Most of my father's relatives live in the Hamilton area, but every time we visit, it takes a few tries before we figure out where the heck we're going. Over twenty-five years, I think we had to have a dozen relatives come get us because we could never remember where Uncle Tony's farm was.
You know the kind of directions local people give: "Turn left at the little bridge, there'll be a fork in the road, take the left fork, then turn right at the first gravel road you see."
Poor Hamilton's track record was already poor in my husband's opinion. During the NHL lockout we attended an outdoor charity NHL game at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium. With all the one-way streets and roundabouts, we finally stumbled on the stadium in a shower of sleet and sloppy snow. Hubby was not amused. He sat under a plastic poncho (we paid $5.00 for something we could have bought for a buck in a dollar store) for three hours, watching a bunch of wet and miserable NHL players a mile away in the middle of a football field.
Yesterday we were supposed to gather with the rest of the clan for the annual Cormier picnic at a conservation area. We had gone last year, so at least we knew where it was. However, in spite of the clear blue sky in Newmarket, I received a phone call yesterday that the picnic was canceled because of the possibility of thunderstorms in the Niagara region.
We laid aside our plan to make fried chicken and bean salad, and instead prepared to meet my father, sister and brother with their spouses at a motel in Hamilton for an afternoon visit and dinner out.
We left a little late -- the kids wanted to pack enough electronic paraphernalia to entertain a Boy Scout troop, although the only other child would be my eight-year-old niece.
I had diligently copied my stepmom's detailed directions to the motel and printed out Google Map instructions as well, but in my rush to leave, I left the handwritten note with the phone number on the coffee table, thinking the Google instructions would suffice.
We decided to take the toll highway and almost missed the exit. Hubby crossed four lanes of sparse traffic to hit the ramp for the 403, and we continued through steadily darkening skies. When we approached Hamilton, the clouds opened and poured buckets of rain on us. Traffic slowed to 40 km/hr and we followed a red 4x4, the only vehicle visible in the muck. I had to squint through the side window to see the exit sign, but we found Main Street West.
It's a one way street with five lanes. We drove through the downtown area in the middle lane, but cars in the far left lane plowed through six inch deep puddles, sending a mini tsunami onto the sidewalk. At one point, a lady huddled under an umbrella and watched in horror as an arc of solid water rushed toward her. I could see her whole body flinch, but the offending car thankfully slowed just before reaching her, so she was spared the Bridget Jones treatment.
We kept going through the deluge, but it seemed we were on Main St. West an awfully long time, then it turned into Main St. East. The rain eased and we peered at buildings that appeared more and more disheveled, with rusty fire escapes and boarded up storefronts.
"Dad couldn't have taken a room here. It's not like him." My dad always chose neat and tidy accommodations when they visited Ontario. This area was definitely not on the tidy side.
I pulled out the map of Hamilton and peered at impossible small printing to find out where we were, but nothing looked familiar. After turning around twice and more than a little swearing, my husband pulled into a parking lot, got out of the car and stomped into a convenience store to ASK FOR DIRECTIONS WITHOUT BEING TOLD. I was so proud of him.
He came back and said, "We're going the wrong way." We searched for landmarks on the map and discovered we were actually in the east end of Hamilton, not the west. "I hate this %$#@ town," he muttered as we meandered through four one-way streets before finally heading in the right direction.
We arrived an hour late, frazzled and silent, to a tiny motel room crammed with happy relatives. After a beer and a wholesome dinner at Boston Pizza, we felt better.
When the evening ended, we found Highway 403 in five minutes flat.