Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Driving to Toronto

We were talking about Canada, not a particularly exciting conversation usually, and I mentioned some incidents that happened to me driving to and from Toronto.  Given the response I received, I thought you might like to read about them.
My wife has a large family in Toronto of various distant cousins.  They were originally Polish Jews, who escaped Europe before WWII and moved to Brazil, where her Uncle Pesach owned a large banana plantation.  After the war they moved to Toronto and he built a business knitting sweaters there.  When we lived in NJ they invited us to visit and so we drove there in our second hand pale-green Dodge with Naomi's parents who were visiting from England.  We drove up the Garden State Parkway, across the Tappen Zee Bridge and the NY Thruway and after we reached the border we were on the Queen Elizabeth II Highway to Toronto.  What I didn't know was that the QE Highway has traffic crossovers along the highway, unlike the NY Thruway.  It was already dark and raining and we were driving along at about 60 mph, and I could barely see and I was getting sleepy, when I suddenly saw looming ahead of me the end of a long flatbed truck sticking out halfway into my lane.  My father-in-law who was sitting beside me shouted "watch out!" and I instinctively swung the steering wheel to the right and then a second later back to the left.  I heard a bang and the car shuddered slightly, but we were still all there driving along in once piece.  It was a miracle that no car was in the right lane beside me at that moment.  I was going to stop but since I could see no damage and we had survived a narrow escape, I kept going.  When we arrived in Toronto I got out and examined the car for damage, the left hand wing mirror had gone and the handle on the driver's door, which had projected only one inch from the door, had been sheared off.  What an amazingly close shave!
I left the car sitting outside their house for a few days while we went around and had fun, and then when it was time to leave we packed everything back into the car and I went to start it and it wouldn't start.  The engine turned over, but it wouldn't start.  So I tried pumping the gas a few times and tried again, and then suddenly there was an explosion.  It was quite loud and everyone came out to see what had happened.  I looked under the car and the muffler had completely blown out.  We managed to get it to a garage (I don't remember how, maybe it was towed), and they replaced the muffler.  The car started fine and so we were on our way.  Halfway down the NY Thruway I heard some noises and bangs from under the car, so I slowed down and the noises continued and the car sounded strange. So I pulled onto the shoulder and looked underneath.  And what I saw was that the new muffler was hanging down, it had evidently broken off from the exhaust pipe.  I didn't know what to do, so I took the shoelace from one of the kid's shoes and tied the muffler up and then limped along the road to the next exit and luckily for us there was a garage there, and even though it was Sunday there was a mechanic on duty.  He looked at the problem, said it happened because the new muffler was too heavy for the old and rusty exhaust pipe and it would be easy to fix, if he had the right exhaust pipe, but he didn't.  Nevertheless he could take one he had and adapt it to fit, but it would take some time.  So I said "OK," and we sat around in that garage (no cafe) for several hours, trying to keep the two kids occupied, while he cut and bent a new pipe, in between pumping gas and doing other jobs.  Finally it was finished and I paid him, and he was very nice and he hardly charged me anything for his time, and we were on our way again.
After some years I bought a new car, a Chevy, and after a few weeks, the first time I took it on a long trip was once again to drive to Toronto for the wedding of a cousin named Luna.  I didn't drive too fast because I had been told to "drive it in."  On the way back we were driving down the QE Highway (again) at 60 mph and suddenly there was a huge explosion and steam and smoke came out from under the hood.  I swerved to the shoulder and quickly ushered Naomi and the kids out of the car.  Someone must have called it in because a police car was there in minutes.  We opened the hood and there was a huge hole in the side of the engine, quite an impressive sight.  They towed us directly to the Chevy dealer in Hamilton, Ontario, just south of Toronto.  It so happened that one of Naomi's family owned a Hotel in Hamilton.  We managed to contact them and they arranged a room for us, although we had to pay for it. I told the dealer that the car was brand new and still under warranty and I showed them the documents and they accepted them.  They told me it had happened because the indicator was set one stop off from where it should be so that when I thought I was in drive (D) I was actually in low gear (L).  I had never driven an automatic car before so I didn't realize that.  I was lucky, they said, that there was a factory outside Hamilton that made Chevy engines, so I would get a better engine than I had before.  We spent a horrible weekend in Hamilton, it rained  most of the time and the kids were terrible, its lucky our marriage survived that weekend.  It was the weekend of the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968 and we watched the riots with fascination.  Anyway on the Monday the car was fitted with a new engine at no expense and we were able to continue our trip home.  Perhaps understandably that was the last time I actually drove to or from Toronto.


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