The other day a friend, who’s lived in Toronto most of his life, commented that I have a pretty good understanding of the city considering I moved here only a few years ago. Actually it was five years ago, and I think five years is plenty of time to get to know a city. But then I suppose in a large one like this, with its many distinct neighbourhoods, one might establish the habit of frequenting nearby and familiar spaces. I’m sure my familiarity with the city has much to do with my having lived in four of those neighbourhoods, and working in a place substantially north to all of them. I’ve got around, and mostly without a car. The best thing about not owning a car isn’t actually the wagonload of money I save. It’s the ability to get up close and personal with a place, to really see it.
Last night I rode the streetcar home at dusk. To me, it’s the most perfect time of day; when the night begins to slide in and envelope you and your world. The shades of blue and purple are divine. Even the names for this time of day are beautiful – dusk, nightfall, eventide, and the loveliest of all: twilight. And then as darkness settles, space becomes more immediate; time slows; sounds muffle; people change demeanour. As the light dwindles, the city’s heartbeat slows. I sat on a streetcar last night and watched the light change and the city moving within it.
On a Sunday evening when the city is winding down a weekend, it can be a most pleasant time to be gliding through the streets on a rail. I especially love the 505 and 504 King Street cars that take me from my cousin’s home in Riverdale over to Spadina, where I get off and walk slowly down the last ten minutes or so to where I live. I might get home faster if I took the subway, but I couldn’t imagine how a few minutes are worth more than the time spent looking at the city. In the summer I sit by an open window and stick my face in it and enjoy the stroke of night in my hair.
Not all, but most times, I feel lucky that I don’t have to have a car. When walking or riding, I feel together with the city – like a functioning aspect of a sprawling organism. What I lost in convenience when I ditched the car I’ve gained in stimulus, space and sight. When one drives through the city, one generally sticks to available highways and arterial streets – those which get you where you’re going the fastest. When you’re walking you can cut through side streets and see the nooks and crannies without much consequence to your time. In fact, if you’ve walked your daily travels for any length of time, your sense of time changes. It isn’t quite so urgent to get home because focusing your attention on the features and nuances that happen across your path; or you get lost in the meditative aspect of steady walking, feet pacing earth. You’re more able to be present in the NOW.
A person like me places a lot of value in her ability to pay attention to the world. Paying attention inspires her; makes her happier and more alive. Paying attention to her immediate world gets her out of her head. She is connected with the streets and patterns of movement in and around them.
Sometimes the city – in spite of its noise, in spite of the cacophony and vast numbers of people – brings her not a little joy. Particularly at twilight.
Twilight, dusk, eventide, nightfall, sundown – whatever you want to call it, it's beautiful. And beautiful thing number fifty-seven.
Amongst the jumble of people getting off the train at Sheppard Station this morning some of us practically trip over a young lady who pulls a full stop in front of the stairs when she finds they’re not an escalator. She’s turning around to gauge where the escalator is. I’m already up the stairs when I wonder if she’s counting the approximate steps to the escalator and measuring that number against the 25 or so steps to the upper platform.
Later, at my office I go downstairs to get a coffee at a coffee shop on the second floor. There are two windowed doors leading to the atrium/cafe area, and there is a woman standing on the other side of the door on the right, so I go through the door on the left. She’s standing with another woman, each with a coffee in hand and the other hand free. The other woman is waving her arm in a “what the hell?” gesture because she’s hitting the disabled person’s door opener which doesn’t seem to be opening the door.
I always wonder if these people really have such an aversion to moving their bodies, or if maybe they feel entitled to use all available technology. Even when that technology is not intended for them.
As I walk away I imagine in my head a droll voice coming out of the disabled person's door opener (like Carleton the Doorman on the old Rhoda show) saying “Hey – ABLE person! If you don’t use those muscles they will stop working.”
So the other day – the day after I was all in love with humanity and blathered on about the vast majority of us being good and well intentioned – I get on the subway and am immediately distracted by a “loud talker.” It’s a man standing across the aisle, up near an inside door, having a conversation with a woman, and it’s immediately apparent that this dude is chatting her up and showing off; seeking to win her adoration by playing the slick, confident and savvy businessman. I mean, he rattles off fact after cliché after study after percentage after quote after postulation at ninety miles an hour. The energy and volume with which he talks at her gives everyone in the car the scoop on the vastness of his business knowledge.
The savvy business role is played from head to toe. Handsome and tall; the blue in his deep ebony skin is offset attractively by a trim navy suit. He carries a computer case over his shoulder and refers to his blackberry often. He leans into her with confidence and cool. His hair has been straightened and is slicked down around his ears, not unlike Michael Jackson’s Jheri Curl do back in the 80s. Hairdo aside, he drips Bay Street with an earnestness that would make you root for him if he wasn’t spewing fake from every pore.
I’m not the only one onto his acting job – two young guys sitting near me are enjoying the entertainment, smirking openly at the man’s expense and mumbling to each other in derisive tones. I am a little annoyed by their meanness, but more annoyed by the fakery in the savvy businessman’s performance.
Over the course of five minutes he tells the woman why General Motors will fail, why China will succeed, why Sony is unethical, what the markets will do next, why Canada didn’t really come out on the good side of the recession and how he wishes he could live in the US because it’s a better place for a businessman like him, and the exact number of minutes between York Mills Station and Eglinton Station. He asks her an occasional question, but not out of any apparent desire to know more about her, but to steer the conversation back to him and his savvy business slickery.
Like when he asks her what kind of car she drives and she says, with as much defiance as she can muster in the rare pause of the pontificating, “I drive a General Motors.” And then the General Motors lecture starts again in greater detail, and if I wasn’t watching with my own eyes I would swear he is reading straight out of the Wall Street Journal, so thick are the layers of business lingo. The two guys beside me are having a ball, and I think one is trying to get a picture with his cell phone on which he is pretending to text. The woman interjects now and then with a weak “I guess I’m just not that interested in that stuff.”
We come to St. Clair station and it’s her stop and she practically bolts out the door, and the two young guys get off too, and a new girl sits down in the seat they vacated.
Just as the car pulls away I notice a ten dollar bill on the seat beside her. She notices it at the same time. So does the savvy businessman who moves quickly across the car and sits down next to her making it known that he saw her pick up the money in the way he looks at her. In my head I yell, “put it in your pocket now!” but she asks the savvy businessman if he had seen who dropped it. “Stupid girl!” I yell in my head.
“It’s my friend’s” he says to her, tone sheepish, as if he recognizes the lameness of his lie. Even the new girl would have seen that he wasn’t sitting anywhere near that seat when she got on.
“Do you want to keep it?” he asks her, making it much too awkward for her to accept his offer of his “friend’s” money.
“Well no, not if it’s your friend’s money” she says as she hands over the ten. Neither of them speaks again; the awkwardness between them rattles all over the car. She gets off at the next stop. He just sits there with the bill in his hand, as if he is afraid to put it in his pocket in front of the people who had seen what he’s just done.
He exits at King St. where he is free to pocket his prize as he saunters off, head high, looking every bit the slick and savvy businessman, ready to take on the world.
Today I catch the streetcar and I’m standing in the back of the car looking over the seated peoples’ heads out the window. As we go underground into the dark tunnel toward Union Station I see my reflection in the window. Then I see the arms of the woman next to me. Then her neck. And her anorexic shoulders. As always I’m shocked when I see an emaciated body like hers. And my heart aches for her and other women who are somehow compelled to do this to themselves. She looks like she belongs in a hospital bed under a doctor's care, not standing in a crowded streetcar. Looking at our reflections in the mirror, I think about my everlasting extra 10 pounds. And I think about my friends and family for whom those ten pounds mean nothing. They would love me if I carried a placard on my forehead that read: Extra Pounds and She Forgets to Call and She Should Vacuum More.
I’m filled with gratitude as I look at my cleavage and my curves in my reflection. And I'm grateful for the kinds of men whose heads I still manage to turn now and then, and the ones I know who appreciate me and desire me, lumps and all. I think about my relationship with food in that it sustains me, it provides nourishment to my body and well being, and it accompanies pretty much every joyful gathering in my life. The woman walks away from me and up into the station and I wondered how those limbs can support her, I can practically hear her bones clattering. As she wobbles off I wish her luck. I wish all of us luck. Someday I hope us gals will cut ourselves a break.
A fella trips onto the subway with a bike and a bag stuffed with what looks like garbage. He messes around with the bike and keeps trying to lay it down, which is awkward in the midst of all the commuters. One lady finds herself on the wrong end of the back tire so she steps away from the man and his bike, and he loses hold of it and drops it to the floor. “DON’T MOVE STUPID ASS!” he hollers at her as she moves away. Over the next two stops they steal glances at one another, she wondering if she heard what she did and he wondering what stupid ass wouldn’t stand there and let his bike tire rest against her clean work clothes. He manages to get his bike and torn bag of garbage off at St. Clair station and most of us breathe easier. The lady gets off at the same stop, still stealing glances at the person who called her a stupid ass. I hoped the incident didn’t spoil her morning, but I’m thinking it probably did.
Someone, relatively new to Canada, showed me his arm that had a welt from some sort of insect bite he got when he took his kids to the park. I ventured that it might be a spider bite, and suggested antihistamine would relieve the itching and inflammation. His eyes got a little wider and he spoke of the deadly black widow spider he heard of once, and how they can kill with their venom. I thought, “hoo boy, girl you should have kept your mouth shut.” I wondered how long the poor guy imagined he would keel over and die from a deadly Canadian Black Widow spider bite.
Song encounter #1: Out of the blue I hear one of my favourite songs, “Up on Cripple Creek.” Instantly, the morning of the food starved body, the insulting words hurled at a stranger and the irrational freakout about black widow spiders evaporate.
Tonight, out for a walk, I witness some of the barricade building in the downtown core in preparation for the G-20 Summit. I’m annoyed with the summit being held here, right in the core of the downtown. I’m annoyed with the media, which tends to ignore the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in favour of the more juicy window breakers. And I’m annoyed with the feds who encouraged Toronto to “show off” our city, then dropped the ball in terms of support for the losers in this event, like the business owners who have to close up shop and the homeowners who are S.O.L. if something happens to their property. And I get really annoyed by the “us and them” thinking that got us to this standoff in the first place. I remember the creepy policing during a similar event in Windsor some years ago, and I think, either I’m going to take me and my camera down into the brouhaha, or avoid it altogether. Which will be hard because guess where I live now?
Song encounter #2: I hear Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and I’m brought back to a moment a few days ago, when I’m on the shuttle bus going to work. That song comes on in the vehicle carrying the heavy, tired, morning resignation of the riders, and then someone starts to hum. Then another person does. Then I do. When I hear that song today everything about it is changed. Now, because of that moment, I love that song. I can’t hear it enough.
I catch a few minutes of this race on TV. I’d not normally stay tuned to such a race because stunt flying creeps me out. But before long I realise – hey – I know that river! Seeing the shots of this river, the riverside park I once walked every night, and those two cities fills me with pleasure and makes me a little homesick. In a good way.