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The Office

October 29th, 2010


Considering everything that needed to get done it would be a long day in the ‘office’. There was plenty of territory to cover and I’d have to stick to a demanding timeline because at the end of the workday a wedding anniversary dinner date with my wife Lisa awaited.

Nice thing was my office happened to be the interior of an all-new German-engineered 2011 Buick Regal. Not exactly a traditional workspace but, considering the nature of my employ over the past 30 years, sometimes the cockpit of a car or truck seems as much an office as a glass tower.

I had purchased a snazzy Danish watch with a mother-of-pearl face to bestow upon my love and, with it safely packed in my suitcase, all I had to do was cover the 1,800 kilometres from downtown Toronto to Halifax in 24 hours. No vacation, but with few stops, I could make the date and might even score some sleep along the way.

With the exception of a 140-kilometre section, the drive is entirely divided highway so entertaining myself would be the biggest problem on the long haul home.

In the old days, driver prep might include wrestling a roadmap, resetting a trip odometer and fussing with the radio to find a station that might last an hour before fizzling into an irritating hiss.

I sat behind the wheel of the Regal for ten minutes adjusting mirrors, entering my home address into the trip navigation system and getting familiar with the climate control system, seat adjustments, the satellite radio system and, of course, the cruise control to stay on top of ‘speed creep’.

This trip would be about management though. Manage speed, feed and attitude for starters. Make up a few games using all the information appearing on the Regal’s instrument panel.

At any given time, I could check fuel consumption, average speed, elapsed time, distance to destination and a host of things that told just how the Buick was making out as it quietly whisked me to our anniversary dinner.

Pushing the OnStar phone button and saying ‘verify minutes’ a sweet voice announced there were 200 minutes available on the car phone. I texted Lisa the number so if the phone rang, it could only be her.

“Bring home a loaf of bread, hun, because if you’re late for dinner you’ll have something to make a peanut butter sandwich with.”

I pulled out of the parking lot convinced the onboard technology and my Dictaphone would make the difference between an anxious 24 hours and a proper road trip.

The first voice note came 55.6 kilometres into the trek. “Get into ‘getting there’ not ‘being there’. Geez, only 1,745 kilometres to go.

At 194.1 kilometres, a crazed driver in a Chrysler 300 cut me off. Then he zigzagged from lane to lane and, as I watched dozens of brake lights flash to give him berth, I pushed the OnStar button and told the advisor what was going on. She knew my location and offered to pass the information on to the Ontario Provincial Police. I felt like a tattletale as I motored on, expecting to see Mr. Chrysler pulled over.

A half hour later, I realized my reading glasses were back at the dealership where I picked up the Regal. No problem, I stopped and bought a pair of $14 readers, then dialed XM Radio to CNN and tried to imagine what colour of tie Wolf Blitzer was wearing in the Situation Room that night.

A few hours later as the sun bled onto the horizon, I spotted a hitchhiker, a scruffy low-level roadside attraction. Although they are not up there with a Disney theme park, hitchhikers are something to ponder, even if you motor on by offering nothing more than an example of the Doppler effect.

“Hey man here’s a loner in one of those new Buick Regals.” He surely mouthed as I drifted by. Eeeeeaaaarrrroooooommmmm!!

I used to pick up hitchhikers but usually asked where they going as soon as they got in. Information is power and if they turned out to be a deadbeat or had an advanced case of road odour, I had an out by not telling them I was driving across the continent.

“There’s a killer on the road, his brain is squirming like a toad.” Jim Morrison’s haunting lyrics from The Doors 60s hit Riders on the Storm rolled off my tongue.

But then I remembered the time I got hung up on a bone chilling February night. After a couple of hours, an RCMP officer recognized my Mount Allison University jacket and picked me up.

“Anyone can drive fast,” he joked, as he let the big 390 V-8 police interceptor wind out. When the speedometer hit 75 mph, he turned the dash lights out and let ‘er rip.

I was so into reliving past road life that the low fuel light was a total surprise. I checked the navigation system and the closest fuel stations came up with directions and distance to four of them. Wow!

Later, with a full tank, I realized my energy tank was running low so at 1,106.3 kilometres into my 1,800-kilometre day in the ‘office’, I pulled into a roadside motel near the Québec / New Brunswick border.

Six hours later, I strapped myself into the Regal for the glory run home. The last 700 kilometres flew by as my mind drifted from road trips to all those years of marital bliss.

I was home before I knew it, albeit it took two minutes longer than the 24-hour prediction. No sweat, I was rested and ready to celebrate with Lisa thanks to the amenities and the road manners of the impressive 2011 Buick Regal.

Just another day in the ‘office’ for this roadie.

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