Friday, September 28, 2007
Life in a northern town
Lancaster, Ontario, August 2007 [Click to embiggen]
The scene: Highway 401, just after we've crossed into Ontario on our way home from Montreal. I'm tooling along in the left lane, listening to tunes and calculating how much longer it'll take for us to get home. Suddenly, I notice something funny on the dashboard: a blinking light. And not just any blinking light: a blinking engine light. Uh oh.
I calmly ask Debbie to look it up in the owner's manual, because a blinking engine light is something I've never experienced in my kajillion years of accident-and-ticket-free driving. She quickly fetches the book from the glove compartment while thoughts of warranty claims, rental cars and hydraulic lifts fill my mind. It's the emissions control system, she reports. The car is drivable, according to the manual, but they recommend you get it serviced. Well, duh!
The ominous rumbling coming up through the steering wheel suggests the manual may have gotten it wrong. I pull into a rest stop, hoping it's a spurious code. When we get going again, it's still blinking. The wondervan accelerates like an early-'80s Lada and I know we've got a problem.
We limp to the next exit and happen upon a small garage beside the rail crossing in a small town known as Lancaster. It's approaching closing time on a Friday, but the owner and his mechanic do whatever it takes to diagnose the problem, get the part ordered (a cylinder coil pack), argue with the warranty company and ultimately get us back on the road. While they're at it, they entertain our kids and even allow the dog to roam free in the checkerboard-tiled waiting room. The owner even invites us to stay with his family if they can't get it fixed. It's the kind of attention we simply wouldn't have gotten had this happened in a larger city, and we're pleasantly blown away by the generosity of spirit here.
In the end, the van is fixed as the shadows begin to creep across the main street of this welcoming town. We stop off at the Dairy Queen down the road before we get back on the highway. It's a lesson in life that we won't soon forget, and I think this quiet place of gentle souls will become a regular stop on future trips back to our hometown.
Your turn: Why small towns matter. Please discuss.
About this picture: These are the telephone/power poles that line the railroad tracks beside the garage. We watched countless freight and passenger trains speed through town while we were there. It was a big deal to our kids, and they watched with wide eyes and blocked ears as the ground shook with their passage. Town residents, on the other hand, found it all routine. Just before we headed back out on the road, I took my camera to the tracks and captured this early evening scene. I wish I lived closer to this place so I could spend more time soaking it in.