Johnny reminds me of the Howrah Bridge at my place of birth, India.

Don’t know who Johnny is, do you? It’s the Jacques Cartier Bridge which staples Montreal to Longueuil in the South Shore. Jacques -> Jack -> John -> Johnny, see? I love naming things, even people, by association. For example I started calling my colleague, Olivier Savoie – Larry (from Lawrence Olivier). Then when I got sick of that, I began calling him ‘Curly’ (Larry, Moe and Curly Joe, remember?). I was thinking of a further name change when I began noticing that Olivier wasn’t finding it funny anymore, so I stopped.

 

Johnny is a five lane bridge that has the same constant booming reverberation coursing through it at peak hours, like the Howrah Bridge does, except that Johnny doesn’t have tram lines passing through the middle. Early mornings, Johnny has two lanes outbound and three inbound as the traffic is far heavier inbound – folk getting to for work in the downtown core of the city.

 

If you promise not to laugh, I’ll confess something – before I moved to Canada I had a vague idea that downtown meant an area that was deeper in the ground than the rest of the city. And as coincidence would have it, Montreal’s Chinatown is in the downtown and I wondered if maybe Chinese immigrants found it a lot easier to simply dig their way into Canada through downtown Montreal as it was closer to China, if one tunneled through the earth and somehow managed to get through the solid nickel core.

 

I know what you’re thinking – I am stupid for thinking that downtown is really down. Remember, even Galileo was called stupid by the Pope. Copernicus was named an imbecile and Einstein even looked like a stupid, morose spaniel. Don’t judge me by my gobber.

 

There is another difference Johnny has, from the Howrah – it has a bend in it. Yeah, the bridge actually bends as it crosses the St Lawrence. It’s like as if those alimentary canal-ends who were building Johnny, suddenly realized they were going at a slant. 

 

Maybe the Chief Engineer was a guy named Fukavee. Midstream, he must have realized that if the building continued in a straight line, Johnny would probably hit the opposite shore at Quebec City, several hundred miles downstream. He must have scratched his head and exclaimed,” Where the fukavee?’

 

That difference, the bend in Johnny, totalled Bunty, the Honda Civic I have been driving for the past five years. I always name objects I own because, in their own way, they try to make my life easy and deserve recognition. My Corolla is Bertha. I didn’t name them Shalini and Malini or Eena and Meena or Anju and Manju because I feel thoroughly integrated into Western society and therefore gave them western names. I am myself known as Archie among my friends and colleagues over here.

 

I was in the inner outbound lane, heading out to work, building dependable jet engines, minding my own bizness, squarely in my lane doing fifty, which is the speed limit. I was a model driver that morning. Headlights were rushing past in the opposite direction at dizzying speed as idiots tried to reach work in time.

It happened in a flash. An inbound purple Porsche jumped lanes and crashed into another car which in turn rammed into my driver side. The two doors caved in, the driver’s door reaching almost the far end of the steering wheel. I always like having my seat pushed far back so that I am actually next to the door frame, which is a sturdy part of the car’s skeleton structure and that didn’t cave in, saving my life. Quite inexplicably, all that the bloody Porche suffered was a bent fender.

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I thought you might like to see a diagram of the crash and here it is. The purple Porsche is the alimentary canal-end who started it all. I was slammed against the parapet wall, Bunty jumping at least six feet up in the air. Thank God she ricocheted back and didn’t go over. Crashing into thin -10°C ice that covers the St. Lawrence is not my idea of ways to spend early March mornings.

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The long and short of it is that Bunty was unrecognizable, a smoking tangle of steel and rubber. Her girdle (the doorframe) and her bra-straps (seatbelt) had left me untouched. After she bounced back from the bridge parapet, I am certain I heard a sigh and a sort of klang as if a bucket was being kicked but then I might have been imagining things. In the aftermath, my insurers tried hard to lay the blame on me even though it was me who got slammed around by the Porsche.

In insurance jargon this is called liability, an aspect of a crash that decides who is responsible and will have his future premiums tripled on account of his culpability. If the insurer fixes liability on you, you can forget the vacation you were planning in summer and allocate the funds in paying future premiums.

I recall India being so different, at least when I was around. The insurance business was not open to the private sector. The insurers were massive government-owned corporations that were just standing there, bending over with their underwear around their ankles, while a juggernaut of car owners and insurance agents embellished damage reports and deflowered them repeatedly. If all that happened was a headlight cover that was damaged, the agent’s report showed complete engine failure needing replacement.

In India, if I wanted to have my car souped up with monster wheels, I didn’t just drive over to the mechanic. I went to my friendly neighborhood insurance agent who then created an accident mayhem scenario for me to claim. The agent walked away with a couple of grand, the mechanic made thousands from the soup-up process and I drove away in a brand new car.

Here in the west, the sodomy works in the other direction. Here, you and I, the poor drivers might as well not wear any jocks. If you don’t watch it, the accident will be tied round your neck. As of now, twennie days after the crash, I am still fighting to get the liability decision reversed. Bunty, may the Lord rest her soul, is in a junkyard. Meanwhile I have to get myself a car. I heard there is a purple Porsche with a slightly bent fender, up for sale, it’s owner a young blonde divorcee, an lonely heiress who doesn’t care.

Whoever said a 60-year old can’t do two birds with one stone?