Bad info from the other superhighway

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Suppose the four-laned split highways - like Ontario's 401 - that criss-cross much of southern Canada are fast-moving rivers that suck cars and trucks like driftwood logs into their irresistible currents and rush them through the countryside at a breathless pace. Then the frequent gas bar/truck stops, like the one just outside of Kingston, are like quiet eddies where drivers can take advantage of the calm waters to jump off their logs and enjoy a few peaceful, frenzy-free moments.
If only they were that alone, and nothing more. Unfortunately, those truck stops, like any eddy, can catch and hold a morsel of waste until it rots and stinks.
When you're on the highway, keeping up with all the other cars and trucks while speeding along at an average of 15 to 25 kilometres per hour over the posted limit, there is hardly any world but the river. There's nothing to see but the striped pavement, nothing to do but pay attention to all the other pieces of flotsam around you, just in case one of them drifts into a dangerous place or catches on some kind of obstruction, wreaking havoc from one side of the stream to the other and bringing your journey to a quick and violent end.
The superhighways are simple worlds, run by simple rules, many of which are spelled out along the way for the drivers' convenience: slow traffic keep right; seatbelts are mandatory; speed limit maximum 100.
Most of the rules are written down as laws, but not actually posted. Drivers are supposed to know them off by heart: don't tailgate; signal when changing lanes or turning off the highway; don't pass on the right; don't drink and drive (it's just stupid and it makes you stupider). Some of the rules aren't quite laws, but they are still written down somewhere (and sometimes sung): don't blind other drivers with your high beams; drive courteously; keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.
There are many such rules, written and recommended, but they all have to do in some way with driving. They take no interest and demand no attention, or forbid it, to anything outside of that narrow field of jurisdiction. Everything else is a free-for-all.
Those who travel the highway are granted an anonymity as mere faces of strangers behind windscreens. On the highway, that anonymity is cocooned inside the vehicle and any malicious use of it is confined to making rude gestures of various kinds at people in other cars.
However, where the highway currents eddy, some terribly misguided people use their anonymity as a licence not just to express their opinions with one body part or another, but to make racist attacks of the vilest sort - if any kind of racism can be less vile than another.
In amongst a number of pleas
for companionship, a debate in pen-scrawled handwriting was raging on the walls of the bathroom stalls at the truck stop. The toilet was a fitting place for it, with one race pitted against another and against a third and fourth - then targeted in return. Insults and condemnations were being traded back and forth - one responding to the other with the same degrading and dehumanizing statements.
In this debate, all sides were equally contemptible, equally offensive, writing things that do not bear repeating.
Fortunately, the people who manage and work at the truck stops are not of the highway world. They do not recognize the licence of anonymity and are as disgusted by the debate as the one who reports it, moving quickly to have the filth scrubbed from their walls.
Anonymous hate is not free speech. It may be useful to be reminded that such a thing exists in Canada, so reasonable citizens can be on their guard against it and the harm it causes.
But it's a foul-smelling lesson, to be sure.

Michael Johansen is in travel mode. For the next few months, he'll be writing from everywhere between Labrador and Vancouver Island and Tierra del Fuego.

Geographic location: Ontario, Southern Canada, Kingston Canada Labrador Vancouver Island Tierra del Fuego

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