It’s evident now that we’ve caught yesterday’s storm. When I left work yesterday, the snow had been falling for an hour and was only just starting to stick; when I woke up before dawn this morning, the city was blanketed three inches deep and iced over as a treat. I hadn’t considered that the bad weather might be making its way east until I recognized the thick cloud cover that had turned to a steady sleet somewhere after our lunch stop at an Arby’s in rural Michigan. I also hadn’t considered that the bad weather might be getting worse as it moved, snow evolving from last night’s damp heaviness to a proper whiteout in rapidly diminishing light that’s made conditions challenging—though “challenging” is like “demanding,” a commentator’s euphemism for what’s actually going on: the roads are bad. No one should be driving them.
And yet, it’s the Saturday evening of a holiday weekend and I’m driving at a snail’s pace amid heavy traffic in the deteriorating weather of another country because I thought it’d be funny to tell people I saw Cats in Toronto.
This drive—which the app initially predicted would be eight hours but is now climbing past ten on its way to eleven by the time we pull into our Airbnb’s suburban driveway, and that’s without the hour we lose to time zones—has afforded me ample time to reflect on how I got here. Two hands firmly on the wheel, I mull it over once more: two weeks ago, my coworkers ask me if I want to see Cats. Or, rather, Brian kind of throws it out there with only the essential information provided: “Saoirse and I were talking about going to Toronto in two weeks for a live singalong screening of Cats. You know you want in on that.”
I don’t know that, exactly. I don’t know how serious to take this because Brian types in an inscrutable style where everything is lowercase and there are no punctuation marks, but I’m already mentally ticking off boxes to determine if I would go through with this even if they don’t: two weeks hence is a three-day weekend. The schedule says our company car is still free to borrow, though I’ll have to double-check insurance restrictions. Technically I could claim it as a work trip and put fuel costs on the tab. I could surely fit in a fair amount of solo sightseeing. The drive is basically a straight shot of highway through Michigan and Ontario, which means I can trim some time on the way there if I’m a judicious leadfoot and traffic is light. I have nothing to do at home but finish Sontag’s Against Interpretation, a book I already know I won’t get any follow-up questions about no matter how conspicuously I reference it. I don’t like cats and I’ve never once considered seeing either the musical or the movie, but Rocky Horror-esque cabaret accompaniment can’t not be some kind of fun, even if it’s strictly anthropological. I can learn more about Dumpster Raccoon Cinema’s deal later. I can learn more about the actual plot of Cats later. I can learn more about Toronto later. I can remove one of my oldest flight tracker alerts now.
I’m in on that, is what I say.
Like a lot of my trips in recent years, then, the logistics escalate quickly from theoretical to real: the insurance covers us in Canada (and Mexico, which, hey, you never know). The Saturday show is sold out, but the second screening on Sunday is still available. There’s a dog-friendly Airbnb—Brian has to bring Gus—that looks fairly close to downtown. I’ll write up a story for work on gas mileage and maybe radio presets, promising to include the word “floccinaucinihilipilification” somehow. Saoirse volunteers to take photos. Who will keep the car on Friday night? What’s the best order of pickup? What time do we want to be on the road? Is there anything we collectively need to see? Isn’t this dumb and delightful? And that’s it, crucial questions answered, pieces in place, not even forty-eight hours all told: I’m visiting Toronto.
Everyone should travel like that, I think… but maybe not like this, snow mounting, taillights guiding, crawling along at kilometers per hour well below the posted limit, following the same three sets of tracks because the road marks are long buried and the lanes have been reduced to a social contract. In one way, I’m using all my concentration to stay on the road, still gripping the wheel at 10 and 2 for more than just appearances. In another, though, my mind is as far away as we are from Chicago. No one feels the need to talk anymore, as happens naturally on any road trip worthy of the name: that point where a collective silence catches up with you. Everyone kind of drifts off from one another for a while.
That’s where we’re at and that’s where I’m at right now, so far into my thoughts it’s not even registering that the spotty Rogers wireless is breaking up this Spotify playlist and we have to switch back to satellite radio. Some clicks back, I don’t remember where, I stopped thinking about the Leslieville doll house or The Rainbow Tunnel or ice skating outside City Hall or Casa Loma or the Hockey Hall of Fame or which breweries would still be open after we finally got settled or how I was going to explain this story when I got back. Instead, I thought about less immediate stuff, like how many episodes could realistically be wrung out of a show about immigration officers and would it be funnier from an American or Canadian perspective and maybe it should be both but I’m no writer and I can’t imagine how many times the idea has been pitched already, or like I have no idea what’s going on anywhere else in the world anymore because I’m stuck with a president who inhales journalistic attention like a black hole and there’s no promise of imminent escape from its gravitational force, or like I didn’t have a very good 2019 but in a different way from the years before it and I don’t know what I’d say my last genuinely happy moment was or why it feels so bad all the time even when it looks good enough on paper, or like I know I prefer Vermont maple syrup even though I’m aware of how good Canadian maple syrup can be and I can’t articulate why this is without sounding like a weirdly niche nationalist. Or like aliens and chemtrails, like blizzards and the Raptors, like embryonic poetry and Justin Trudeau, like perpetual adolescence and Margaret Atwood, that old, young communal feeling.
I’m thinking we just passed the interchange for Guelph and I have no idea how to pronounce that correctly. I’m thinking I’m gonna light up the most expensive bourbon barrel stouts I can find when this drive is over because how much could it possibly cost after conversion, $12? Isn’t everything like $12 up here? I’m thinking that to be against interpretation is stupid. I’m thinking I want a blank psychogeography of quiet farmland for a change, me wandering around an empty field in the freezing cold of my own newly uncluttered insides, wondering what comes next. I’m thinking I’ll put a library hold on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats when I get home, for my own edification. I’m thinking I feel most comfortable when I’m just beyond the reach of everyone I know. I’m thinking I better not lose my passport. I’m thinking I’m sick of streaming playlists and Studio 54 Radio and all I want to hear is the Constantines—
Right now, yes, the Constantines, it has to be one of the first three records, no, definitely the self-titled one, I’ve decided it, I’d like us long-distance four to listen to the Cons and I’m going to listen to as much of them on this trip as time can possibly afford in its margins and I’m going to play the fuck out of their albums when I get back home and I’m finally going to forge a bond with this band and wallow in some hyacinth blues and maybe try to figure out a way to forgive myself for the last four years. I’m thinking I can’t really tell anymore whether it feels like I’m driving into a storm or out of one—but if I’m driving, I’m thinking, I’m moving, I’m in motion and I’m still alive, alive enough in the dead of January to remember how many more roads there are left to drive after this even further from here. Farther, too.
— Patrick Masterson
Chicago, day 36