Tag Archives: TTC Commute

The Very Best Humanity Has To Offer

I see people doing all sorts of things riding the subway:

  • People clipping their fingernails/toenails, often with clippers (sometimes without).
  • People fighting (usually men, and mostly with a lot of chest-beating, cussing and not all that many punches or kicks or jabs. Some food throwing, though).
  • People (usually but not exclusively couples) making out with each other, touching, groping, exchanging fluids, etc.
  • People eating outlandish food (by this I mean lidless bowls of soup or large, unwieldy sandwiches, and just today I saw a man eating from a neat pile of pistachios balanced on his crotch).
  • People sleeping, busking, crying, laughing (sometimes uproariously).

Also, this:

Three people huddled together though isolated from the rest of the riders, who backed away to give them much-needed space. A young woman with a grim-faced friend each kneeling on the floor on either side of her, an imperfect symmetry reminding me of a renaissance painting in form, composition and mood.

The woman was very sick, or extremely drunk (at a certain point, I think these states of being are rather indistinguishable, if not interchangeable). One of her friends held open a half-full plastic grocery bag under her face, which swung as the train swayed back on forth on the tracks.

The contents of the bag sloshed within, reeking and terrible.

The other friend had cupped his hands and remained in waiting, in case the woman vomited again and missed the grocery bag. His hands did the work of redirecting the flow to its proper place.

“She’ll be alright,” said the friend holding the bag. “We just need to get her home.”

The other friend said not a word, made no move to wipe up the mess in his hands.

The woman vomited again, into the hands, into the bag.

I admit. She did seem to look better after that particular volley, though I cannot say it was the same for the bag (or the hands).

They got off the subway at the next stop, the friend with the bag passing the bag to the friend with the formally cupped hands so that she could help the young woman up without getting too much vomit on her. It was a wordless exchange, and therefore wonderous.

I have no doubt they got her home.

I have no doubt they made sure she was OK before they left.

I have no doubt they remain friends still – or even if not, that it was not this incident that broke them apart.

Regardless, they will always have that perfect moment together, there in the subway.

They will always, at the very least, have that.

 

 

 

 

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The Quick and the Dead

“Books are dead!” proclaimed my guest, who wasn’t really a guest as a surprise visitor who came in with one of my actual guests. He was just that type, just the sort of person to do just that, just to give you an idea.

It is my fault for letting him in, I know. Though I do not take responsibility for his behaviour. That would be asking too much, I think. It would be expecting the whole world.

Books are dead!” he cried out again, after I faltered in my response, not knowing exactly what he was getting at (but also noting all the books we have weighing down the shelves and invading the little free spaces of our tiny apartment).

I read for work,” he continued. Incredible. There was an aura of self-induced triumph about him.

And that’s what made me think of the boy.

It was a Saturday morning and the subway car was, as usual, overcrowded – Stephen and I and quite a few others were jammed up close, near a young boy and his mother, who were seated but nonetheless closed in with the rest of us.

The mother sat by the window, the boy sat towards the aisle.

“Eee-er-rect? Ee-rect-a?” said the boy.

His mother ruefully shook her head, but did not discourage him. She smiled to herself and then at us as her son struggled with the ad hanging tantalizingly above our heads, its message as yet a mystery to his young mind.

“Dis-disfunct. Dis-func-sia-in,” he enunciated, carefully, loudly, heedlessly.

We waited. Stephen and I, the boy’s mother and the boy, and the half dozen people to our immediate left and right in that moment became a coterie, a clique, an inner circle facing out. The world be damned.

The boy continued: “E-rect-tile. Erectile! Dis…dysfunct-dysfunction!”

There was so much laughter threatening in that moment to break through. The boy’s mother congratulated him – sincerely, proudly – on his having mastered two very difficult words. Who would dare laugh then, and spoil everything?

And then the boy asked, pointing to the ad: “What is it?”

His mother looked at him. She looked at us. She looked out the window. “Ask your father,” she deadpanned.

So much laughter then, the boy’s merging with ours and I think, not because he understood his mother’s exquisite joke or deft delivery, but because, together, they had elicited a moment of joy out of the drudgery of the everyday. His mother laughed as she pulled him to her, beaming.

“Books are dead.” “I read for work.”

I guess what I’m saying is this:

I wish the boy and his mother had shown up at my house instead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Points of Convergence (Repertoire of a 6:00AM Commute)

There was a time when my morning commute meant a pre-dawn commute before the commute. It required taking a very early bus to the subway, to another bus, and then to a station where I met up with my Work Crew for what was then another 30-to-90-minute drive to site, wherever it happened to be that day.

***

The Very Early Bus arrived at around 6:00AM and the stop was about a 10-minute walk from my house.

Now. There was my Work Crew, whom I saw every day, and then there was my Commute Crew, with whom I also had a specialized relationship (they being the first faces of the new day, which placed my Work Crew in a close, yet distant second).

 

There was really no comparison:

 

  1. Leather Jacket Motorcycle Man. The jacket was of a rich, heavy leather. It had shoulder armour (impressive!) and fit him perfectly; less like a glove and more like a second skin. I never saw a motorcycle helmet. I never saw a motorcycle. Seemed unnecessary, maybe even over-the-top.
  2. The Old Timer. He must have lived close; his stop was only one away from mine. We could have been neighbours, though I never saw him in the street. He was quite, if not rather, elderly, perhaps even venerated.
  3. Army Gent. Over the weeks I watched him go from civvies and duffle bag to full-on uniform: beret, Canadian Flag patched prominently on his camo jacket; shining, immaculate boots. And duffle bag. He looked rather dashing, set. He smiled often, and not unkindly.
  4. Mr. Hard Hat. The yellow hat was sometimes worn on this man’s squarish head or on his heavy belt and sometimes it was nestled securely in his lap. He never took his gaze off the middle distance. His hours were probably as bad (if not worse) than mine. He sat tall, and primly, regardless.
  5. Lady Grey. She and The Old Timer were friends (or maybe neighbours – there’s a difference sometimes). She helped him off the bus. She reminded me of Tea Time. She carried a big shoulder bag looped over her small torso. Sometimes it appeared heavy and overloaded, as if it were full of bricks or hard drives. Other times, it was so empty it swung chaotically around her, like a siren. Maybe she kept tea in there? It seemed full of promises. She and The Old Timer sometimes talked animatedly (though quietly) with each other, but I didn’t ever catch a word of their conversation. Why spoil a good thing?

 

The Subway was usually empty at that hour, or it was full of people still clinging to or retreating back towards the last vestiges of sleep (including me). It was warmer, roomier, quieter there: you could be totally alone. It was easy. Can you blame us?

The Another Bus was not without its charm. For example: The Man With the Scruffy Dog He Kept Inside His Jacket. For example: The Woman Who Cut Her Fingernails At the Back of the Bus. For example: The Bad Hermit. But by that time of day, the riders were more diffuse, more varied. I never kept close track of them.

The Station had the Steel Drums Man. By then, it was about an hour into my morning commute to my commute (sometimes longer if traffic was bad). Whatever time I arrived, he was there, playing away on a set of steel drums in the vast corridor connecting the buses and the subway, near but not too close to the escalators leading to daylight. The perfect spot.

After a while I realized that he was playing the same set of songs every day, day after day. I realized then as I remain sure now that it could not have been otherwise: they were nice, and he was very good at them. He made them sing. 1) Seeing the Steel Drums Man and 2) hearing him play meant that 3) I had made it (for another day at least). One more day at least. No small feat, by any measure.

***

My commute before the commute went on for months, until there came a time when work was scarce and I was laid-off from the company for the winter. In the spring, I walked to take the Very Early Bus again.

The bus driver recognized me immediately.

“Where have you been?” he cried. Each word was almost its own sentence, its own question: Where. Have. You. Been?

It felt good, if not right (not really) to be there again, with my fellow pre-dawn commuters. Sometimes you don’t need all that much to count on, and the extras you do get don’t make up for anything but themselves.

I saw Motorcycle Man, The Old Timer, and Lady Grey, though there were a few new faces I didn’t recognize.

If anyone was missing, I’m sure they had their reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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