NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 8 )
No one, and I do mean no one, jay walks for pleasure in Montreal unless your drunk or have a death wish. The traffic had not only turned up a notch since entering Quebec, but was downright scary. I was entering a 100 k/hr gridlock with nobody getting anywhere. Those who think war is dangerous have not experienced rush hour traffic, Quebec style. Montreal is a city of two million stressed-out people who daily use its road system as a huge pressure valve. All driving is done at top speed and bumper to bumper. Traffic lights are excuses for drag racing and on no account are traffic cops to be minded. I had timed my arrival to miss rush hour, but rush hour North American-style means twenty-four hours, and Montreal is no exception.
Picture a snail underfoot, then see life through its eyes, and you get a glimpse of my paranoia. They don't take prisoners in Quebec. You can throw the rule book out of the window when you enter a freeway. The only firm rules are that trucks have the right of way and cycles are illegal. Speed signs are jokes and 'ARRET' means only the time it takes to read it. I was being pushed into the traffic by a concrete barrier and with neither a hard shoulder hug or a side walk to escape on, I was courting disaster
One kilometer into my nightmare, my nerves were shredded. Abuse was coming thick and fast.
A down changing gear, a blast of noise and suddenly I was caught in a whirlpool of wind and shadow. I scraped the concrete barrier. A mirror snapped. The air was full of diesel and the noise deafening. I saw eight huge wheels pass, then my maker, then the sky. I'd had enough. I got off the rickshaw. Retraced my route all the way back to the slip-way. Exited the freeway and did what I should have done long ago; bought a street map.
St. Catherine Street has the reputation of being one of the gayest and wickedest stretches of real estate in Canada. It's a place where God and the Devil meet on equal footing. Where religious houses of worship compete on a daily basis for custom on one side of the street with XXX movie theatres on the other. Traffic down St. Catherine's was a 20 k/hr nightmare of automobile window shopping with nobody getting anywhere fast and its side walks were endless matches of pushing and shoving. I was heading for the corner of St. Catherine's and Atwater. I was on a pilgrimage which no self-respecting hockey enthusiast could pass up before leaving Montreal. I was on my way to visit the Forum. While some countries have gone to war over such trivial matters of land, food and shelter, Quebecers take to the trenches every Saturday to watch their heroes, Les Canadiens, carry their flag of pride onto the ice to do battle. The Forum had an atmosphere all its own. Pictures of past heroes look down at you from every wall and banners hang from the roof like a much-decorated soldier. To understand Quebec's psyche you have to understand the Forum's shrine-like importance. Hockey is just not a sport in Quebec, but a collective expression of pride. North America is inhabited by over 260 million English speaking people and Quebec with its six million Francophones doesn't even qualify for the status as junior partner, but its hockey club gives it a continental platform par excellence. Once a year millions of North Americans tune into the Stanley Cup Finals and more often than not Les Canadiens are front and centre. Ask anyone south of the border, "Who is the Canadian Prime Minister?" and you will be met by a blank expression. But ask anyone from the cities of Boston, New York, Detroit or Chicago who is Guy Lafleur, Rocket Richard or Guy Charboneau, and you will get an answer five times out of ten.