January 10, 2005

Lessons from Canada

My wife and I were given a wonderful wedding gift that we were finally able to, ah, cash-in on this weekend. Our friend gave us a one-night stay at this really ritzy hotel in Toronto. Very shiny, with everything except the Jacuzzi we had hoped for. We had a pretty good time, but I also learned a whole lot. I'd like to share some of the wisdom I gained this weekend, in hopes that when you go to Toronto (or Canada in general), you are better prepared to face what you find there.

1. Canadians Mark the Wrong Things
As it turns out, Canadians must have some kind of impeccable sense of direction. Or they never know where they're going. Because there were lots of signs everywhere, but very few of them made reference to a street. In fact, most of the signs we saw were of the "drive careful" variety (these were everywhere). We discovered later that the Canadians DO actually mark their streets, but they hide the signs behind other signs, lamp posts, and other colorful decorations. Why? I don't know, but it was very frustrating. We spent the entire vacation looking for this one street called "Lower Simco St." and found it as we were leaving. It was a tiny little street under construction, which brings me to my next insight:

2. Don't Trust Mapquest. Ever.
I learned this the hard way. The street we tried so hard to find - Lower Simco - was a street referenced by the mapquest directions that I downloaded to get to our hotel. When we eventually found it, we discovered that it was a one-lane road under construction hidden in a dark alley without a streetlight.

The directions also told us to take the Gardener Expressway East, and then to "take the exit". Yes, that's right - take THE exit. As if there's only one. I must confess, this was my mistake because I missed that in the directions when I downloaded them. This got us lost in ghetto Toronto. As it turns out, the ghetto-slums are out sort of next to the city and look like suburbs, except for the trolley tracks going everywhere.

3. Make sure you know what ARE and what are NOT streets.
trolley tracks. I hate them now. I'm Swiss, which means I'm very used to trains, train-tracks, and trolley-tracks everywhere you look. But this was just rediculous. There were trolly tracks up most of the streets, especially in the ghetto-suburbs and even in downtown. And as it turns out, sometimes, the middle is reserved for just trolleys ... but they didn't mark it. And so here I come, a dumb American who has been pampered by well-marked streets (even in Rochester), and I turn left into what I think is a street, running parallel to a very large sidewalk.

I was wrong.

I actually turned onto a Trolley track. I discovered this when I ended up driving behind the trolley. Oops. Liz starts yelling at me, I look up, and there it is. It's a good thing that I have an SUV because it gives me the added advantage of being able to drive up and over large curbs. Which I did quickly.

4. Snowplowing
No, Canadians do not know how to snowplow. At all. Well, that's not true. Sometimes they do, but it's only after the snow has stopped and they have about ten hours to clear the roads. We drove through Buffalo to get to the border. Buffalo had nice roads, like they're used to snow, and expect it to visit them regularly. We crossed the border without incident. The minute we hit Canadian soil ... it was covered with snow. And not just a little slush. I'm talking like, a good six inches of packed snow, and much more on the areas that weren't being driven on. And the Canadians just sort of ignored it, driving along on their merry way. I thought we were done for right then, but then again, I love my new car. Funny how our car accident was a blessing in disguise.

5. Driving
This is the only compliment I will pay to Canadians in this blog, and figured I should do it last because we actually enjoyed our little sojurn, despite the difficulties. Canadians are some of the best drivers I've ever met. They were really nice on the road, letting you merge if you had to (assuming you signaled, which they all did), and they obeyed traffic rules. I never once saw a single accident, and I never saw a single car run a red-light. When the light turned yellow, they all slowed down and stopped. Americans cannot claim this. I don't go a day here without seeing somebody run a stop-sign or run a red light. But not in Canada. It's not even like they have enough police to enforce anything. Traffic flow was never really a problem either, except maybe once in ghetto-ville. Maybe it's because they make their traffic system so daunting that nobody wants to drive, in fear of getting lost.

So that was our stay in Canada, a brief overnight in Toronto. We got to go to the Medieval Times place for dinner and a show, which was way fun (once I found it, again, thanks to mapquest). I highly recommend you go sometime.

Just make sure you take a map.


Anya said...

Speaking as a Canadian, I find traffic in the United States much like how you described our traffic. Minus number 4 and number 5. In one day of driving in America, I encountered more road rage than my entire life in Canada. Gack. O Canada.

Chris said...

Yeah, I've noticed that roadrage seems to be the American way. I don't like it much, but then again, I suppose that's life. The number of times I've seen somebody run a red light is too large to count.

I suppose the differences have something to do with our unique perspective from our own country and what we're used to. In Rochester and much of New York, we mark streets with large green signs with white lettering which, to me, is really easy to find. The canadian equivalent of small white signs with black lettering was nearly impossible to see, especially at night when it didn't reflect in the glow of headlights.

But you've talked about Perspective before, so I'm interested in what you'd say to that. :)