Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tales of the Better Way pt I

Gotta write more of these down. I do after all spend a massive amount of time on the Toronto Transit System.

I have to say, off the bat, that if there is one quality that people often attribute to me it is that I'm seldom surprised. Things that happen, good and bad, always seem pretty sensible to me because I try to see things in their natural context. A transit cop in Oakland shoots a restrained, non-violent dude in his butt and kills him, I think to myself he's either had a really bad day or he lost his mind for a moment. But the important thing to my mind is that in a world of 6 billion people, something like that is bound to happen somewhere at least once. Law of averages.

So when I am surprised I tend to spend a fair amount of time examining the assumption that left me looking like an ass.

I was on my way home from something or the other and had gotten on the 129 McCowan North bus from the Town Centre. The 85 bus that would take me home was already at the corner of McCowan and Sheppard when the 129 stopped at the light and the light wasn't going to wait. A few passengers ahead of me noticed it too and scampered across the intersection in the hopes that the driver wouldn't dash off as we rushed towards it. The driver went halfway into the intersection and opened the door saving us the frenzy and making the light. I'm sure stopping in the middle of an intersection is illegal, but we transit-riders couldn't care less. We all hopped aboard and made our way to the mostly empty seats.

It was in that moment that something that hadn't happened in the 18-some years that I've been taking the TTC happened. Somewhat winded from their brief exertion, the four people who got on the bus before me moved past the driver with ne'er a look or a word. And I did the same. Why wouldn't I? He was obviously concerned with making the light. My apathy was couched in the comforting convenience of consideration. In ignoring him, I was actually thinking of him. I walked by without a second's thought.

"You're welcome," came the deep voice from behind me, loud and distinct. It wasn't an angry voice, or a cynical voice or an insulted voice. It was a tired voice. A hurt and exhausted voice, as if this last oversight in decency was the last straw. The sound of that voice was so jarring to my ears that I stopped short and nearly did a double take. I paused in my step and stood where I was trying to process what just happened.

A million things went through my mind. A thousand bus rides with a thousand bus drivers along dozens of routes on hundreds of days in nearly twenty years. I thought of all the good drivers and bad, all the good rides and bad, all the good days and bad...and instantaneously a question formed in my mind. A question that I thought that I had answered utterly and completely long ago. A question that I assumed needed no further examination.

You care?

You care if we thank you? You care if you do something nice? You care if someone notices that you did something kind? Or if you did something cruel i.e. pulling away from the curb in the dead of winter when some old Filipino lady, bags in hand, is running as fast as she can to get on board your empty bus? What in my 20 years of riding buses could have convinced me that you care about being bus drivers?

It appeared that I had somehow stumbled upon the one bus driver in Toronto that actually cared about being a bus driver. Law of averages.

I turned and retraced the few steps to the front of the bus. I craned my neck around to get a look at him. He was a white guy, big and stocky, stubble-faced, possibly of Greek or Mediterranean ancestry. I got a good look at him, as if I were observing a unicorn or a passenger pigeon for the first and last time.

"Thank you," I said. He nodded in his gruff way.


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