The academic year had once again been a disappointment for Matthew Lane. Like the previous one and the two before that, it had failed to live up to its early promise. It had not stimulated either his imagination or his creativity. His instructors were remote, their course material disappointing. Instead of the oases of inspiration he had hoped to find, he had had to cross the barren wastes of critical theory and grind out essays on subjects that did not engage him. In those days of relative affluence and possibility, many undergraduates took arts courses to “broaden themselves.” His friends, most of whom had known him since high school, joshed him for his impracticality. You go to university to make yourself employable, not to make life enjoyable. Stop daydreaming. Quit the highfalutin stuff about “finding yourself,” or “making a difference. They were all, of course, in engineering, accounting, or computer science, or were serving time in social science courses until they could enroll in law, medical, or business school. They pitied Matthew, who clearly didn’t put himself first, or understand the profit motive, had never studied a balance sheet, and stubbornly persisted in his belief in the value of the pursuit of truth and beauty, very little of which was in evidence at university. Lane was a dreamer, they said. He’d be left behind on the highway of life, one told him, end up as roadkill, or perhaps ‘lanekill.’
On top of this, he had yet to find a summer job. He scanned the bulletin board in Student Services in the administration building until his eye was caught by a poster seeking students over 21 to take part in a government-funded project as part of a Royal Commission’s inquiry into drug and alcohol impairment. It paid suspiciously well, albeit for only a week’s work, but they drove you to work and back, paid for your lunch and drinks, and you could claim academic credit for participating, the advertisement claimed, although it was not clear how this would be done. Successful applicants would be ‘guinea pigs’ for a study into the effects of drugs and alcohol on the ability of operators of machinery and motor vehicles to do their jobs. It would be outdoors in the sunshine. Matthew, interested since childhood in cars, was intrigued, and applied. Here was a chance to do something practical. A few weeks later, a taxi picked him up and drove him to the former Rockcliffe air base for an orientation session.