One for the road
Ditches provide evidence that there’s still a long road to travel in eliminating drinking and driving
Columnist Russell Wangersky discovers ditches provide evidence that there’s still a long road to travel in eliminating drinking and driving.
I stopped to fish for trout on a bypass road just outside St. John’s at a stream hopefully named the Big River. It’s a stream that’s been invaded by imported, non-native rainbow trout.
Further down, Flatrock is better known for its swimming holes and almost-annual neardrownings and diving accidents.
But up where I was fishing it is, at first glance, a bucolic spot: the river bends around the edge of a newly cut hayfield, and the river itself — rarely more than thigh-deep and most often, knee-deep — skirts a cliff and curls through low-hedged bushes and small stands of blue-flag irises.
Trout? There were a few, but I’ve become a lazy fisherman. Younger me would be horrified, but I fish now mainly for the excuse to wade.
Walking back, I liked the view from the highway, too; the curve of the land, the piled-up cloud, the guardrail, the few pencil-lines it would all take to draw.
The view’s not the same as you climb down from the road: the edge of the field is a deepgreen drifted sea of stinging nettles, their gentle motion in the wind hiding the fury of their sting. And down below the shoulder, there on the gravel, were two empty 26-ounce bottles of Smirnoff Vodka, less than 50 feet separating them from each other.
Also this weekend, I watched a man with a sack making his way down the median of the Trans-Canada Highway, filling a blue recycling bag with bottles to cash in. He wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t pay, and liquor bottles pay better than anything else. I watched him put two flasks in the bag, pick up a hubcap, drop it back into the brush.
I’ve found empty miniature bottles in liquor store parking lots, drained and run over, and even a short walk down any smaller highway will find you more beer cans and bottles that you can count on your fingers and toes.
Each day in the St. John’s police report, there are drunk-driving arrests. Many are younger people, well aware of the hazards of drinking and driving.
A couple of weeks ago on P.E.I., I was on a side road to Morrell, Route 321, not long before the road takes a big jink to the right and then heads straight again. I’d stopped to look at the field of young potato plants (I found the field again on Google Maps, and when the Google car had gone by, the field was late wheat, all out in bristled heads), and I’d pulled onto the grass shoulder and walked the few steps down to the field.
Heading back to the car, I looked at my feet, and there it was: a small plastic bottle of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, drained and recapped and tossed in the ditch, the tall grass bent over it as if examining the fading label. I’d already passed an empty case of beer on the same road, yawning open and tilted on one side, there for a short enough time that the cardboard was still stiff and new.
Nova Scotia’s Route No. 8, the long empty run from Annapolis Royal to Liverpool across the spine of the province, was no better. I stopped near Harmony Mills for just a moment, only to find a cheerful Captain Morgan grinning up at me from where his flask was doing a gentle backstroke among the waterweeds in the ditch.
We like to think that we’re getting somewhere when it comes to drinking and driving, and maybe we are, slowly.
The police blotters and the ditches say there’s still a very long road ahead.
From a highway ditch located near Morrell, P.E.I., on Route 231.