Origin Stories: The Drive to Toronto

I was talking with someone about long drives the other day, and remembered the many, long drives my family used to make to Toronto. Thinking about it, those trips may have had a hand in my love of long drives. I’ve been familiar with the road to Toronto for a long time. Both of my parents were from the Toronto area, so we made a lot of journies there to visit my grandparents.

The earliest memories I have of the trip to Toronto were in the “big van” and the “truck”(a 1990 12 seater Dodge van, and a 1986 Chevy Suburban). We were apparently really creative with naming our vehicles… I think we generally went to Toronto in the big van. The truck was uncomfortable, at least from my childhood perspective, despite being the cooler of the two vehicles.

In the early days, I recall the long ride to Toronto being a reading adventure. I would pack my brown bookbag full of library books that I was going to read during the 2 hour drive. I had them arranged in the order I was going to read them; from worst to best….never really catching on that I never made it to the last few books. I remember saving certain books to be read on a Toronto journey.

As I grew older I became too distracted by what was passing by out the window to spend time reading. There were a few driving games that we used to play. I’m not sure if mom and dad introduced the games, or if us kids invented them, but they became a big part of any drive to Toronto. I think it started with the passing game. We would count how many cars we passed once we got on the expressway. This worked in my favour because I sat on the right side of the van, while my sister sat on the left side. Since my Dad typically drove in the middle lane, my side of the car was constantly passing people(the slow lane), while my sister’s side of the car was constantly being passed(the fast lane). Of course I wasn’t aware of why this was at the time. My sisters at some point started the waving game, where they would wave at the cars that passed by and try to see how many people they could get to wave back. We were also constantly trying to get the truckers to honk their horns. (there is a plus side to not having dark tint on the windows)

The ultimate driving game involved Thorndyke. Thorndyke was the bad guy from the movie “The Love Bug”…which was my favourite movie as a kid.(it involved cars and racing, so of course I loved it) In the movie, Thorndyke was always getting ahead of Herbie in the races, and yet Herbie always came out ahead. I would pick out a car that passed us and it would be Thorndyke. Of course at that point the challenge would be to pass it again. Generally we didn’t catch up again, although depending on how heavy traffic was on the 401, we could see it ahead of us for a while. Every now and then, I’m quite sure my Dad sped up and passed “Thorndyke” just for us. I stil remember one blue, Ford van that had been labeled as Thorndyke that we passed, and the guys waved at us…probably because they saw us kids going crazy over the fact that we passed them.

As I got older, the challenge was to remember exactly how to get to Grandma’s house. I tried to remember all the exits and on-ramps that we had to take. I was confused by the distinction between the collector and the express, and knowing when to be on which…not knowing that it really didn’t matter. It worked. By the time I had my own car, I knew how to get to Grandma’s house without ever looking at a map.

The memories I enjoy the most were of the return drive. It was generally later in the evening, and it would be getting dark as we left Toronto. I don’t know about my siblings, but my goal was always to stay awake for the whole ride home. I remember the first time I stayed awake the whole ride. I recall arriving home and my Dad carrying my sleeping siblings to their beds and being proud of the fact that I was still awake. The other reason to stay awake was the washroom break at the McDonalds at the half way point. If I was still awake, my Dad would sometimes buy me a snack when we stopped.

There are two things that stick out to me from the night time return from Toronto. First, the big van had a hum to it. I think it was the transmission or the rear differential making noise? Either way, as long as we were accelerating or holding speed, the hum persisted. If we were slowing down, the hum would stop. There was something comforting to that hum. I can still picture the night lights of the expressway making shadows inside the van, while the hum modulated with our speed. I remember as we neared home, whenever the hum stopped, I would look up to see if we were home yet.

The other memory that I remember was hearing my parents talking together. I especially remember them talking in the dark during the return trips. Whether they knew I was awake or not, somehow it was comforting to hear their voices. Recently, I was thinking about my parents carrying on conversation deep into the night while driving home from Toronto. There’s always been a small part of me that enjoys having someone to converse with during long rides, and I wonder if these memories are part of that. That being said, even as a kid, I enjoyed just sitting quietly, watching the scenery roll by, accompanied by the gentle waving of the the road and the hum of the van, and it’s this solitary part of driving that I’ve latched onto more.

The trip to Toronto did change over time. Eventually I got my license and drove the big van to Toronto. (really quite terrifying…that thing had a blindspot that could fit a transport truck) And eventually I got my own car and was able to drive myself to Toronto. I wonder how much the early rides to Toronto influenced my love of the road. I do remember that whenever we had a long drive to go on, whether to Toronto or the cottage, young me always looked forward to the actual drive time. Whatever the case, I fondly remember those simpler times when I was a kid just enjoying the ride.

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