the red bag

7 January 2010

A couple of days ago I’m riding the short, three-stop subway ride to Victoria Park station and there is a lady in a red coat, with a red wool hat – the kind with the dangly braided “tails” that come down from the ears.  I like the look on her because it’s not the kind of hat that one might usually associate with a woman in her sixties.  And with all her red outer gear she’s also got a red shopping bag on the seat beside her.  And she’s asleep, hunching further and further forward as the movement of the train invites deeper slumber.  One of these hunches forward will eventually jar her awake.  I don’t pay much mind because lots of morning subway commuters doze the ride away.

We pull into Woodbine station and the doors open and just as they are about to close the woman jars awake and bolts out onto the platform. I see her standing there looking at the station name on the wall, probably coming to her senses about where in the world she is when I notice she left the red bag on the seat.  She realises it at precisely the same time because as the train pulls away she’s running after it, even hitting the side of it to get the driver’s attention.

I see by the pitying look on another rider’s face he witnessed the episode too.  And like me he’s probably wondering what to do.  I wonder if I should take the bag and get off at the next stop and wait for her to see if she got on the next train hoping some kind soul would do just that.  I wonder too if I should take the bag to a TTC employee at my stop for turning in to the lost and found.  Ultimately I leave it where it is – still in the spot where she last knew it to be.  I’ve seen bus drivers help passengers to track left belongings based on stop times, so I hope she’ll be able to get the thing back in a similar way. 

Thinking maybe I can help, I write down the number of the car and note the time on a piece of paper with a mind to notify the TTC lost and found with the information when I get to work.  But I find myself plunked into an early meeting when I get there and subsequently forget all about it. 

Next morning, getting on the train I recall the episode and feel guilty about my lack of action on the poor woman’s mishap.  I can’t get the frantic look on her face as she ran after that train out of my mind.  That bag might have contained her purse and wallet and who knows what else.  Maybe something precious to her.

A few years ago I left my purse on a streetcar.  It was a Saturday night and I didn’t notice I’d left it until an hour or two after I had reached my destination, as I was carrying a number of bags and parcels.  On the way home the driver tried to help, radioing in to see if anyone had turned it in, but unfortunately I’d have to wait until Monday to visit the lost and found.  As anyone who’s lost a wallet knows, it’s a horrible feeling. 

I decided to assume I would get the purse back.  Based on the idea that the vast majority of people are fundamentally good and honest, I chose to assume that the purse would be turned in and otherwise untouched and that helped me get through the next day and a half.  Turns out I was right.  The purse was turned in and everything in it was just as I had left it. 

I’ve been really hoping the lady in the red coat was able to hold onto some of that confidence in humanity and positivity, because it helped me so.  I was hoping that look of panic on her face had quickly turned to resolve and calm.

This morning I get on the train and there is the lady in the red coat and red hat, with her hand clutching the red shopping bag.  She’s hunched over sleeping. 

I wonder if I should poke her awake, and while I imagine having to explain that I watched the whole episode two mornings ago, she sleeps through Woodbine station and into Main St. station. Just as we’re pulling away, she wakes up.  And with all the calmness in the world, and her red bag, she walks over to the door and waits for the next stop.  She exits with me and the two of us walk down the stairs and into our respective Thursdays.

adventures in transit

13 January 2009

Yes I Am

The other day I’m riding the subway.  Now, the subway is a place where good manners and even good behaviour are not in abundance.  People assume blank faces to the strangers around them.  It’s a place that is sometimes marked with graffiti and usually marked with careless litter.  It’s a dingy underground tunnel and, while I appreciate its speed in getting me places, it’s not my favourite way of travelling.

So anyway, the other day I’m riding the subway and I notice a small sticker stuck to the side of a seat.  It reads:

You’re beautiful.

It’s amazing how a small message can change one’s outlook for the day.

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Driver of the Day Award

Last night I’m walking down Kingston road, loaded down with grocery bags but not wanting to wait for the bus.  I enjoy walking in winter at night, and the exercise feels good; but the full bags and the snow and ice on the sidewalk are making it a little less than a barrel of laughs. 

I’m half a block away from the next bus stop when I notice the bus approaching fast.  I start to jog toward the stop, but the awkwardness of the situation reduces my “jog” to something that resembles a hobble/stumble/fumble/trip.  Nice bus drivers notice these things, and wait at the stop until you get there. 

This bus driver stops right beside me, a half block before the stop so I can board right there.  Then he must remember me from another time because he doesn’t stop at the bus stop I ring the bell for; he continues on another half block and deposits me right in front of the laneway which takes me home.

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Yech

On the ride to work today, a perfectly respectable looking lady sneezes right into the back of my hair.

What is it that invisible thread of connection that binds you to a stranger?  What is it about that person that stands out in the sea of intentionally bland, internalized faces in a busy transit commute in a busy city?  What makes your attention rest on a particular person; makes you wonder about a stranger’s life?                                 

Say you see something in a pair of bright blue eyes.  Brighter and clearer than you might expect to see in a body even decades younger than the seventy odd year old one that houses these ones.  Something in the way they stop on you only for a split second and move away just as you notice them.  You know in that instant those eyes are present; they are living in their surroundings, not glazing over them.  And you somehow know those eyes didn’t glaze over you. 

Then you notice the way he lingers back casually away from the rest of the people at the bus stop, not needing to stake a place just where the driver will stop to ensure a seat.  The peaceful way he sits in the crowded bus, holding various bags and an awkward plastic box without fumbling or struggling or intruding on anyone else.  You notice something that is somehow lucid and purposeful in way he pulls on his gloves while still holding on to those bags and the box.  That mouth drawn up in a way that elongates his chin makes him look something like Ray Bolger – an expression that could make him look simple or comical like The Scarecrow, but doesn’t.  It’s a mouth housed in a face that is alive to its surroundings.  A face and a body alive to a moment.

Today I encounter a stranger.  After he exits the bus I imagine what his kitchen is like, and him making breakfast and coffee, planning a day that will include an early bus ride.