2.4 Subway: The Sequel

My support of public transit has reluctantly waned over the past two years. The system is falling apart, barely holding together at times it seems, and the future looks bleak. After a year of construction on my street, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) reinstituted streetcars and I have come to realize just how outdated and inconvenient these machines are to the average commuter. Sure, they run on electricity, but they also run on tracks – if someone parks to far from the curb (which happens more often in the wintertime due to snow) – you’re out of luck, it’s not like the streetcar can just pull around the car, like say, a bus or any other vehicle. And it’s painful to watch older people try and scale the steps. I worry that they will lose balance, so I stand behind them to break their fall and limit injuries.

I want to support public transit, I really do. They just make it so damn difficult.

Fortunately, I rarely have to ride during rush hour. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no way around it. After three or four full to the brim subways went by, I squeezed into a car. The tension was thick and everyone seemed mad. On entering a subway station during rush hour, passengers should be given flags so they can claim their own personal space. There have been a few times where boundaries have been compromised and when spit out of the subway at my stop, a feeling of being violated permeated my body. I felt like something inappropriate occurred but something I couldn’t remember.

The blame does not solely rest with the TTC. Riders need to share in the responsibility.

During rush hour one day, I witnessed something I had never seen before. The seats were all taken and many others stood holding on to available poles. I understand that seats are valuable, but so is having some respect and decency for other riders. The doors opened and a seat in the middle of the car was vacated. A mad rush ensued as a crowd of people entered the car. Three different people went for the vacant seat. One woman launched her bag into the air – I watched it sail over the heads of the other passengers vying for the seat – and it landed on the vacant seat. Everyone stopped and looked at this bag, baffled. She pushed through the crowd, grabbed the bag and sat down. She was a jerk but pulled off a nice move, all at the same time.

At a busy station, we sat at the platform with the doors open. I stood on the opposite side against the closed doors. The chimes went off signaling that the doors were closing. I saw a man on the platform in a wheelchair – I’d say about 15 feet away – and he heard the chime as well. I figured that he would probably wait for the next train. It’s one of those moments where you think, “Oh, damn, I missed the train, but this is the subway and the great thing about the subway is another is always coming!” Not this guy. Instead of slowing down, he sped up, heading straight for the closing doors. My jaw literally dropped and I think I said out loud, “Slow down!” He almost made it. He bumped over the gap between the platform and the subway car when the doors closed, catching him. He was stuck. Two of us standing there grabbed the wheels of his chair and dragged him into the subway. He thought it was pretty funny, said it happens all the time.

Again, it was rush hour – seems things go awry when it’s busier. At Dundas West Station near my house, the distance from the platform to the street is significant and the escalator is a long one. There are rules: You walk up the left side of the escalator and stand on the right side. Without rules, anarchy assumes control.

People stood lining the right side and I was in a crowd walking up the left side. The hipster guy in front of me held his backpack in his arms and was fishing through it looking for something when a strap caught under the handrail. It was stuck and since the handrail moves down as the escalator moves up, the strap, the bag and the hipster were thrown backwards. It should be stated that we were about half way up, I was behind him and behind me were about twenty people. The hipster held on to the bag, which caused a domino effect – he slammed into me, I bumped into the person behind me and so on. I almost went down but grasped the handrail and the hipster. I told him to release the bag, “Let it go,” I said softly. He looked at me in the eyes, it was a strangely intimate moment, like he was releasing a loved one. He finally let go before he pulled me and everyone behind me down with him. At the top, he ran down the stairs to retrieve the bag.

I am also guilty.

I work at two different places and shuttle a pair of skates back and forth. I have a reoccurring nightmare where I forget them on a subway car and I don’t realize until it is speeding away, and with it, a tool that brings in a significant amount of income.

The skates are carried in a backpack. I was running a bit late and approached a subway car. The chimes went off and I started running, and much like the gentleman in the wheelchair, the doors closed on me. I was fully inside the car but the doors closed on my backpack. I tried to pull them free. People started looking. I heard them thinking: “Not one of those people, the kind that hold the trains up.” I maneuvered out of the straps and tried to yank it free. Just as I geared up for one final yank, the doors opened and the strap fell from my hands. The bag dropped straight down to the floor but before I could grab it, the doors closed, once again trapping the bag between them. I tried to pull it free, but it was stuck. The doors opened one more time, I snatched the bag, ignored the stares, pulled out a book and put on a thoughtful face that said, “Who’s the idiot that’s holding us up?”