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Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 09.28.04
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

On the street where you wave

STANSTEAD, QC | Last week's paper reported that my town was going through "TRAFFIC HELL." A bit over the top, that. More like "traffic heck."

For nearly two weeks, traffic that normally rumbles down Autoroute 55 to the US border has been diverted through Stanstead while the province repairs the bridge over the Tomifobia River. It has turned Dufferin Street into a highway. Normally the street is… well, a highway.

Yeah, sure, Dufferin Street is actually Highway 143 but it's our highway. In other words, we ignore posted speed limits, make U-turns at will, jaywalk, and stand in the middle of the lane having animated discussions, sometimes with law-enforcement officers.

Like most Townships communities built on provincial roads, the people of Stanstead are accustomed to a fair bit of traffic. With the closing of the 55, however, traffic has at least quadrupled, including something like 800 trucks a day.

It's made quite a mess downtown where heavy vehicles have to maneuver the cramped four-way stop. But it's given locals something to do downtown besides watch businesses close.

Seeing all this traffic pass makes you wonder: Where are all those trucks headed? How dependent is our economy on the shipment of goods? And do truckers still have cool radio handles like "Bandit" and "Roadkill" and "Kitten"?

It also seems to me that for every three trucks that go into the United States, only one comes out. What happens to the other two? Do they just stay, the drivers lured by the promise of better lives and extreme makeovers?

These are the things people (i.e. me) think about when their routine is suddenly turned topsy-turvy. All of a sudden, what we took for granted - for instance, only partially fearing for our lives when we cross the street - isn't there any more.

I think the toughest impact this increased traffic volume is having on the locals is we aren't sure who to wave to. I first noticed this phenomenon when I moved to Stanstead twelve years ago: people wave at everyone - coworkers, acquaintances, the clerk at the dépanneur, the UPS driver. Going for frequent walks in Stanstead can result in carpal tunnel syndrome.

There's a special technique to waving. You eyeball the car coming towards you, check for colour, make, and distinguishing characteristics (the license plate that reads "Mom's Taxi" or "Honk if You've Received Sponsorship Scandal Money").

You prepare your wave, which is dependent on the level of friendliness. Will it be the big-armed "Look, I'm being ironically magnanimous" wave? The casual raise of the hand as if to say "I acknowledge you but I'm not lending you money"? The head-nod, which could mean either "I'm still mad about you shooting my dog" or "My arms are full"?

But with all this traffic, you can't be sure if it's your friend heading towards you or some couple from Milwaukee in a similar make car. Your hand goes up to wave, then stops in mid-air when you see a strange face, and you casually pretend to fix your hair. And the tourists from Milwaukee think, "Gee, they're a jumpy lot in Stanstead."

Secretly, though, I think we're thrilled by the ruckus. We may grumble but we actually like breaks in the routine. That's the beauty of small-town life.

We notice which tree has fallen in the wind, which new construction is being built, which person is out on parole. I, for one, have spent considerable time standing around holes watching town workers fix broken water lines to someone's house.

Part of me is fascinated by what's under the streets where I live. Another part of me is thinking "Thank God that's not my house."

Already, we're getting used to the trucks. They're becoming routine. On the bright side, lots of people will get to see our beautiful town. Maybe some will decide to stay. We'll get to know them. And then we'll have even more people to wave to.

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