Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ringing In The New Year on the TTC

Source: the Toronto Sun, December 21, 1975.

It was intended to be a quiet New Year’s Eve.

The plan was to spend the evening in, catching up on reading or doing some research. New Year’s Day was going to be filled with brunches and walks, so I could get away with ending 2013 on the sedate side. Continuing to retweet stories I wrote over the past year was the height of ambition. I even figured a few afternoon errands and a stroll downtown before the sun went down would take care of any symptoms of cabin fever.

Not on your life.

By early evening, I figured I should take advantage of the free TTC service. I posted a request on Facebook for destinations. As I was about to head out, I wandered into the bathroom, where some recent plumbing issues took a new turn. December had seen several things break, so this was an appropriate conclusion to the month.

I set out at midnight, armed with a pocket notepad for scribbling observations. Figured this trek would make a good writing exercise. The first signs of the New Year’s arrival included plenty of cowbell coming from a nearby apartment balcony, and revellers on the staircase at the Bayview & Eg McDonald’s. Hopping on an eastbound bus, I startled the driver with a “Happy New Year” greeting.

The bus wasn’t party central. The few passengers were quiet—if they were engaged in anything, it was playing games on their phones, or staring forward into the new year. I started jotting time-stamped notes.

12:08 a.m.: Mount Pleasant Road. A man hauls aboard a medium-sized wheeled recycling bin. He’s a Dickensian character: worn clothing, flat hat, facial hair worthy of a 19th century portrait. I wonder if he’s a bottle scavenger preparing for a good night of pickings, bringing a heavy load to a party, or toting his worldly possessions. The bin takes up less space than some baby carriages.

12:12 a.m.: Eglinton Station. Like me, the recycling bin man heads to the subway. He takes the elevator, while I run down the stairs to the platform. The calm along the station platform confirms suspicions that I’m in the eye of the New Year’s hurricane. Notice somebody wasn’t happy to see a poster for a religious event taped to the platform tiles. Hop onto southbound train, walk by first passed-out victim of the night. Can’t determine if small puddle on floor is a spilled neon yellow drink or clear bile.

12:18 a.m.: First sighting of passengers doing chin-ups on the train. I have seen this test of athletic ability end badly. It turns out to be the lone example I see all night.

12:21 a.m.: Pulling out of St. Clair station, notice ad in front of me for St. Clair College. Ah, a touch of home!

12:25 a.m.: Arrive at Bloor station. Recycling bin man continues in my direction, heading to eastbound Yonge platform. He reads the info screen, then checks out the garbage bins. He pulls out a discarded fast food container. After examining its contents, he neatly rewraps it and places it inside the recycling bin. 

12:28 a.m.: On train heading east. Recycling bin man sits in next row of seats, mumbling indecipherably. He will depart the train at Sherbourne. Seated across the car is a man in a dark toque and jacket holding his garbage bin pickings: Tim Horton’s bags and a crushed box of Minute Maid fruit punch. His face is deeply lined. The etchings radiating up from his eyes to his forehead resemble thick lines of black ink, as do fault lines running down each cheek. Can’t decide if these dark crevices are bruises, the extreme results of hard living, or an experiment with a marker. It’s a fascinating face, where I suspect stories are buried within each wrinkle. He tries to drink from the juice box, but it’s empty.

12:34 a.m.: Broadview station. Train is quiet—you’d never know it was New Year’s. Everyday conversations and intense game playing rule the car.

12:38 a.m.: After a brief rest at Broadview, the train pulls into Chester station. The etched-face man stands up, thrusts his arm forward, then walks through the car. He leaves the train at Pape.

12:40 a.m.: Greenwood station. As a kid, I wondered why the tile colour scheme wasn’t green but black and peach. If the station ever gets a Pape- or Dufferin-style makeover, perhaps this would be remedied (and drive anal-retentive tile colour pattern sticklers berserk).

12:42 a.m.: Coxwell station. Several TTC employees get off the train. One yells back to a colleague “we survived another one!” We did indeed. We did indeed.


12:47 a.m.: Victoria Park station. Notice a poster beside me for the annual Ross Petty panto. This year’s was The Little Mermaid, billed as “Ontario’s O-FISH-AL Family Musical.” A question arose: if the province funded an official musical, what would it look like? Would it be based around the 1960s toe-tapper “A Place to Stand,” the Foodland Ontario jingle “Good Things Grow in Ontario,” or would it be a horrible concoction devised by a Queen’s Park committee?

12:55 a.m.: Kennedy station. I am about to do something I have not done since I was a teenager. I am going to ride the Scarborough RT. The last trek was one of the kamikaze subway rides I loved to do during rare teenage trips to Toronto. One of those broke Dad’s heart—on a nice summer day, he wanted to show off the first high school he taught at, Eastern Commerce. In a rare instance of being a snotty teenager, I said I wasn’t interested. He asked how I could be so mean. Years later, I regret being such a turd.

As I depart the train, a TTC cleaning crew flows on. At the far end of the platform, a bench is covered in gloves. Missing pieces of somebody’s wild night? Speaking of which, I still haven’t encountered any rowdies. After an evening partly spent groaning about a worsening leak above my apartment’s toilet, the calm is the relief I need. During a venting session on Facebook, I noted I was heading out to McCowan to let off a primal scream to get all the ugly energy of December out of me. The screaming part felt less necessary.

12:59 a.m.: Board the RT. People aren’t kidding when they call it a toy train. The cars are the fullest I’ve seen all night, mostly young women texting away. Advertising is sparse. The faux wood paneling reminds me of many late 1970s/early 1980s rec rooms I’ve spent time in.

1:10 a.m.: Scarborough Centre station. The exodus from the train leaves only myself in two others in the car. No rowdiness in between stops, only a comment from a twentysomething passenger that her friend looked like a 10-year-old.

1:12 a.m.: McCowan station. End of the line. A giant hand-made “Free” sign is taped to collector booth at street level. Outside, McCowan Road is quiet. Decide to walk west, as I’ve never seen the old Scarborough municipal buildings up close. Despite the bitter cold, the short stroll is soothing.

1:20 a.m.: Outside the Scarborough Civic Centre, two guys pass the puck to each other on the small skating rink. Feels like they’ve chosen a good start to the year. Other than the crack of hockey sticks, it’s quiet. Would be a good gathering spot for anyone seeking outdoor meditation space on this night. Inside the building, cleaners vacuum away. Notice a plaque boasting about the Massey Award given to Albert Campbell Square in the mid-1970s. An area worth future daytime exploration.

1:30 a.m.: Just miss westbound train at Scarborough Centre. Still not lively.

1:37 a.m.: Midland station. Staring north along Midland Avenue. No cars, just a line of traffic lights changing colours for their own pleasure. Also marvel at all of the industrial parks along the RT route.

1:44 a.m.: Kennedy station. I decide that the most direct route home is to hop on the Eglinton East bus. As I get off the train, a horde of revellers get on. The New Year’s party has finally reached me, nearly two hours into my trek. Don’t think my short experience on the RT has deepened insights on the Scarborough transit situation—would need to ride at other times of the day.

At bus level, notice the black text chipping off the silver plaque commemorating the opening of the subway station in 1980. Hard to say if this disappoints fans of Paul Godfrey and Jeffrey Lyons.

1:50 a.m.: Hop on the 34 Eglinton East. Despite there being few passengers boarding, a party girl wearing a tiara pushes her way onto the vehicle. A Dollarama party favour does not grant one royal privileges. Once aboard, the bus smells like a mix of stale booze and pot particles. The stop pixelboard has also been indulging, as it is convinced today is July 27, 2013. The cold tells you otherwise.

1:57 a.m.: Birchmount Road. It dawns on the drunk kids in the back that the TTC is free all night and they can go ANYWHERE! With so many options, they decide they want to go to McDonald’s.

2:01 a.m.: Eglinton Town Centre. The drunk kids decide they want Chinese food instead of Mickey D’s.

2:03 a.m.: Victoria Park Avenue. The drunk kids are having issues opening the back door. They are on the verge of destroying it before it finally sets them free to sleep…to explore…to go to McDonald’s. Meanwhile, seated ahead of me is a child who is clearly wearing an adult winter coat, as the arms stretch to the floor. It appears his father has loaned him the jacket. Another child cries loudly in my ear.

2:11 a.m.: Leslie Street. Two guys across from me trade jackets they had switched earlier in the evening. Is jacket-swapping a New Year’s tradition I’ve never embraced?

2:14 a.m.: Bayview Avenue. Realize I’m the first person to get on or off since Victoria Park. Almost run over by a couple laughing as they dodge traffic while running across Bayview to catch the bus. Once they vanish, quiet descends. The Metro supermarket stands still, taking a day off its round-the-clock operations.

Hello 2014. How are ya?

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