Carnage Alley

Last year at this time I wrote a post about how treacherous the driving was on the southern leg of highway 401 in Ontario.  Aptly named “Carnage Alley”, it has been the site of some pretty horrific crashes.

To make matters worse, parts of the 40l along this southern leg have been under construction.  For 20 kilometre stretches, the highway is down to one lane, bordered by concrete barriers.  This creates a bottleneck of traffic along an already busy section of highway.

Unfortunately for me, driving on this highway is a necessity in order to visit my father, who lives in a retirement home in Amherstburg, a small town some 200 kilometres away.  Not one to push my luck,  I restrict my visits to Sundays, when there’s less traffic and fewer 18-wheelers.  This past Sunday I made the trip down, leaving first thing in the morning. My father and I had a nice visit and I left by midafternoon, thankful that my drive down was uneventful and hopeful that the trip back would be similarly peaceful.

But no.

About 70 kilometres outside of Amherstburg, the traffic slowed to a stop. Shit, I thought; an accident. I and the other drivers peered anxiously in our rearview mirrors, hoping the guy behind us didn’t rear-end us before we made our way off the highway. Thankfully everyone was paying attention.  I said a quick prayer for the unlucky driver(s) and hoped they were ok.

Our caravan of vehicles followed two large 18-wheelers off the highway and into town. (During a detour, always follow a trucker.  They’re usually the only ones who know where they’re going.) We followed them about 40 kilometres to the next highway ramp, which was in the neighbouring town of Chatham.  The ramp was open for business and mercifully past the construction zone. I got back on the highway and hoped that was the worst of it.

When I got home, I googled “401 highway closure”, curious about the accident for which I and many others were diverted. Apparently it was one of three, all occuring within a few hours of the other. The first one was the one for which I was diverted, and involved several vehicles.  There were minor injuries. The second one was an hour later, 40 kilometres ahead but going west, in the opposite direction from me. The third was the worst. Apparently stopped for the second accident, drivers in the westbound lane of the SAME ramp which an hour earlier I took to get back ON the highway were rear-ended by an inattentive driver.  A woman and her son were killed.


One of several construction zones, 401 near Chatham

I ended my trip vowing I would find an alternate route home.  It might take longer, but at least I would arrive alive.

Boundaries Real and Imagined

The Canada/ U.S. border is the longest in the world between two countries, stretching some 8000 kilometres across some pretty challenging terrain. There are only 100 or so manned border checkpoints with customs officials;  the rest of the border is unmanned with only a concrete boundary marker to tell you which country you’re in–and sometimes, not even that.

Take the Haskell Library for example. It sits smack dab on the  Canada/U.S. border and has two separate entrances and addresses:  one American, and one Canadian.  The interior, however, is shared: a black line designates the border. The towns which straddle the library share the same water, sewer, and emergency systems, and there are at least three streets which criss-cross into the other country’s territory.


Haskell Library.  Right side of black line is Canada.


Most border crossings, however, are rural and unmanned, like this one:




The no touching zone

And along the 8000 kilometre border is the euphemistically named “no- touching zone”.  The no-touching zone is a 20-foot stretch of land which separates each country, cut out by hardy individuals in the early 1900’s as part of the International Boundary Commission.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States,  Canada has experienced an unprecedented increase in immigrants–most of whom were born in one of the seven countries on the ban list–crossing the unmanned border points into Canada.  Their refugee claims denied in the  U.S. and fearing deportation, these immigrants risk life and limb, walking for days in unbelievable winter conditions, toward the Canadian border. With spring around the corner, Canada anticipates those numbers increasing.

There’s a sad irony in looking at this man-made land boundary carved out almost 100 years ago:  a global “no-touch” zone has emerged. Countries around the world are standing at an ideological impasse with the Trump administration, resisting the relentless onslaught of divisiveness, xenophobia, and geopolitical exceptionalism. And in the middle of the chaos are millions of displaced people who are not a risk to anyone; people like you or I who simply want a better life for themselves and a safe place to raise their children.  As a civilization, we never seem to be able to learn from our past, and, in the words of George Santayana, we are forever doomed to repeat it.

I hope the world can get their act together before we end up in a real-life Orwellian nightmare.  In the meantime,  I take solace in the kindly face of this officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For now, it seems to be all we have.


Mounties assisting a family of refugees crossing into Manitoba, Canada


Vive La Liberté

Quebec And Canada Flags

“Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack. It was an attack on our most intrinsic and cherished values as Canadians:  values of openness, diversity and freedom of religion.  Canadians will not be intimidated, we will not meet violence with more violence. We will meet fear and hatred with love and compassion. Always.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Adios, Cable

Before cable companies monetized television, TV-viewing was free–signals floating happily along the airwaves and all you needed was a good antenna.  My father installed the mother of all antennae on the roof of our house.  The antenna could be manipulated by this little dial box if you needed to improve reception. Worked like a charm. Then came cable, and suddenly we found ourselves beholden to big conglomerates who nickel and dime us for every channel.

In actual fact, I don’t watch much TV, except HBO. In Canada, however, we can only get HBO through a $20 add-on to our cable subscription. (In the States, they can access HBO via the internet–called HBO GO–at a minimal cost and without the necessity of a cable package.) Having the $20 add-on means that my cable bill would be well over $100 a month, even with a basic cable package. And when you add the cost of movie rentals and a netflicks subscription, you’re paying a lot more for television than you want to be.


The Cable-Killer, aka Android Box

That’s when friends of mine told me about the Android TV box.  For a one-time cost of a few hundred dollars for the box and remote,  you can access television and movies via the internet.  With the android system, virtually every tv show or movie ever made is available to you, at no extra cost.  The downside is that the quality varies–some movies and shows are crystal clear, while others look like they were recorded using Grandpa’s old Super 8.  Since you’re given hundreds of options to watch your particular selection, you usually can find one of fairly good viewing quality.

So I cancelled my cable subscription and am now meeting all of my television-viewing needs via my little android box.  And the pièce de la résistance–I can get HBO without a cable subscription and without paying an extra subscription fee.

You may be wondering (I certainly was) whether this is legal, and why the cable companies allow it. This is where it gets interesting.

The Canadian Cable companies went to court as recently as July of this year, asking for an injunction against several vendors for selling boxes which they believe pirate their programming signal and have caused them financial distress (yeah, right).  However, the vendors claim that “the pre-loaded set-top boxes are a piece of hardware, operating in the same manner as a tablet or a computer, on which anyone can install applications which are freely available to the public though the Apple Store, Google Play or the Internet.”  (Interestingly, the cable companies are only going after small operators:  Amazon, which has been selling android boxes for awhile, have yet to be targeted for litigation).

The other key to whether one get sued or not is whether the vendors advertise the boxes as “free TV.” Those that do, get sued; those that don’t, fall under the radar.

While the cable companies and android box venders duke it out in court, people like me can continue to enjoy the freedom our little android box brings. And there’s no pleasure like the pleasure derived from giving the middle finger salute to cable.