When Everyone's Asleep

Almost twenty ago, when it was possible to get by on three hours of sleep before working a 12-hour shift, I would often go for a drive late at night in order to step away from the computer and clear my head. This was back when I still lived in Hamilton and worked at an appliance repair place in town. The days would be spent at the day job, and the evenings would be spent playing Age of Empires or writing software for Palm handhelds. By midnight I would be tired of looking at a screen, sore from a lack of movement, and generally bored of being at home. So, having no other commitments, I'd choose an elaborate driving route to get a cup of coffee from a Tim Horton's somewhere within a 60km radius.

Late Night Drive

My favourite route would involve driving from my apartment to a nearby highway, heading north to Oakville some 35km away, buying a large two-cream, no sugar coffee for $1.75, then driving right back to Hamilton. If I was thinking through a problem or otherwise uninterested in sleep, I'd stay on the QEW1, sometimes travelling another 30km to the suburban cities of Beamsville or beyond. If I wasn't already on my way back home by 2:00am, I'd find a place to turn around and head home, knowing that I'd need to be in bed by 3 in the morning if I wanted to be back to work by 7:30 to open the shop and get things ready. These night drives were incredibly relaxing given that the vehicle I drove at the time didn't have a working stereo. With just the sound of the engine and the tires on the pavement, the mind was free to process the stresses of the day, or think through some programming problem, or wander off to some other place as the world went by2.

The drive, while terribly wasteful in terms of money and pollution, was quite therapeutic. No matter how much stress I might have felt at the start of the journey, the anxieties and pressures were always reduced by the end of the trip. This, in addition to being just 20 or so at the time, is most likely what made the power naps until sunrise possible.

In Japan these sorts of drives can be attempted, but they're nowhere near as enjoyable. Highways in this country have too many red lights. The only way to escape the endless stop-and-go is to use some of the toll expressways that cost about $0.50 per kilometre. The trips in my youth could see me on the roads for two or three hours. That would translate into a $60 joyride in Japan … or a 45km journey that involved 90 minutes of waiting for a light to change. Instead what I do now when it's time to unwind and everyone's asleep is read a book or play a quick game of 囲碁3 against a computer. It doesn't get me out of the house, but it works just as well.

  1. The Queen Elizabeth Way, a rather wide highway that goes from Niagara Falls to Toronto and beyond.

  2. I always paid enough attention to the road, given that the average speed on a Canadian highway is anywhere between 110km and 120km per hour.

  3. Igo (or go), the classic Asian strategy game.