I got back to the office today and all anybody wanted to know was: "How did you like the Grand Prix?"
I told them it was fine, I was glad Lewis Hamilton had won but that it had been a very trying time because everybody there just seemed to be going through the motions. There was none (or very little) of the joie de vivre that one normally experiences in Montreal at Grand Prix time.
The demonstrations have taken a serious toll on the city and the people.
At 6 o'clock last Saturday night, most of the stores along St. Catherine St. were closed. Thousands of people were on the sidewalks but hardly anybody was smiling. They were listening for the whistles - the signal that marchers were coming.
At the corners of Peel and Crescent streets, which were closed for street celebrations, dozens of police milled about. Down the street, toward Blvd. Rene-Levesque, a couple of dozen riot police were helmeted and ready to go.
I was doing a video shoot in the doorway of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel and suddenly a manager came along and asked us to quickly move inside because they had to lock the doors. "The police say the protesters are coming," he said. It turned out that a protest parade had approached but marchers suddenly turned and went off in a direction away from the hotel.
I went into a restaurant I've frequented since the Sixties and the proprietor said his business is off 30 per cent. "Nobody comes in for a meal any more," he said. "People come downtown but they don't want to be caught inside if there's a march and the p0lice close down the street and make them stay inside. So they don't come in to begin with."
It's like the energy was sucked out of the place and they could hardly wait to get the Grand Prix over with.
People going to the race on Sunday met police every step of the way. Yes, in one way it was reassuring, but in another it was way too disturbing.
So what to do?
This is a column about auto racing but I will discuss some politics here.
The protests started over tuition fee increases scheduled for the fall. Everybody with a bone to pick with the government of Quebec or society in general has since joined in but the tuition fees are at the core.
So Premier Jean Charest must call an election and schedule it for the middle of September after school has started. That way, the fee increases would be postponed - albeit temporarily, but postponed nonetheless - and schools could begin to operate.
And then, if he wins big, he could try to once again find a solution but be able to do so from a position of new strength. If he loses, somebody else can try to solve it but at least the people will have spoken.
Right now, it's a mess and it can't go on much longer.