You never know.