|Sunshine Sketches of Steeles Avenue
Henry turned left from the highway off-ramp and Petra pushed all the radio preset buttons from one to six. They went: commercial, classic rock, commercial, rap, pop, commercial. She gave up and went back to CD mode. It went: rock, rock, rock. She turned it down until the song became a faint buzzing noise and looked out the window as Henry's father's Toyota crossed the bridge over the highway. He used the highway to get to her new place and bring her back to her roots. She squinted and watched the red lights drift up past her eyelids and turn into shiny falling stars on the way down.
Steeles Avenue was beautiful at night. In the daytime traffic was too heavy. Rush hour was always just a symphony of honks. Driving becomes stop and go all the way to the boonies. All lane changes become unsignalled lane changes and yellow lights inspire drivers to test their luck with the traffic camera. They stomp the gas pedal and their necks jerk back like the whip start of a roller coaster. It brought out the worst in people during the daytime, but Steeles becomes clear as soon as all the commuters make it home in time to fall asleep to the local news. Henry liked driving on Steeles just before midnight, when the weather report would be on. The TV weather man seemed like a real asshole, so Henry didn't mind missing the forecast. It must suck to be a guy whose entire purpose in life can be ignored by looking outside.
“Remember when you almost killed me in this car?” Petra said.
“That never happened,” he said.
"Yes it did, it happened right at this Timmy's up ahead."
"I haven't the slightest idea of what you're talking about."
"You weren't paying attention, and the car in front of you was turning into the Timmy's."
"Nope, never happened."
"Yeah right. I remember it. You hit the brakes so hard and we all nearly died!"
"For the record," Henry said, "If I had just swerved, I probably would have been fine, while your side of the car would have still smashed into the truck in front of us."
Henry's car drove through the intersection at Victoria Park, which used to separate Scarborough from the rest of the Greater Toronto Area. Then, one day, Scarborough became part of Toronto. This change did not affect anyone living in Scarborough, unless they were government employees, who got new stationary to mark the occasion. Henry called Petra that day and they stole a pair of signs that said Welcome To Scarborough on them. They would have been taken down soon, and replaced with Welcome to Toronto signs. The population written on the first sign was 550,000, and the new sign says 2,300,000. "That's a lot of people moving into your city," Henry thought. There used to be a sign that said Welcome to Scarborough on Steeles Avenue too, right after Victoria Park, but now Steeles just separates Toronto from the rest of the Greater Toronto Area. The street is not an artery of the city, being so far removed from its Harbourfront heart, but calling it a capillary hardly captures the magnitude of the avenue. It is three lanes on both sides and is illuminated by semi-functioning streetlights and the suburban glow through kitchen windows and back porch. The night had started with the exchange that begins every night that Petra and Henry hang out. "So what are we doing?" she said, and he automatically replied, "I dunno what do you wanna do." So they went for 'coffee', which was code for 'nothing', and super-secret code for 'cigarettes'.
Henry turned into the parking lot. Petra already had a cigarette in her mouth as she peered through the windows at the crowd. The place was full. Most of the patrons were old Chinese couples, groups of high schoolers with math textbooks on their tables, and clusters of people from Henry's old high school outside, smoking in a semi-circle.
"You gotta wait 'til I park."
She said, "Oh shit, is that Robert?"
"Inside. Robert Alpin."
"Shit, it is."
Petra stuck her tongue out and made a face like she had just drank pure lemon juice out of a shot glass made of salt. "Let's go to a different Timmy's," she said. "This one's always too busy anyway."
They made a left at the lights and he punched it in the opposite direction. A Mazda skidded out of another strip mall parking lot behind them and took the right lane. The driver reached for the dashboard console and flicked on the green neon tube light hidden under his back bumper (they're illegal now, but only if you get caught with one). The hand was flashing on the pedestrian crosswalk ahead of both of them, so the Mazda accelerated, emitting a raucous noise and coughing exhaust out of the tailpipe. As that driver sped off, a Honda blurred past both of them in the middle lane, unimpressed with either of them. The feeling of unimpressiveness was mutual: Petra yelled "You're an asshole!" out her open window. Henry needed to get into the right lane so he tapped on the brakes. He was disappointed that he was doing ninety in the far left lane on Steeles, and passed nobody.
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