Get On The Go


525, 526, 528, 537…

Every morning I squint, my eyes tearing up as I catch the number high on the passing green-gray locomotive, its bulk carving a path into the station, driving a column of frigid air. 7:33 AM. The world’s largest piston has arrived and I allow myself to be pushed, pulled and jostled into one of its open doorways. Friday January 21st. Temperature: cold. Temperature with windchill: colder still. Inside, glad to have a 30 minute respite from the icy wind, I remove my hood and walk upstairs, scanning the seats I pass.

“Too crowded”
“Too messy”
“Stuff’s all over the place – obvious they want the block to themselves”

There’s no active decision-making on my part any longer. I’m surprised and force consciousness to the fore, mentally cataloging my choices and their cause. Today I take an aisle seat facing east on the upper level; it’s the only 4-block with a single occupant. I sit quickly – no eye contact is made.


Reactions vary. You get boredom, nothingness, a tinge of proprietership or the red-veined look of a sleeper just awakened by the plastic scrape of your coat. And occasionally you’ll catch a flash of alarm – so quick you’ll question its existence – wonder if it’s an artifact of a mind that needs to ascribe something more than apathy to fellow commuters. It’s easier to handle the look when you’re firmly ensconced in your seat. I sit. Observe my unwilling companion. She bites a cookie. Probably wishes she had all 4 seats to herself. It’s time to pull out the books.

The morning ride offers ample opportunity for activity. Sleep, talk, read, eat, listen. Your options are limited by the constraint against motion, but that’s a burden easily borne. I start by fleshing out a list of activities I’ll have to do after work. Walk to the camera stores – buy the lens cleaners. Stop by the Eatons Centre. Fill the gas. Deposit my checks. Drop off the family’s library material. The list goes on and on and soon I pause, pen hovering uncertainly above the sheet as I realize I have nothing left to write. I put my material away; contemplate reading a book. Decide against it. Today I’ll observe.

My companion’s clad in a tan-colored full-length jacket and its clean lines play a marked contrast to my chemical-treated, base-colored, plastic-sounding jacket. I finger the seams on my coat absent-mindedly; remind myself to purchase a 3/4 length jacket before the season’s out. Black leather gloves. Black polished shoes. In my mind I’ve already slotted her as a business-woman, working out of one of the large bank-owned towers that soar into the Toronto skyline. I’m amused by the split-second categorization. It’s very possibly wrong. At any rate I tell myself, at any rate she doesn’t have a headband or hood to protect her ears today. No – that would be too gauche. Probably has a little black hat.

My thoughts are interrupted by a peal of laughter from the back of the car and my eyes hunt for the source. A large man laughs again, rolls up his copy of “24 Hours” and mimes beating an object with it, chuckling in the process. I wonder what he’s laughing at. What joke do him and his friend share? Answers don’t present themselves and my attention wanders to the right, passing over another occupant reading the National Post. I’ve already branded him a conservative before I finish scanning the headline.

“Weston. This is Weston”

As you travel east towards Toronto, the landscape shifts. A slow gradual change from the bleak, ashpalt expanses of the suburbs, to the brighter colors of old strip-row housing to the grafitti covered walls of looming industrial structures. It’s a landscape waiting to be photographed. Ripe for the plucking.

As a photographer the world is your canvas, the viewfinder its boundaries.

I wish I had my camera and I chastise myself internally as opportunity after opportunity passes. A particularly interesting riot of graffiti, primary colors against a washed out wall. Columns of smoke rising from large factory chimneys. A line of red-brick 3 story houses. The curve an underlying road makes as the train rumbles over yet another bridge. I catalog picture after picture, assigning to memory a mental snapshot of what it is I’d like to see. Soon I pull out my book, start listing the missed opportunities. I wouldn’t have brought my camera out in this weather anyways – the chances of condensation forming in the abrupt temperature changes are too high. Much too high. I promise myself I’ll be back in more agreeable circumstances. Walk a few sections – force myself to slow down, pause, take time at each location.

The overhead speaker crackles and I know what will be said before I hear the voice. Train’s arriving at Union. On reaching the platform, the train will be out of service. We’ll stop at platform 6 and doors will open on the south side. I am not disappointed. There are no wayward trains on our track, no earlier GO trains to impede our progress. Today the machinery that is the Southern Ontario suburban commuter transport will deliver its bleary eyed passengers on time to a thin concrete strip. Open its doors and form a wall, channeling the mass of humanity into doorways wide enough to fit 2 side-by-side. Another day. Another queue.

The train lurches to a stop. My companion wakes up with a start. I didn’t realize she was asleep.

Reaches deep into her bag.

Pulls out a little black hat.


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  • Ah, the age old question: Why don’t people actively interact on their commute through the city? Easy. It disturbs a routine when someone talks to you. Routine and familiarity are important to a person’s psyche. Heck, I’ve gone terms when I see the EXACT same people on the exact same buses/subways at the exact same time. I’ve heard it’s even more obvious when you take a GO train, since their departures are scheduled instead of “whenever”.

    How you liking the working downtown, and which books have you read on your commute? I finished a book I got for Christmas, “Ric Flair:To be the man…” just this past week, so I’ve moved back to the GBA and continue to listen to music like Franz Ferdinand, Jet, K-OS, Wiliam Shatner and so on.

  • I find it intimidating to start a casual conversation with a stranger.

    I like to think of myself as an affable person, but on any public transportation I know I’m surrouding myself with that inpenetrable personal space that I see every day in others. I see the challenge in my fellow commuters eyes – the phsycial desire to build a wall between us – and I ashamed at the realization that it’s mirrored in my own.

    Simple answer: I believe city life is for me. I enjoy working downtown.

    I’ve read a fair number of books, manuals and more.

    Camera manuals (back to back)
    John Shaw’s Nature Photography Field Guide
    The Devil Wears Prada
    Nanny Diaries
    Understanding Exposure
    Assorted ‘pulp’ fiction [how crass – I know]