When we moved from Toronto to Newfoundland almost three years ago, we thought we no longer had to worry about dodging bullets. Did we leave the city and all its perils behind only to find similar dangers in outport Newfoundland?
Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers produced a beautiful song called “Saltwater Joys.” One of the stanzas goes, “Some go to where the buildings reach to meet the clouds, where warm and gentle people turn to swarming, faceless crowds…”
Part of the culture shock of moving to the Great Northern Peninsula has been adjusting to the ‘faces’ of rural Newfoundland. People in these communities expect to be recognized and acknowledged. Everybody knows everybody’s business. Not so in the cities, where the swarming, faceless crowds are the norm. For instance, in the three years we lived in Toronto we were very careful not to look at other drivers, because Toronto drivers have been shot for doing that kind of thing. Eye contact is to be avoided if at all possible. A city driver—especially in Toronto—cultivates a certain detachment from other traffic; he or she is intent on only one thing, getting to his or her destination alive and as fast as possible. Likewise, a pedestrian doesn’t engage anyone in conversation on the streets or in the malls because chances are, he or she will either be asked for a handout or ignored.
When we first moved to Northern Newfoundland, people were a little upset when I passed them on the road or in the mall without so much as a wave or a hello. I might as well apologize now because it’s probably going to happen again. Most of the time my mind is set at full-throttle, mentally ticking off the next item on my to-do list. I have no sense of direction either, so I might be ignoring you because I took a wrong turn and I’m lost.
The first time my daughter and I ventured out to the store in Raleigh–just 10 kilometers away–we got lost. You laugh? On the way to Raleigh, we noted the narrow, pot-hole roads; the 60 km/h speed limit and the fields and marshes; but on the way home, the scenery changed. In the interval between our arrival at, and departure from, the corner store, the speed limit had mysteriously gone from 60 to 70 km/h; a bridge appeared out of nowhere and, finally, we passed a sign that indicated Pistolet Bay Park was one kilometer ahead, and that’s when we realized we weren’t traveling to Ship Cove.
If you understand my ignorance of the customs and culture of this area, it might help you better understand the tourists that will be flocking to Northern Newfoundland come summer.
I’ve learned if I’m driving behind a local driver and he suddenly veers to the side of the road, chances are he’s letting me pass because he’s driving too slowly, or he might be scoping out someone’s pile of wood, or he might have spotted a moose along the edge of the woods and wants a better look. I’ve also learned that if a truck is following at high speed and the driver is flashing his lights, chances are he’s trying to stop me to ask me something. It’s all trial and error, but mostly error, I admit.
Not so very long ago, round about six o’clock of an evening, three of us were driving along a local road, radio on, when we spotted a vehicle up ahead with brake lights on, moving ever so slowly. I figured the driver had spotted a moose and had slowed down to have a look. I cruised up behind him, waiting for him to move off the center of the road so I could pass. Meanwhile, I was scanning the bushes on the passing side of the road to see if I could spot whatever it was he was looking at. The vehicle moved to the right and I passed. Suddenly my daughter gasped, “He fired a gun just before we passed!”
“He did what!” I cried.
“He stuck a gun through the window and fired into the bushes, right across the lane, just before we passed,” she said. “I saw the barrel and I heard the pop.”
“You mean we could have been shot?” I asked.
It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, at least, not yet. And, please don’t shoot me! I’m still learning!