One for the road

Ditches pro­vide ev­i­dence that there’s still a long road to travel in elim­i­nat­ing drink­ing and driv­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­

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.

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