Civility and the City: Part 2
Highway 2...the Danger Zone
Have you ever heard one of those quotes that tells you to focus on the journey, and not the destination? I am fairly sure that whoever came up with that message never had to drive Alberta Highway #2 in a snow storm.
A few months before I had to give back to back speeches in Calgary and Edmonton the idea of driving between the two cities seemed like a small sacrifice to the greater good. How could I turn down such an opportunity? Fast forward to 24 hours before the speeches and Environment Canada issued a weather warning that started about 12 hours before the drive and finished about two hours after I hoped to be back home and settling in to get some sleep before the next day's classes.
Canada has a lot of great highways. Highway One, also known as the Trans Canada, is a kind of lateral spine for our country and has given rise to more road stories than I can count. I love the TCH as it is also known, winds from the Atlantic to the Pacific veering for rocks and a series of inland lakes that dwarf most bodies of water on earth with the exception of the seas that start and end Highway One.
Internally, our country's most famous highway is the 401. It is currently about 1100 lanes wide and serves primarly to deduct years of life from those attempting to live in or near Toronto. Whenver someone tries to induce me to move back to Toronto I cannot entertain any of my positive thoughts for that great city without feeling the scars left on my central nervous system from each moment spent on that always anxious network of roads.
The 401 and some of its arteries - such as the Don Valley Parkway (or DVP) are famously challening to drive. Here in Alberta it is Highway 2 that presents the greatest challenge to mind and body, though for entirely different reasons. Alberta runs on energy. Energy that comes from the ground, and energy that comes from the creative spirit of its people. Both kinds of energy are used in abundance on the 2. Workers going to and from the northern oil camps travel the road to get to Ft. McMurray and beyond. Those of us who piggy back on that industry, travel the 2 between Edmonton and Calgary going to events, attending meetings and maintaining friendships.
Highway 2 is not particularly wide, and runs in a nearly straight line. It would not be a particularly dangerous stretch of road if not for three factors: 1) it runs north / south, but the winds that wip from the mountains to the prairies run east / west; 2) when it is busy, it is busy with people that need to get between north and south with great haste; and, 3) it is so common a drive that drivers are often lulled into a false sense of security.
If I am on Highway 2 it is always for a good reason, but often those reasons have me worrying about what will happen at the other end. For this trip, I was excited to embrace those challenges because it provided the opportunity for my colleague Owen Brierley and I to reflect on the hundreds (thousands?) of times we have travelled that road while putting on a show, attending an event, or heading to some kind of creative workshop or researsal. There is something magic on that road, and if it were not for those east / west winds I think that passersby would see a shimmer coming from all the great ideas that formed and flew among the road warriors that call it home.
Travelling the 2 is a ritual for Albertans that gains emphasis from the fact that most of us work, and play, in both Edmonton and Calgary. Add to that the fact that the positioning of the airports means that driving is just as fast as flying and you've got a recipe for road trips.
This trip, though intensified by the weather, became a ritualized exploration of the magic that is the Edmonton / Calgary pair bond. Taken alone their are two great Northern cities, but as a duo, I'd put their impact in the same league as any great metropolitan centre you can find. We have often heard talk of a high-speed rail line that would allow us to take greater advantage of these twin cities, but who knows, maybe some of the magic is made by the flow of ideas to be found when navigating a road that is just challenging enough to keep you awake, and just boring enough to require conversation and reflection.
Whatever the case may be, the drive we took that day was a gift. Precious time spent partly off grid while we once again peformed the ancient ritual of passage between YEG and YYC.
Oh, and we almost died trying to get off the road to pee in a whiteout. So there's that.