By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 13, 1938.
“What time,” demanded Jimmie Frise, do you want to leave for home?”
“Let’s leave good and early,” I submitted, “before we get caught in that awful Sunday night jam.”
“How about five o’clock?” suggested Jim.
“Too late,” I protested. “We’ll just get within about 50 miles of the city by the time the jam in at its height. We’ll be two hours going that last 50 miles. In one awful stew.”
“Listen,” said Jim, “why don’t you accept the 20th century for what it’s worth. Accept it. Adapt yourself to it. Traffic jams on Sunday night are part of the normal age we live in. Get in tune with it. Don’t fight it. Nothing you can do will alter the fact that every Sunday night in summer you have to boil your way home.”
“Unless I leave in time to get home ahead of the jam,” I pointed out.
“Look,” said Jim. “We arrive here at the cottage at 6 p.m. Saturday. And you want to clear out at noon Sunday. It doesn’t make sense.”
“I’d rather,” I explained, “curtail my weekend than wreck my nerves fighting my way home through a midnight traffic war. If anybody would keep in line and let us all get home at 35 miles an hour, it wouldn’t be too bad, But there are always those cutter-inners. Those anti-social bounders that leap ahead every time they get a chance, only have to duck back into traffic again and throw the whole line out of gear for miles back. Those are the bounders. Those are the people that fray my nerves.”
“Be one of them, for a change,” laughed Jim. “It’s fun. It’s a sort of game. Be a traffic inner and outer on our way home tonight. Give it a try.”
“Not, me,” I assured him. “You don’t gain one mile in 50, and you risk your life and you strain your car and you infuriate all the other people in the line. It isn’t so much the stopping and starting that gets me down, in that traffic jam as we near the city. It’s those traffic bounders that keep whizzing madly by you, on the wrong side of the road, and every time they have to nose back into traffic when they meet an up-comer, everybody else has to tramp on brakes, slack off and make way for them. One of these days, I’m just not going to make way for one of those babies, and we’ll see what happens.”
“You’re old-fashioned,” stated Jim. “All these views you hold about traffic only prove that you don’t belong to these times. The true son of the nineteen-thirties has no nerves at all with regard to traffic. If you are in tune with your time, you just don’t notice things like traffic bounders. You just sit easy and hop along with the jam as best you can. That’s the spirit of the times.”
“We’ll clear out of here,” I informed him, “at 2 p.m., right after lunch.”
“I decline,” said Jim. “I say we leave right after supper. It is only 115 miles. Even allow three hours for that little distance, we’ll be home shortly after dark.”
“Two p.m.,” I reiterated.
Coming Back Is Different
“Look,” said Jim, “let’s compromise. We’ll leave right after an early supper. We can have a swim at four and supper at five and be out of here before six. And then, instead of going home the main highway, we’ll take that back road that comes out through the west end.”
“It’s a gravel road,” I demurred. “Dusty.”
“It’s a swell big highway,” retorted Jim. “I know dozens of people around here who never go home any other road. A big wide gravel highway.”
“In an open car,” I pointed out, “we’d have grit in our teeth all the way.”
“They tell me,” said Jim, “that hardly anybody ever uses the road. It’s the best way to get home. Let’s do that. Let’s take the fullest advantage of our week-end by staying till evening and then take the back road home. Let the bounders have the smooth highway, we’ll take the happy road home.”
“I don’t care for experimenting,” I muttered, “but we’ll try it this once.”
So we had a pleasant snooze after lunch and then a swim at three, and the children couldn’t be found at 5.30 for supper, so we ate a few minutes past six. But it was still the fine shank of the evening when we loaded up our gear in the car and, waving fond farewells, wheeled out the Muskoka road and headed for the highway.
“What did I tell you?” I demanded, as we came in sight of the highway. Cars, like hurrying beetles, were zipping in unsteady streams southward. The evening was full of the weary roar of traffic.
“We only have about 20 miles of this,” said Jim, “and then we turn off on to the back road. Relax and take it easy.”
So I got to the right of the road and let the bounders bound. I held a comfortable 40 and let the fifties and sixties, with horns blasting and tires ripping and slithering on the far shoulder, race headlong past us.
“I bet those birds,” said Jim, “won’t be home half an hour ahead of us. They’re heading straight into the maelstrom. We’re going the lazy back way, and we’ll jog into town pleasantly aired, while they have completely lost all the good their week-end in Muskoka has done them. Nerve-wrecked, exhausted, jittery.”
It is funny the difference in tone and tune between going up to Muskoka and coming home from Muskoka. Going up, all is jolly and lively. When a man races past you, you smile to think how eagerly he goes to see his family. But coming home, there is no sense of the merry. It is just a lot of bad-tempered people selfishly struggling home.
“What a spirit,” I mused, “in which to end the Sabbath Day. It isn’t Sunday baseball games or Sunday tennis that the churches ought to be worrying about. It is this Sunday night traffic. Here are hundreds of thousands of people, all ugly, at war, angry and in no Christian spirit whatsoever, profaning the Sabbath more by their state of mind than all the baseball games imaginable.”
“The churches,” said Jim, “are practical. They can’t stop people motoring. But they can stop baseball games.”
And as we coasted along, a man stuck his head out of a passing car and shouted at me: “Put a nickel in it.”
And a little while later, another youth shouted as he passed:
“Which end does the concrete come out?”
“There you are, Jimmie,” I said bitterly. “There’s a Christian spirit for you.”
“Never mind,” consoled Jim, “in a few minutes we’ll be turning off on to the gravel.”
The Easy Road Home
A few miles south, we came to the town where the gravel highway goes one way and the concrete the other. Already the inpouring side-roads had filled the highway so that, even in this modest country town, there was a solid stream of cars necessitating frequent halts, slow grinds forward in low gear and more halts.
“Take the next turn to the right,” said Jim. “Then we’re away.”
But as we approached the fork, we saw that about half the cars were taking the gravel and half sticking to the pavement. Down the gravel road for miles hung a great dust cloud.
“Look,” I protested. “It’s jammed too.”
“Take it, take it,” commanded Jimmie before I could come to any decision. So I took it. With a slither and a bump, we were on the gravel and headed the back way home to Toronto. Ahead, cars fled away in yellow clouds, fencing around each other anxiously for front position. Hardly had we gone 50 yards before two cars with horns roaring slithered past us, sweeping up vast clouds of dust and flinging pebbles against our windshield.
“So,” I said, “we take the easy road home.”
“We just happened to get into a bunch,” explained Jim. “Wait a few minutes until this crowd get ahead.”
So I slackened speed and let the dust-flingers move farther out. But, one by one, fresh cars came rushing from behind, as if each driver hoped to get ahead of all the others and so escape the dust.
“This is going to be a dandy drive home,” I assured Jim. “We should have left at two p.m., as I advised.”
“It’s just a coincidence,” said Jimmie. “We have run into a bunch. People don’t like a dusty road like this. In a few minutes, there won’t be a car in sight, ahead or behind. You wait.”
So I slacked still more, and jogged along. But, whizzing and rattling, car after car came rushing from behind and, as far as I could see in the reverse mirror, cars were following.
“There aren’t any back roads any more in this world, Jim,” I informed him, “All roads are main roads.”
“Do you want to turn back and get on the pavement again, then?” demanded Jim.
“One’s as bad as the other at this time of night,” I informed him sadly. There was grit in our teeth already and the windshield had begun to go gray.
“Everybody told me this was a swell way to go home,” said Jim. “Maybe they meant earlier in the season before everybody got fed up with the jam on the main highway.”
I said nothing. I just took to the side of the road and held it at a nice 40, while with regular monotony cars from behind overtook us, blew their horns indignantly at my dust cloud and speeded furiously through, leaving a specially dirty dust cloud for me to hang in for two or three minutes.
“Nice, friendly people,” I remarked.
But now even Jim was silent, huddled down with lips set grimly against the dust and his eyes squinted.
“We’re overtaking somebody,” I informed him suddenly.
Ahead, through the dust, I could see a car, then several cars.
“Don’t tell me,” I protested, “that there is a jam on this road too.”
We came up in rear of a line of a dozen cars, all crowding and jostling close to each other.
“It’s a detour,” said Jim, who had stood up to look.
And it was a detour. Across the gravel highway barricades were set, fending us off to right and left, down traffic taking a narrow dirt road around a concession to the right, and up traffic apparently using a concession to the left.
“Well, sir,” I said happily, “if there is anything else to recommend this road, I wish you’d mention it right now.”
“How did I know it would be like this?” retorted Jim angrily.
“You didn’t know anything about it – that’s the trouble,” I informed him.
And slowly taking our turn, while behind us fresh cars came furiously and dustily to a surprised stop, we turned off on to the side road which was baked hard and full of ruts and bumps and hummocks of dead grass.
“What are they doing?” I shouted to the man minding the barricade.
“They’re improving it,” he called back politely.
“Oh, goodie,” I told him.
And as we lolloped and swayed and bumped along the narrow road with a slow and laboring string of cars ahead of us, I developed the theme.
“They’re improving this road,” I explained, “to relieve the main highway. They will pave it. So that instead of only one big traffic jam every Sunday night, you can choose between two big traffic jams.”
“In that case,” said Jim, “you’ll have to adapt yourself to the 20th century. You’ll have to modernize yourself.”
“I think I’ll give up motoring,” I announced. “Motoring is getting too vulgar. The high-class thing to do presently will be never to motor.”
“If you weren’t so silly about traffic,” said Jim, “we would have been spared all this bouncing around in the dust. We’d be somewhere outside the city limits right now, a couple of traffic bounders taking a little fun out of zig-zagging through the jam.”
“I much prefer this,” I said, even though we at the moment nearly crashed a spring in a hole in the dirt road, “to being in that main highway tangle. This may be a little rough and dusty, but it’s safe.”
And then a tire somewhere amongst us went bang and whined.
“Oh, ho,” I said, brightly, “some poor beggar has got a blow out.”
“It’s us,” advised Jim, hollowly.
And it was so.
“Pull as far off the road as you can,” said Jim. “We have to let traffic past somehow.”
So we came a few yards farther on, to a farm lane where we pulled out of the traffic and set the jack up on a wobbly turf and got all dusty taking off the spare and all greasy taking off the old one and all grass-stained putting on the new one and all wet with perspiration trying to release the jack so that it would come down.
And when we tried to get back out of the farmer’s lane into the road, it was getting dusk and everybody was grim and angry and tired so that we had to wait until about 30 cars passed before there was a slight gap in the traffic. And when we did pop out into the road, the man we popped ahead of was so indignant that he blasted his horn for 10 seconds at us and came up right against our back bumper and we could hear him yelling things at us, but we could not hear the words.
And the whole thing was in a lovely holiday mood and very unlike the Sabbath altogether.
Editor’s Notes: This was a time when people’s weekend did not start until afternoon on Saturday. Families with cottages would have the wife and children spend all summer at them, and the men would only come up for the very short weekends, and would be “summer bachelors” in the city during the week.
This story appeared in Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979).