The true story of how I met my wife
Part Six—Now What?
When the van crashed through the snow, I was still in the car, but with the door open and one foot on the ground. I was certain that the van was going to plow into us in the same way it had just done to the mound of snow. There was no time to react. I could only think, I don’t believe this.
I could see the van’s driver, face tensed in horror, arms locked on the steering wheel as he stood on the brake hoping to somehow stop the unstoppable. I braced for the collision. But, it never came.
The van stopped, somehow, without as much as tapping my car. Both the van’s driver and I got out to look at the non-collision. The bumpers had not touched, but it would have been difficult to slip a folded piece of paper between them.
The other driver began apologizing for the near hit. But by this point in the evening, with all I had been through, I didn’t have the energy to start an argument over something that almost happened. I told him not to worry. No harm done. Yeah, it’s fine. Really. We’re cool.
I filled up the tank and Veta gave me a twenty to pay for it—awfully nice of her. I paid the attendant inside again, though he gave me no sign that he recognized me as the $1.15 guy from earlier. I got back to the car, sat behind the wheel, and looked to the empty passenger seat beside me.
Veta answered, “He went across the street to get a slice of pizza.”
I scanned the other side of the street and picked out the “Pizza Pizza” shop, with Drayson just leaving it. As he crossed the street, Veta, sitting behind me, put down her window. “Hurry up,” she yelled to her brother. “We’re going.” Drayson hurried back and took his seat.
“Ah, Grant,” said Veta.
“I can’t seem get my window back up. Is there a trick to this?”
My Cavalier had power windows. As a consequence, I had a master panel of switches for the windows on the driver’s door. “Hmmm… let me try from here.” I pushed up on the button, but no movement. I tried all the other buttons. Still, the window stayed down.
It just seemed right somehow, after the evening’s ordeals, that the window motor or fuse or something else would die. I mean, how many bullets can you dodge before one grazes you? The best I could do was turn up the heat, head back toward the highway, and drop everyone off.
It was after 1:00 a.m. Monday morning when I got home, pulling into the driveway of my parents’ townhouse. The snow had finally let up. I put a garbage bag over the rear door to keep any additional snow out. The next day, or later that same day really, I dropped off the car at a dealer I knew and they fixed the window under warranty.
That, dear readers, is the true story of how I met my wife. Notice that I didn’t say “fell in love with” my wife. On this occasion, there were no sparks or racing hearts. No stringed instruments or choirs. Just lots of snow and running out of—and running for—gas.
What about the mushy lovey bits? Those came later.
|< Part Five—How Long Does it Take to Freeze Solid?|
Archive for March 2007
The true story of how I met my wife
Part Five—How Long Does it Take to Freeze Solid?
I am something of a problem solver and, at times, I even can be resourceful. As I saw it, the essential problem to solve was, get gas into the car. This had been a problem of growing importance all evening. Now, facing a cold death, it overshadowed all others.
To solve that problem, we needed two things: One, a source of gasoline, and two, since the car wasn’t moving, a way to get the fuel to the car. As it was, I had the second item covered. I had a gas container in the trunk. It was small, but large enough. The first issue, the hunt for gas to fill the container, would be the challenge.
I could have called CAA (Canada’s version of AAA). However, this was before anyone I knew had a mobile phone, so we would have had to find a payphone to make the call. It seemed just as sensible to look for gas as much as a phone. Also, I was not sure exactly where I was.
A plan was formed. The guys, Drayson and I, were chosen to hunt for gas, but more likely to freeze to death quickly outside. On the other hand, the girls, Veta and Anne-Marie, had the task of freezing to death slowly in the car.
Among the four of us we had only a single pair of gloves, Anne-Marie’s isotoners, which she graciously donated to the guys. Drayson wore one glove and I the other. I got the gas can out of the trunk and the girls locked the doors behind us. With my gloved hand gripping the empty gas container, we ran north up Dunn Avenue away from the highway, in the most likely direction to find a gas station.
As fast as we could, slipping and sliding in dress shoes, we ran up the street. Dark houses and low-rise apartments seemed to watch us with disinterest as we ran with single-minded purpose. A few tires had left us a track in the road, making the run a little less arduous. After about a quarter mile, we came to an intersection at King Street. Looks in both directions revealed only darkness. We continued north.
After another exhausting quarter mile, we came to a “T” intersection. Now we would have to decide on a direction to continue, either left or right. The wrong choice could be deadly, taking us farther and farther from the precious fuel we needed. Looking left, we again saw no signs of life. Looking right, less than a hundred feet away, we saw the bright lights of an open gas station. We decided to go right.
I was filled with a bewildering mix of exhaustion at the effort to get here; relief of finding what we were after; and anxiety as to how the girls were fairing. I walked up to a vacant pump and filled the container with about $1.15 worth of gas. When I paid the attendant inside, he gave me a puzzled look. He must have wondered, who stops to put a mere gallon of gas in their car?
With our precious liquid acquired, we retraced our steps as fast as we could. Somehow, the trip back seemed longer and more strenuous. Drayson and I took turns carrying the gas container, now considerably heavier.
All I could think of at this point was that Veta and Anne-Marie must be dead. Either they were frozen solid as Omaha Steaks or they had been brutally done in by some crazed murderer. (I found out later that actually there is a mental hospital near where the car was parked. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. I was paranoid enough without having that bit of knowledge to fuel my imagination.)
Approaching the car, we could not see inside, since the windows had fogged up. Neither could anyone inside see out. Hence I startled the still-living occupants with my fumbling to fill the tank as quickly as possible.
Freshly fueled, the car restarted after a couple tries. I wiped off the inside of the windshield and we drove up to the gas station we had just left to fill the tank properly. Amazingly enough, the drive up to Queen Street seemed much quicker than the run had been.
At the station, I pulled up to the outer set of pumps, next to the street. About that moment, I noticed that a lime green and white VW mini-van, a la Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, was about to make a left turn from Queen Street into the gas station, too. There was, however, a little obstacle; a three foot high mound of freshly plowed snow blocked the gas station entrance.
The driver, I assumed, felt that the solution to this obstruction was to apply more speed. Accordingly, he accelerated as he turned into the driveway. He had been right. The van’s momentum obliterated the mound in a snow explosion. The snow, for its part, did almost nothing to slow down the van now heading straight for my car.
|< Part Four—You Like Country Music?||Part Six—Now What? >|
The true story of how I met my wife
Part Four—You Like Country Music?
Drayson and I stamped the snow off our shoes by the front door of the building. The girls had kindly waited for us in the lobby. Together, we made our way to Lydia’s first floor, junior one-bedroom apartment.
Lydia served a chocolate cake that she and Veta had picked up a week earlier. They had visited Lydia’s cousin, Mark, at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont where he was studying to become a chef. Later that year, he would bake our wedding cake.
During the course of the evening I discovered that our hostess, Lydia, had been baptized at the same convention as I in Montréal, Québec in 1985. I thought that was cool. I also learned that Lydia liked country music. I thought that was weird.
“You like country music?” I asked, not quite being able to grasp the idea. “Really?” I am quite tolerant and accepting. I mean, to each his (or her) own, to be sure, but country music?
I grew up on classic rock and we lived in a city with a dozen or two stations to choose from. I was puzzled because this wasn’t some backwater town that only had one radio station and you had to listen to country music. At the time, I was biased—close to prejudiced—against country music. (I have since matured in my tastes and now enjoy a wide range of music, including, yes, country.)
“I like that you can understand the lyrics,” Lydia explained, “and I like that the songs tell a story.”
I thought about her response for a while. What stuck with me was that she had reasons for liking country music. For her, it wasn’t a case of, “well, my mammy always listened to it…” As a result, while I didn’t understand her choice, I did respect it.
The evening drew late and our troop decided to head back to the ‘burbs, since the next day was a work day for most of us. Veta and Anne-Marie waited by the front door while the guys went to get the car. For the fourth time this evening I brushed the snow off my car, in my dress coat and shoes.
The car, however, refused to budge from its spot. Drayson volunteered to push as I rocked the car backward and forward to get some forward momentum. As the car broke free, I kept it moving forward to prevent it from getting stuck again. Like a stunt man, Drayson ran up beside the car, opened the door, and hopped into his seat.
At the front of the building, the girls got in. They had gotten directions to a gas station from someone in the local half of our group. However, in trying to execute the instructions, we found ourselves getting lost. I was getting frustrated, so I made a decision to just head for Mississauga, where I knew of half a dozen 24-hour gas stations.
We accelerated up the westbound ramp onto an elevated highway, the Gardiner Expressway. As we did, I felt the car stutter slightly. No one else in the car noticed it, but I knew that we had about two or three minutes of drive time left. On a later trip to Toronto, in better weather and during the daytime, I discovered that, on that same street where we picked up the highway, there was a 24-hour gas station just one block in the other direction.
We would not be using that gas station on that evening, though.
The highway was deserted. I was trying to remember what my next available exit would be. After a short distance, the car shuddered again more urgently as the last sips of gasoline mixed with air, made the trip from the vacant tank to the fuel injectors.
Drayson looked over at me. He noticed the car’s behavior and knew what it meant.
I answered his unasked question. “We’re going to run out of gas.”
A few seconds later the car stalled. This got everyone’s attention.
“Are we out of gas?” someone in the back seat asked.
“Yes,” I said.
I knew our next exist was not far and the downward slope in the highway favored us, so I let the car coast in neutral. The exit ramp was in sight, but it was a fairly steep grade up. As we made the bottom of the ramp, I restarted the car, gunned her up the ramp, and onto the street before the engine quit again.
I tried to restart the engine. It would start and then quit almost instantly. After a couple more tries, I gave up. Since the road crews had not gotten around to plowing this street yet, the deep snow also impeded any movement.
The long and short of it was; we were stranded.
|< Part Three—Love Letters||Part Five—How Long Does it Take to Freeze Solid? >|
The true story of how I met my wife
Part Three—Love Letters
Once we got on the QEW towards Toronto—no one calls it the Queen Elizabeth Way—the improved road conditions and non-existent traffic allowed us to make good time. We pulled up to the front door of Massey Hall just a few minutes after seven o’clock. I dropped everyone off out front in case they might be able to get seated, if the play had started a little late. Then, I headed to find a parking spot.
Once parked, I ran the two or three blocks back to the theater. Inside, I found my friends standing with the usher and few other stragglers by the auditorium doors. The play already had begun and we would have to wait until the “all clear” was given for us to enter.
After only a few minutes we were quietly directed in the darkness to our seats. Love Letters is a two-person play starring, on that occasion, Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers of Hart to Hart fame. In Love Letters, the two characters take turns reading letters that they have written to each other from childhood, through school years, and into adult life.
During the intermission, we finally met the other half of our octet: Laura, Winston, Lydia, and John, all of whom I was meeting for the first time. Were there violins, harps and a choir playing at the sight of my future bride? That would have been romantic. But there weren’t. No spark or anything. Later I would even learn that Lydia had arranged the outting so that she could be with John in a group setting. She had her eye on him.
As we waited for the second act, we spoke a bit about our impressions of the play and the weather outside. I learned that, following the play, the plan would be to head back to Lydia’s nearby apartment for dessert. All pretty ordinary and unmemorable, to be frank. The second act commenced.
Later, after the audience applauded, the actors bowed, and the lights came up, we organized cars for the trip to Lydia’s. Since I didn’t know where she lived, Laura switched places with Veta in my car to give directions. Well, that was the plan, anyway.
I still needed to get gas. Laura assured me we could get some on the way. What a relief! But as we drove through the still-falling snow, instead of giving directions, Laura and Anne-Marie sat in the back of the car and chatted.
“Is this my turn?” I asked to get Laura focused on her assignment.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “Where are we?” You know, that is not a good question to hear from your navigator.
I knew we were traveling east, but I wasn’t even sure what street we were on. It was dark and the car windows were less than clear. Add to that, the wind-driven snow had done a good job of covering most of the street signs. At the same time, Drayson and I kept looking for an open gas station.
I finally caught a glimpse of a major highway below us as we crossed a bridge. “I think we just went over the Don Valley Parkway.”
“Oh, we’ve got too far east,” Laura said with a giggle. “Take a left at the next major street.” Finally, some directions.
At the next light, I made the left turn and glimpsed the street name in the partially snow-covered sign.
“Okay, we’re heading north on Broadview,” I said.
“Okay. That’s good. Takes this to Danforth and turn left again.”
There were no gas stations on Broadview, open or otherwise. I looked at my gas gauge with the needle snuggling up to the “E” line. “Great,” I muttered. I really didn’t need to burn these precious fumes on a nighttime tour of Toronto’s east end, and in a blizzard, no less.
After a couple more left turns, we were at Lydia’s apartment building. We had driven the three long sides of a rectangle to get there. I dropped off Laura and Anne-Marie near the front door and then Drayson and I hunted for a parking spot. We ended up in a “No Parking” area, but I was fairly certain that no one would be out in the worst storm of the year ticketing or towing cars.
Only we crazy people seemed to be out of doors that night.
|< Part Two—Can You Drive?||Part Four—You Like Country Music?|
The true story of how I met my wife
Part Two—Can You Drive?
I wasn’t dressed for the weather. I wore a suit and tie under my overcoat along with dress shoes, which I felt fit the occasion of an evening out, if not the weather. As I let the car warm up and brushed off the snow, I once again felt it was lunacy to make this trip. The short drive over to Veta’s convinced me: Yes sir, pure lunacy.
The roads hadn’t been plowed or salted. Further, as it seemed that there had been very few emergencies to draw people out onto the roads, there were scarcely any tire tracks that might have offered a little better traction. After swerving and skidding the short quarter-mile to Veta’s place, I was determined to talk her out of going.
I managed somehow to get my car turned around and parked on Veta’s street, Voltarie Crescent. The difficulty required to accomplish that ordinary task had me thinking that I even might not be able to get the car moving again, never mind, drive to Toronto for a play. Maybe Veta’s family would have to put me up.
Veta lived with her parents and a few sisters and bothers, one of whom, Drayson, was coming to the play, too. I thought that Drayson would see the reasonableness of calling off the trip. Once inside, I discovered that both Veta and Drayson were still getting ready. As I sat, waited, and watched the snow continue to fall in the dimming daylight, I wondered why they were bothering.
“It’s really bad out there,” I said, still fighting my losing battle. None of my arguments could sway them from the mad notion of a jaunt off to the big city at night, during a blizzard.
Then Veta popped the question. “Oh, Grant? Can you drive?”
Nice, I thought. “Yes,” I said, giving in. “If I can get the car moving again. And I’ll need to get gas. I only have an eighth of a tank.”
“Sure we can get gas on our way.”
I watched the snow continue to fall as I waited by the front door. I checked my watch and it told me that is was nearly six o’clock. “Is Ann-Marie meeting us here?” I asked towards the back of the house.
“No,” Veta called back. “We’re picking her up.”
Great, I thought. We’ll never get there.
Finally, with the sun setting, we were back in my car. As I let it warm up again, having brushed off the worst of the snow, Veta reminded me of where her friend Ann-Marie lived. I was relieved to learn that her apartment was en route to the highway. That would be the last break I would get.
The thick, heavy snow on the unplowed road combined with the gentle upward grade made it a challenge even to get off Veta and Drayson’s street. Yet, I managed to get us out onto the main road.
“See?” I asked, still trying to make my point about the poor conditions. I was ducking and jabbing like a boxer who doesn’t know he’s already been knocked out. “I told you it was messy.”
“Yeah, but Highway 10 looks clear,” Veta said. She was referring to the road we were on, a main artery and, consequently, one of the first to get plowed and salted.
Just drive, Grant, I told myself. It’s all you can do.
We made the short trip to Ann-Marie’s apartment building without incident and Veta went upstairs to get her. Looking back on events now, if I had know we would have waited nearly half an hour for them to return, I would have gone with Drayson to fill up the tank. We would have been back in plenty of time and the evening would have gone quite differently.
As it was, Drayson and I waited. And waited. I kept checking the time, growing more anxious with every passing minute. I hate being late. On top of that, the tickets for the play clearly stated that latecomers would not be seated until intermission.
Finally, at just about 6:30, the girls hopped into the back of the car.
“Sorry, for taking so long,” said Ann-Marie.
“We’ll have to get gas later,” I said as I turned the car onto the road. “We’re going to be late.”
“That’s right,” Veta said to Ann-Marie. “We have to get gas.”
|< Part One—The Storm||Part Three—Love Letters >|
The true story of how I met my wife
Part One—The Storm
I met Lydia in a blizzard.
Every winter in Toronto, along with the rest of southern Ontario, there is the snowstorm. That is the storm that drops enough of the white stuff to close roads and schools. During this once-a-winter storm, the authorities tell everyone to stay inside, except for emergencies. That, to me, has always sounded like good advice.
On Sunday, February 21, 1993, as I looked out the window of my parents’ townhouse into the backyard, I realized that today’s snow storm was going to be that snow storm. By mid-afternoon, with no let up in sight, I decided to call my friend, Veta.
After a few rings, she picked up. “Hello?”
“Hey, Veta. It’s Grant.”
“Oh, hi Grant.”
“I guess it’s canceled, eh?”
Veta and her friend Lydia had arranged for a group of eight of us to see a play called, Love Letters at Massey Hall in Toronto. Lydia, who lived in Toronto, was to have invited three friends from there while Veta did the same in Mississauga, Toronto’s western suburb where I lived. I was one of Veta’s invitees. I figured the weather had put an end to that plan.
“No, we’re still on.”
I paused, trying to cram into my head the insane idea of a twenty-mile drive through a blizzard to see a play—an obvious non-emergency.
“Have you looked outside?” I asked, “There’s three feet of snow on the ground and more falling.”
“I know,” she said with the same disinterest as if I had told her that it looked like some clouds were moving in. Her tone of voice indicated that there was no change in plans. We were still going. The mental shoehorn was having difficulty wedging that elephant-sized concept into my little noggin. Yet, finally, I acquiesced.
“Okay,” I said, “but we should leave early. I’ll come by your place around 5:30.”
The play was scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m. and we would have had better than a half-hour drive in good weather, so I thought the buffer would be more than enough time.
“Okay. Sounds good.”
We said our goodbyes and hung up. I looked out the window at the falling flakes. Stay inside, except for emergencies. By the end of the evening, I was to have a deeper appreciation for the wisdom of that advice.
|Part Two—Can You Drive? >|