Toronto TTC: Fun time for all

"The Better Way", the slogan of the TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission, is a recommendation for anyone in town. In the city, a car is not an asset, it is a liability. Parking can be limited and if available, it can be expensive. However, given the proximity of almost anything you want, shops, cinema, restaurants, who needs a car? Why not take the subway or why not just walk?
However, we must recognize that we have to be in town to get the most out of the subway. It’s been over two years now that my wife and I left our suburban home for the lights of the big city and our condo apartment. Already this couple who owned two cars has managed to get rid of one of them. When we were in the suburbs, it was easier to drive to the office than take public transit. Now that I’m in town, now that I am faced with a sharp increase in traffic outside my front door, I discovered that the "better way" was indeed the best way and I take the subway to get to the office. I no longer have to go through the bother of finding the right way around traffic jams, of waiting at red lights or of turning my index finger beside my temple every time some nut bar demonstrates a total lack of skill behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

All I have to do now is to walk to the station, wait on the platform for the next train, find a place to relax and enjoy 45 minutes of free time to read the newspaper, cogitate on world affairs or snooze. I think this is the ideal way of coping with the daily commute from home to work for me and for a lot of people. Once we find a seat, we all have this time to be alone with our thoughts, oblivious to everything around us. Nevertheless, from time to time, there is an interruption in our quiet, sometimes a moment shared by everyone.

The Announcement
Over the years I’ve been in the situation probably everyone has experienced where the sound system in a public place, whether in an arena or at the train station is not quite comprehensible. I hear the sound of a human voice from a loudspeaker somewhere but because of the distortion, the static, I cannot really discern what the voice is saying. Is it something important? A danger? Or advertising? Is this announcement applicable to me? What do I do? I only know that there is an announcement that I should listen to but I cannot hear it very well.

I was on the subway going to work one day when I heard the sound from a loudspeaker which indicated that someone had turned on a microphone and was going to make an announcement. "This is Transit Control. We would like xxx mmm eeee eeeee … problem … hhh ssss. We will notify you dddd eee …" That is to say that I could not hear the whole message because of the static. It was very frustrating and of course, I began to imagine all sorts of problems which would prevent me from making it to work on time and enjoying that first cup of coffee as I go through my email.

During the pause that followed, I could see around the car various perplexed expressions of the other passengers who also couldn’t understand the message. Everyone looked around hoping that someone else would offer an explanation.

Suddenly, we all heard again that distinct sound from a loudspeaker, a microphone being turned on, that indicates the beginning of a message. "Ladies and gentlemen. This is the driver of your train. Transit Control just made a very important announcement and I wanted to take this opportunity to repeat it." The voice spoke in a very methodical manner. The sound quality from the loudspeaker was perfect. In comparison with the other message, I could easily understand everything that this man was saying.

The driver continued to talk but at this point, it was obvious that the driver had put his hand over the microphone and was trying to reproduce with his mouth the distorted noise from the first announcement. "This is the Transit Control. We would like xxx mmm eeee eeeee … problem … hhh ssss. We will notify you dddd eee …" For a very brief moment I wondered about the significance of what he said and then I realized that the driver was joking in trying to imitate the bad sound quality of the first announcement. The fact that a subway driver would pick up the microphone not to make an announcement but to make a joke was so out of place, so unexpected that it made things even more comical. I laughed out loud. Looking around I could see all the other passengers laughing too.

Without any reference to his joke, the driver then explained that Transit Control was announcing a signal problem, that there would be a short delay and "… everything would be cleared up as soon as possible. Good day." All of us continued to look around smiling at one another enjoying this quite comical shared experience.

Pious Poop!
From time to time in my so-called normal life, I come across something unusual, so unusual that I have to wonder if there is a rational explanation for the origin of this incident. Who were these people? Why had they done this or that? What were the results of these actions or is it that there was nobody else there to witness this incident?

One day I took the subway to work. I waited on the platform the next train. It arrived, the doors opened and I stepped into the subway car. I stood at the door for a moment to look around trying to determine the best seat to choose for my 45 minute journey to the office. To my left I found two free benches, in fact, there was no one at this end of the car. Nobody. A little curious, but perhaps I was ahead of the wave of workers traveling during rush hour.

I took a couple of steps to the first bench. I was about to sit down when I noticed something on the floor. What I find so funny now, is how it sometimes takes a moment for our brain to process visual information, to verify that what we see with our own eyes is indeed real and not imaginary. I looked at the floor and what I saw was out of context. It was not something I expected to see here in a subway car and I had to stare at it to really conclude that what I saw was in fact what was there. Someone, an unknown person or an animal had defecated on the floor. I was starring at a mound of poop on the floor of a subway car! It was incredible. I was quite stunned. Ugh! Disgusting! What an abomination! Who could do such a thing?

I turned around and walked towards the other end of the car. After a few steps, just the other side of the door, I saw a bench that faced back to where this "meeting of the Third Kind" had just happened to me. A mischievous idea came to mind. Sitting down, I could be on the lookout for what would happen when other passengers would unknowingly come face to face with the most unexpected of rendezvous.

The first victim, a woman, did almost the same thing as me. She remained at the door for a moment, she looked around seeking an available seat and then she turned to the end of the car where there were the two empty benches. Like me, she almost sat on the first bench before freezing as she looked down at what would probably turn out to be the worst moment of her day. I chuckled quietly, imagining how the neurons were functioning at high speed trying to reconcile two contradictory ideas: a subway car and a mound of poop. The woman made a 180 degree turn and walked by me as she headed down towards the opposite end of the car.

At each stop, my eyes remained fixed on the door to see what the next person would do. Bewilderment, disgust, even a little smile. One guy turned so pale when he saw what was on the floor made me think he was going to vomit. Once I arrived at my office, I phoned the TTC to report this incident in car number 5545. The customer service thanked me for having called in expressing surprise about such a thing happening on a subway car. I added that I had never seen such a thing in the subway before in my life. It was the first time and hopefully the last time!

The Last Word
I visited the city of Toronto for the first time 40 years ago. Since that time, I have spent almost 25 years in Toronto and I consider this city as home. I find the city and its subways safe and clean. I have had the opportunity to take the subway in New York, Washington, London, Paris and Lyon and I always found the experience enjoyable and efficient. I’m sure others could speak of similar oddball experiences in other subways, some as amusing some maybe worse. For the moment, I leave the reader with two of my experiences in Toronto’s subway which broke up the monotony of the daily trip to and from work. I trust if you take the subway, your trip is uneventful or at least amusing. I hope you don’t run into a mound of whatever!

Click HERE to read more from William Belle

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