Archive for Transit

A worker died on Monday

A worker died on Monday. Early in the morning, in the subway somewhere between York Mills and Davisville. The media’s reaction seemed to be subdued, muted. No, I don’t mean about the train stoppage; no, that, after all, was a big deal. The coverage seemed to be more about those who were inconvenienced by the stoppage of transit than about the man who died.

And that got me thinking, this man died so that I could get to school. It’s that simple, that real, that concrete.

He’s not a solider who died supposedly defending an abstract notion (freedom; read: our own brand of terror) in some concocted war on an abstract noun (terror; read: someone else’s brand of freedom). He didn’t die protecting liberty, justice, civilization, or what have you.

It’s nothing that complicated, it’s very simple really: This man died so that you could go to school. Or so that you could go to work. Or to an interview. Or to a restaurant, a club, a bar, a party, a friend’s house, a shopping centre — from point A to point B — so that you could get to your university.

It’s real.

The man was crushed to death so that we could get to school.

Are any students at UofT going to get together and hold a vapid, self-indulgent, self-inflating vigil to commemorate his death? Are they going to start facebook groups and online ribbon campaigns about him?

Do you even know his name?

And yeah, what happened at VTech was bad, but it’s strange to imagine that the life of students in the United States somehow means a lot more than the life of students in, say, India, or Iraq, or Palestine, or Nigeria, or Indonesia, or Chile, or Peru, or Bolivia, so on, so forth — but most of their stories never get heard, they never get put on the front pages or even the back pages.

Or, like the worker in the subway, their stories are crowded out. How many times have you heard stories about oilfields in various countries being disturbed by local populations? Consider this NYT headline: “Growing Unrest Posing a Threat to Nigerian Oil” — that’s what it is, really, at the end of the day, it’s just business.

How many times have people complained about TTC Staff being overpaid? Can you look this dead man’s wife in the eye and tell her that her husband was overpaid? Tell their children that?

TTC Staff aren’t overpaid, they’re underpaid. And everyone else who doesn’t have a half-decent union fighting for them, or who are getting swept away by the tides of global capitalism, they’re even more underpaid. You want to know who’s overpaid? Some big fat old stupid white man (increasingly being replaced by others, other races, people from other parts of the world, etc.) sitting in an air-conditioned room far above the proceedings of the you and the me, the people on the streets, signing papers that signal the literal deaths of thousands and the slow deaths of thousands more. Those are the people who are getting overpaid. They don’t even earn the money they make, they steal it. They wouldn’t know a hard day’s work for a fair day’s pay if it bit them in the ass. Those are the same people we, you and me, aspire to be.

No, instead, we look at the man on the street — standing in front of aggressive College St. traffic with a sign between him and hundreds of people with places to go and things to do in cars and a huge truck pulling tons of dirt out of an excavation site — we look at the man on the street and complain that he doesn’t do anything. Or we complain that he’s holding a coffee cup. Or we complain that he’s taking an extended break. Or we complain about there being more than one of them — you know the joke, there are three men, one to do the work, one to direct traffic, one to hold the coffee cups — what ignorance, what stark ignorance. What self-indulgent ignorance.

I saw this big, white, bearded guy on the subway once — he was wearing glasses, too. I was trying to read a book, and he was trying to engage people in conversation. He was trying to talk to them, and they were politely ignoring him or brushing him off. He seemed jovial. His hands were blackened, his clothes were, too. But he wasn’t a bum, no, he was obviously a manual labourer. At Kennedy station, when I put on my Spider-Man hat he commented on it. He talked about how he used to read the comics when he was young. How he couldn’t afford them anymore. How it was good that I was going to university. How I could get a good job. How money troubles hit you when you have a family to support. He worked for Toronto Hydro, fixing cables, lines, poles, or something. He was trying to talk to people to make them smile. He thanked me for talking to him, and he told me to keep on smiling.

And we complain about workers getting overpaid. When really, they are the ones who keep us afloat, who keep our miserable, fat, starved skinny, superficial, ignorant, self-indulgent, Starbucks latte, MP3 player, Cosmo magazine, Gucci glasses, shiny laptop lives afloat.

And when they ask for their rights, when CN workers strike, the placid, corporate bought government makes their strike illegal. It legislates for them to go back to work. So that the economy doesn’t suffer. “The economy.” The almighty economy. Yes, other workers will suffer, they’ll lose business. Yes, the wheels of industry will be interrupted and impeded. Yes. But really, that’s not the problem the government has — it couldn’t care less about the workers in the first place, or it wouldn’t have gotten rid of regressive labour legislation and it would enforce whatever is left, rather than passing ad hoc legislations to protect “the economy” — which really means protecting the fat pigs and keeping them in power as well. That’s “the economy.”

Yeah, a worker died on Monday. He was crushed by a machine the size of a car. They couldn’t move his body for several hours.

And we don’t even know his name.

So that we could get to school.

So that I could hand in a paper — on Marxism, no less. How hard is it, really, to theorize or imagine class struggle? It is here, it is now, it is the lives we live and the deaths we die — the lives we ignore and the deaths we ignore. That is class struggle. That is sexism. That is racism. That is the nature of our shallow lives.

Antonio Almeida died on Monday. He had a wife, a son, and a daughter, a mother and a father, friends and colleagues. He was 38 years old.

Antonio Almeida
Antonio Almeida

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Shortcuts to God

In the RT on Tuesday, looking over my shoulder to the left of me was a girl reading a book. It was called “Shortcuts to God.”

What stuck out for me was a sentence, “No longer will I choose to let my rational mind and my physical senses determine what is real for me.” (p.78)

That’s messed up. What else are you going to use? Your soul? Good luck.

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Subway sketches and homegrown authorism

Recently, I’ve been forcing myself to sketch people on the subway. (Forcing myself by not taking along my iPod or a book to read.)

Perhaps entirely unethically I don’t ask the people I’m drawing if I can draw them. Mostly, I suppose, they don’t know that I am drawing them.

Tonight, as I was coming home from campus, I was sketching this gentleman (the one on the right – 6/4/06). I suppose he rather quickly realized that I was sketching him — he even cooperated by holding position. He got off at Victoria Park station and as he was leaving (I was sitting right beside the door) he said, “Thank you.”

I was kind of embarassed, I just smiled back at him and showed the sketch to him. He smiled back and showed that he was pleased and then got off the train as the doors closed. I guess I should’ve said “Thank you,” but I was too flustered and embarassed to say anything.

But that was nice.

I suppose it may seem like my subjects are typically geriatric males. This isn’t the case, it just that they happen to sit in opportune places and/or there’s something in their faces — character — that makes me want to draw them. Most young people have these plain, bubble gum faces without any “character” — lines, for instance, their faces are rather smooth.

Having said that I do think it’s necessary that I draw all types of people.

On my way to campus today I stopped by the Coles bookstore in Scarborough Town Centre (as I often do, to read comics). There was a “meet the author” table set up in front. The author, Cecil Leslie, was standing behind the table with two stacks of his two books, business cards and bookmarks. After I finished reading the comics I went and spoke to him for a while about his novels.

Decadence is an updated, Toronto-fied version of Pygmalion or My Fair Lady, he said. And Water Colours is a Toronto-fied version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (West Indian man, East Asian woman).

I noticed that the novels were publsihed by “Xlibris” — a self-publishing company. So after I got home tonight I looked up his novels on the web site (follow links above). I read some of the excerpts from his novels.

His writing isn’t exactly the greatest I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s really … er … not good at all. (In his defense, it appears he started writing Water Colours as a film script … that’s pretty much how it reads….)

All the same, I have to admire the man for pursuing this line and wish him the best of luck. I just hope for his sake that he doesn’t quite his day-job as a technical support analyst for TIFF.

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TTC announcements & exams

Last night as I came home from downtown, the driver was announcing the station names in peculiar, unique and funny ways (doesn’t happen as often as it should, I think). There were some young folks and children in the car I was in, who particulary appreciated the novel method — but the rest of us got (more than) a few chuckles out of it. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I were going back with someone but, alas, I was alone.

I have three exams in two days (Monday and Tuesday), one of which I am sorely unprepared for –my preparation for the other two is only mediocre.

I’m screwed.

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A beautiful day

This morning, as I was going downtown, a man and his three sons got on the train. The first was about two years old, the second four years old and the third perhaps five. As I was getting off the train at St. George Station the two year old said “Bye bye, Spider-Man!”

I turned around and smiled and waved at the boy.

And as if that weren’t enough to make my day, as I was heading back home and walking through Sears in Scarborough Town Centre to my car, I came across a young family with two children aged about five and six. As I walked by, the six year old girl got excited and pointed at my head and said “Look at the hat!”

Again, I turned around waved at the children. And they smiled back, as did the parents.

And pretty much everything that happened today in between those two occurrences was fantastic as well. All in all, a good day.

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Police and thieves in the streets…

I was coming home today from UofT, and some time after 10 pm I reached the Scarborough Centre Station bus terminal, to be met by a massive police presence there, with several police officers, some speaking with a few people.

There were several police cars, at least five — some parked where the taxis usually stand. There was a dog squad van (and you could hear the dogs barking inside the van) parked at the McCowan 129 bus stop as well.

On the opposite side of the terminal (south-bound buses), a couple of police officers (white) had a young male (black) in custody, handcuffed. It seemed like they were patting him down. I was considering standing around to make sure he wasn’t mistreated (not sure why I thought he would be mistreated in the first place). But then the 129 bus got there, and of course catching the bus is more important than documenting potential police mistreatment, or anything else for that matter. As we exited the bus terminal two police cars were exiting ahead of us.

I was intimidated more by the large police presence than any perceived threat. I’m not sure what occurred there though I’m sure it’ll come up on the news (or maybe not). Seemed like some kind of (drugs/gun?) bust. No ambulances, no fire trucks — so it wasn’t a regular 911 call where someone was injured (or perhaps they had long since left), and the dog squad usually doesn’t show up for those kinds of problems either.

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Welfare and Trauma?

Yesterday morning I got on the Spadina streetcar through the backdoors as I usually. It was quite packed, and I would typically wait for another streetcar but I was in a hurry. I also usually take my backpack off but I was holding a bag full of books so I simply didn’t have the opportunity to do that.

From the front of the car, this black lady came hurtling through, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” She was physically pushing people out of her way. She came and stood near the doors, beside me.

Then she started muttering something about how they stole $10,000 from her young children, her social services, and “This is what you’ve become Canada!” Then she said she felt like she was going to throw up, and pushed me out of the way and proceeded toward the back asking (demanding, more like it) for someone to give up a window seat.

A person (in the aisle) complied and got up for her, and the person sitting beside also got up. So she got her window seat (and I think she said thank you but I don’t remember) and opened the window.

She continued muttering things, but I had to get off at Willcocks and so did not get the entire gist of her argument.

I think she might have undergone some kind of trauma (losing a lot of money, perhaps; losing her children?) or something.

But yeah. Another TTC story.

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Syriana and Purple Trees

Monday night, I went to see a preview showing of Syriana with a couple of friends.The Cinema Studies Students’ Union (CINSSU) was screening the sneak preview, for free, as it often does. The film kicked ass.

It’s a complex film with several characters; shot with two hand-held cameras, it’s so rich in detail it almost seems like a documentary (and it might as well be). It is an important film about America’s dealings in the Persian Gulf revolving around oil. It follows four main characters (they’re all men): a CIA agent shuttled between the Middle East and America (George Clooney), and energy analyst (Matt Damon) advising the would-be emir of an oil-rich nation, an attorney investigating the shady merger of two oil companies, and a Pakistani migrant-worker in an oil-rich nation who joins a madrassa. The jargon may be hard to follow for some, and many of the business dealings can leave people confused; but the message of the film comes through — without making any of the characters appear one-dimensional.

Again, it’s an important film, because people need to know how it is that they manage to get cheap oil and at least some of the reasons why leaders of oil-rich countries are almost invariably lackeys of American agendae.

Many people, after the film finished, expressed that they didn’t understand it. And I suppose that might have something to do with the complexity of the content or of the way the film was structured. In any case, I hope they use it as a starting point to learn more about the United States’ operations in other countries.

On Tuesday, after noon, as I was headed downtown on the subway and reading Thucydides, a man started asking loudly for change. You could tell he was kind of homeless; carrying a few things with him, wearing two dirty coats, dirty pants, dirty hair, dirty skin, and with an intoxicated manner. As no one responded to his appeal for change, he began to loudly castigate the general subway ridership for their self-alienation and isolation — refusing to interact with fellow human beings and living in their own worlds. I actually agreed with him on that point.

Finally, a lady got up, thrust some change into his hands and sat back down. He left his seat and went over to her to thank her, and managed to find a seat right beside her and sat down. Soon, she — disgusted — got up and walked to the other end of the car. He laughed and continued his banter.

As we approached Broadview station, he quipped that he came to Broadview to view broads. Blondes, brunettes, redheads, tall ones, short ones, “pencil necks,” and so on (to the general repulsion of those who had nothing better to do than to listen to him).

He related a short story about how he picked up some girl and in bed she started talking about a “ban-job” — short for a banana job.

Soon he went into a narrative about a whore he picked up from Dundas and Jarvis. He talked to her, knowing she had been in this business for some time, and asked her name. She said it was Cynthia. So he asked her who gave her that name, her father or her mother? She replied neither. Well then, he asked, who gave her that name? At which point she rolled over on the bed and bent over and vomited on the floor. She then said Satan, Satan (and he had a peculiar way of pronouncing Satan, “say-dun”) had given her her name. He laughed and asked her if she was a ritualistic type, a ritual girl. She said yes. So he asked her how many candles she lit in her room. And she said sixty-nine, sixty-nine candles and that “ain’t no sexual reference, neither.” Sixty-nine. Cynthia. End of story. Thank you for listening.

The train approached Sherbourne station and he got up, stating that he didn’t understand why people were unkind to him — he wasn’t a gangster, he was a “good fella.” The door opened, and he said:

Crimson mountain, golden sun,
Purple tree for everyone.


As he bid his farewell, the door chimed and just as it closed he exited. It was like he had it perfectly timed.

I turned to the girl next to me and asked, “Did he say purple tree?”
She replied, “I have no idea.”

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iPod and Drunk Subway Guy

Today I was on the subway with an acquaintance I’ve known since high school. We got on the subway at St. George station discussing ugg boots and how I dislike them, and I was trying to show him an example by pointing out someone wearing ugg boots. This we did not find.

There was this guy sitting down beside where we were standing, in front of us was a woman. The guy started tapping the woman and she, I guess, was scared and so with a frustrated expression, asking him what his problem was, walked away. The guy then got up and tapped a man and asked him where Donlands station was, and tried to get some elaboration, and the man tried to help him. For whatever reason he didn’t choose to adhere to the man’s advice and came up to me (within inches of me).

This guy was not in a normal state, definitely intoxicated, and he asked me where Yonge/Bloor station was, and I told him. He then asked me how to get to Donlands, and I told him to stay on the train; I told him I’d let him know when we got there. He then informed me about how “she” took his house, his truck and his two children, all because of his booze addiction (as well as crack). He also showed me how he was now drinking rubbing alcohol (Life brand) that he’d bought from Shoppers’ Drug Mart. He told me he was going to a detoxification centre but he had no hopes of building his life again, and that his wife wouldn’t take him back.

I tried to encourage him and tell him that as long as he was motivated to clean himself up, he’d at least have a new start. I told him it was good that he was going to a detox centre.

We were approaching Donlands and he told me that if it weren’t for me, he’d be on the train forever trying to find his station. He thanked me and held his hand out. I took it and shook it, it was rather dirty. (I didn’t touch anything with that hand until I got to Kennedy station and washed it.) When we got to Donlands and the door opened, he turned around and again thanked me, but the door chimes were going off. So I gently pushed him out of the train and told him to make sure he gets everything together, and bade him good luck.

I wondered afterward if I perhaps should have actually tried to help him find the detox centre. He told me he could barely see, and it seems if he were to go up to someone on the street and ask to help him find it, people would walk away quickly. I’m still thinking about that and wondering if I should have actually taken him to this detox centre. Not sure if it exists. Should google it. Apparently there’s a detox centre at East General Hospital at Danforth and Donlands.

I hope he finds it.

My acquaintance and I then sat down and continued our discussion about ugg boots. As it happened a girl came in and I noticed her boots, which weren’t quite ugg boots but were ugly nevertheless. A couple of stops later she was about to get off at Victoria Park station. So I asked her (because we were sitting right beside the door) if hers were ugg boots. She said no. I let her know that I thought her boots were gaudy anyway. She told me that a lot of guys had said that to her, but it kept her warm and comfortable. As long as it’s pragmatic, I responded. She was kind of cute.

Later we got to Kennedy station and as we went up to the RT platform I noticed another girl with boots, and on the platform I asked her if hers were ugg boots. She had apparently never heard of them. So I had to explain what ugg boots are. In doing so I also had to assure her that I was not crazy (and my acquaintance tried to reassure her that I was simply trying to show him what ugg boots are) and that I was, in fact, a student at UofT. And so was she.

As such, we talked about university, about tuition fees and about medical school, until we parted ways at Scarborough Town Centre.

In other news, I got the replacement for my malfunctioning iPod — brand new (or, at least, it has no scratches). I have to get a case this time.

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I ended up causing a conversation among six complete strangers (including myself) on the subway today. I’ve got to do this more often.

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