Tuesday, September 02, 2008

flat tire department

The Chatham-Kent stretch of 401 is one of the most heavily-policed stretches of the highway. A flat landscape and lack of visual distractions make it ripe territory for leadfootitis (though I have never been stopped along this stretch). Even the overpasses bear the mark of the OPP, through a number of bridges named after fallen officers.
The heavy OPP presence comes in handy when things go wrong with your vehicle, as I experienced while driving down to Amherstburg Friday night. Fog settled in west of London but my fellow drivers took note of the conditions and drove carefully. Around Ridgetown I felt the back tires sliding a bit, which I initially chalked up to moisture on the road. Just as I passed the exit for Highway 40, the sluggish ride turned into a bumpy one.

Hello flat tire.

I noticed flashing police lights on the horizon. I tried to drive on the shoulder towards them, until the thumping grew too loud. I quickly realized I had left my cell phone in Toronto, so I figured I'd walk ahead to the lights. As soon as I hopped out of the car, a police cruiser pulled up behind me. The officer noticed my erratic drive along the shoulder and jokingly asked if I was trying to stash away open booze. I explained the situation and the officer promptly called CAA, though they were placed on hold for an eternity before connecting with an operator.

We chatted while waiting for assistance, leaning against the highway railing. When I mentioned my destination, they indicated that the Hell's Angels were having a party in A'burg over the weekend for a minor anniversary. Both of us noted the imminent closure of the service centres near West Lorne for renovations and the problems this may cause for tired drivers and truckers - as of today, the furthest west one will find a fully-operating service is Ingersoll thanks to closure of the stop at Tilbury. Few facilities exist immediately off 401 between Windsor and London without going on at least a 10-15 minute drive (eastbound, limited facilities have been set up at Tilbury, while Dutton is scheduled to close for renovations at the end of September).

Not that the West Lorne/Dutton centres weren't overdue for a remodelling, as they were among the first to switch from cafeteria-style services to fast food chains back in the 1980s. My parents grumbled about the quality of the old cafeterias, with Shell's 1867 locations in Tilbury and Dutton getting the worst marks (something about stinky people in line and dodgy food). We usually brought lunch on childhood trips to Toronto, stopping at the picnic area at the Ingersoll service centre to eat our goodies.

The first officer left after 20-30 minutes and another took their place. The new cruiser's headlights provided enough light to read a newspaper. Within 20 minutes a tower arrived, put on the spare tire and I drove back into the fog, which thickened as I continued westward.

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