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As host of the Rick Mercer Reporton CBC, comedian Rick Mercer roams the country partaking in quintessentially Canadian activities.
The 37-year-old Newfoundland native also rides in practically anything that moves, all the while wryly commenting on the day’s news and skewering a few politicians along the way.
He has driven a tundra buggy in Churchill, a Segway in Sudbury and a forklift in Niagara.
He has trained in an RCMP cruiser, ridden in former prime minister Jean ChrÃ©tien’s Lincoln Town Car and in an armoured vehicle in Afghanistan.
He has squished, along with Bif Naked, into Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell’s Smart, ridden a qamutik (a long wooden sled) on Frobisher Bay and a snowmobile with the Canadian Rangers.
He has been stuck in a minivan with Sheila Copps over frozen Great Slave Lake and wrecked a car in the Eastern Ontario Demolition Derby.
For a guy who doesn’t even own a car, he sure does a lot of driving â€” in a lot of very different vehicles.
Proving that car ownership is no prerequisite for an interesting driving history, Mercer answered a few questions about his experiences behind the wheel when I sat down with him recently in Toronto.
Q You do have a driver’s licence, right?
A I do have a driver’s licence, and it’s an Ontario one. But it originally started out as a Newfoundland one, then became a Nova Scotia one and then became an Ontario one.
And thank God there’s no test, it’s just transferred.
But I also have a motorcycle licence. In Newfoundland, you could get a motorcycle licence at 16 and your car licence at 17, so even if you weren’t into motorcycles, you had to get a motorcycle if you wanted to get home.
I grew up outside of St. John’s, I went to school in St. John’s, so I spent every day of my life from Kindergarten on, on the bloody yellow bus. So once you’ve reached 16, not having a motorcycle was not an option. So I drove a motorcycle for years.
Q When was the last time you drove a motorcycle?
A I just drove one this week, actually, with Neil Peart from Rush. Well, he was on his motorcycle and I was on a Vespa.
Q How do you usually get around Toronto?
A You know, I don’t have a car. I don’t drive right now. I live on the subway line and I’m pretty close to downtown.
Q Did you pass your driver’s test on the first try?
A Neither motorcycle nor car.
Q How many times did you have to try?
A Two, each. And obviously it had to be a conspiracy, although I did roll a stop sign. But I was convinced it was a taxation conspiracy, even at a very young age.
Because it was in the winter and that’s when things are slow, I thought if you go in the winter you’re going to have to do it twice â€” taxation. But in hindsight, I did roll the stop sign.
Q Who taught you to drive?
A For the motorcycle, I took a course, and for the car, my dad.
Q What type of car did you learn to drive in?
A My father had a succession of the worst cars on earth. He had a pickup truck, he would drive us to school sometimes, and he would have to tie a rope to his door and pass it over me and my brother and we would have to put it through the door handle and then he’d pull it over and tie a knot, because (otherwise) our door would fly open and he didn’t want us falling out.
And dad would only buy cars that he would pick up at auction, generally driven by (Newfoundland) Light & Power, so we had a lot of Gremlins. That’s what I learned to drive, a Gremlin.
Q What was the first car you ever bought?
A I bought a Mini Austin. My friend’s brother bought a Mini Austin … but his parents wouldn’t let him keep it ’cause they thought it was a death trap.
So I bought it. We drove it to my friend’s house because his brother restored Austins, and then it conked out and it wouldn’t start.
Eventually, I lost track of it, and so I actually lost it. I lost a car! I don’t know what happened to it ever. I’ve no idea.
I think I bought it for $300. They kept meaning to try to get it going and then I eventually lost it. Which is kind of typical of me; I tend to misplace things.
But misplacing a car?
Q Gearhead or not?
A How a car operates? Oh, no clue, even though I spent an insane amount of time holding the flashlight for my father. He loved the Gremlin because the engine was so easy. “Even an idiot can fix a Gremlin,” he always said â€” and, clearly, I’m an idiot because I couldn’t fix a Gremlin.
Q What has been your wildest ride so far?
A Well, the demolition derby was certainly a gigantic thrill.
Q Did it really hurt? After climbing out of your smashed-up car you said, “My everything hurts.”
A Everything hurt. Literally, the next day, everything hurt, for about 48 hours afterward.
But it was a huge thrill, I would do it again in a second. I could not believe how much fun it was. I mean aiming for another car, and intentionally hitting it, and knowing you’re allowed.
Q That first impact must have been jarring.
A Oh, I was terrified, but then I chased the guy who hit me and I hit him really hard. It was like Gladiator. It was the most fun I’ve ever had.
The tundra buggy was also a lot of fun because there were polar bears all over the place, which was just so spectacular.
The armoured vehicle in Afghanistan was fairly exciting, just because you’re driving down the streets of Kandahar and Kabul, and that’s a pretty heightened experience anyway, and you’re very thankful for the armour.
Q For a guy who doesn’t have a car …
A I’ve driven everything, for a guy who doesn’t drive. And once, I learned how to do the Rockford Files manoeuvre, the RCMP taught me: you know, you go backwards at 75 miles an hour, turn right and then a hard left as fast as you can. Well, now, I can do that.
I also drove that giant dump truck at the tar sands. The wheel â€” I came up to the bottom of the rim, it was so big. It’s like driving a six-storey house.
The only thing I haven’t driven is a car, just like a normal car. I haven’t taken a Toyota on the Don Valley Parkway yet.
Q Given the opportunity to slip behind the wheel of any vehicle, what would it be?
A You know, I really like those little Audi convertibles. And then I was on vacation one time and I rented one for a day, so I got that out of my system. I felt like I was in a Dick Tracy car because everyone was staring at me. I could barely fit my briefcase in the trunk and I remember thinking that would be a bit of an issue. I don’t have car fantasies. I mean, maybe when I was younger I certainly liked cool cars and stuff and was constantly mortified at what my father drove. And I’d always be like, “When I’m an adult, I will drive a late-model car.”
But now I suppose I could, but I just don’t.
But mostly that’s just because I literally go from my house to the CBC, and I’m fortunate enough to have a subway line.
Q NASCAR or not?
A No, but that’s on the list of things I’m going to do.
Q Finish this sentence: I’m a pretty good driver, but I have a bad habit of…
A I have a bad habit of going the wrong way. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t drive enough.
I have a terrible, terrible sense of direction.
I’m amazed that people can find where they’re going.
Q You need one of those dashboard compasses.
A I find that whole notion of the GPS system very attractive, and if I ever did buy a car, I’d need that in the front telling me to, “Turn left now, turn right now.”
My sense of direction is so bad that when I leave a hotel room, if my instinct is to turn left, there’s a greater than 60-per-cent chance that I should be going right.
It’s uncanny, I am wrong more than 50 per cent of the time. My instincts are that bad.
Q Any tickets or just haven’t been caught?
A When I had the motorcycle, when I was young: when you got four tickets, your licence would be suspended for the rest of the year.
That happened to me once. And then, every other year, it was right down to the wire.
But that’s the problem with motorcycles, they’re just so bloody fast, and I lived in the country, so you’re done.
Q On a road trip, whom would you most like to invite along?
A Oh, anyone who has the same interests as me because I tend to bore the hell out of people.
I’ll say, “Let’s talk about the Liberal leadership race for like the next two hours,” whereas most of my friends, their eyes’ll glaze over immediately. They’ll say, “I don’t care,” and that’s the end of the conversation.
How about… I’ll say Nelson Mandela.
Although I don’t know if the man can drive, he’s quite ill, but I’ll drive, he can sit next to me and just tell me his life story.