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Archive for the ‘commuting’ Category

The first two days of this week, I left the house at 8AM to get to the Open Web Vancouver conference at the Pan Pacific Hotel. By doing so, I revived all the memories of commuting that I had almost forgotten, working from home for the past three years.

Understand that I have no particular problem getting up early (although I don’t see any virtue in it, either). By the time I start work at 9:30AM, I have shaved, read The Globe and Mail, run, done several exercises, bathed, and cleaned four bird cages, so I’m well-accustomed to functioning first thing in the morning.

What I’m not used to any more is the company of strangers first thing in the morning. The local bus that takes me to the Skytrain is tolerable; once past the high school a block away from our house, it is half empty as often as not anyway.

But once I climb to the train platform, I’m submerged in a crowd, which takes some getting used to. Moreover, some of the people on Skytrain can be – well, eccentric would be a polite term. For one thing, when you’re pressed shoulder to shoulder with people, you quickly learn that a surprising number either smoke so heavily that it must sit like starch on all their clothes, or else have an active fear of water, considering their personal hygiene.

Then there’s those who carry on their private cell phone conversations at the top of their voices in a crowded Skytrain car. I once heard a young man begging and crying for his lover (whose gender was never clear) to take him back, while those of us around him squirmed in embarrassment. It was, as humorist Kate Clinton, once said, an invasion of my right to know.

But, usually, I’m the only one who apparently finds it surprising that people would have personal conversations in the crowd. This observation that makes me think that if all those mentally troubled people who argue with themselves in different voices on the Skytrain would only be given a cell phone to hold to their ear, they would immediately become integrated into society. They would never be stared at again.

Then there’s people like the intrepid shoplifter I saw once, who boarded wearing three or four shirts and carrying their hangers in one hand and all their wrapping and labels in another. The supposedly deaf people, some of whom carry cards illustrating sign language and want you to buy them and one of whom sold elaborately folded and brightly colored origami that he arranged on a branched stick. The self-important men in three piece suits who try hard to maintain their dignity. The painters and maintenance workers coming home in soiled overalls and looking seemingly pleased at the way that everyone else keeps their distance (I suppose it gives them some personal space). The trusting innocents who actually sleep on the train (quite aside from possibly being robbed, how do they avoid missing their stop? And why, knowing they have to be up early, don’t they sleep the night before?).

And always there’s the Skytrain police, whom – I learned from the newspaper this morning – have a nasty habit of tasering fare evaders (And what do they do to vandals? Suffice it to say that long-term employees at Gitmo have been known to pale when they hear). One or two of them seem to take sadistic glee in hectoring teenage Chinese Canadian girls. All of them seemed to enjoy holding up the entire system while they do fare checks. They always travel in pairs, if not in groups of four or six, no doubt because to do anything less might put them in danger from the innocent commuters whose travel time they’ve just prolonged in their paranoia that someone, somewhere, might actually be riding for free.

With all these people playing out their dramas before the audience of commuters, there’s only one rule that can help you cling to even a shred of sanity: Read a book, carry an MP3 player whose playlists you can endlessly adjust, look out a window if you can see one, but, whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.

However, even this policy doesn’t work with the people who regard the delicate art of squeezing on to crowded car as an invitation to create a mosh pit. Inevitably large and overweight, these people wait until the second before the doors close to take a flying leap on to the train, trusting to the crowd in the car to cushion their fall and keep anyone from actually falling over as they land.

The worst of these people used to be a large woman on a scooter. Don’t ask me how she got the scooter airborne, but she was merciless in crushing your toes as it landed. If you complained, she would lecture you about respect for people with disability in such a loud voice that everyone would stare at you as though you picking your noise and describing the process with a gourmet’s delight.

Even on the rare occasion when you meet none of these types, the average commute still you feeling jagged and unsettled. I can’t believe that I endured similar commutes for years – and thank luck or fate that now I usually don’t have to.

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