I was walking behind this couple on my way into Royal York Station. There were about 5ft tall and probably 80 years old. They held hands the whole way. When they got inside the station, they had to navigate the stairs. He took one step down holding the railing and when he was safely down, he moved his pole to his right side and turned to offer his wife his hand. She took it and stepped down one step. They repeated this process maybe 30 times between the two sets of stairs. I could have easily been on the train by that point but I hung back because it was so endearing to watch. They weren’t frustrated but instead very calm and smiling at each other. When they finally got down to the platform, they stood holding hands waiting for the subway. They stood right at the edge looking straight ahead, the husband with his ski pole firmly planted. When the doors opened, the husband pushed his pole into the train, planted it firmly and they both in unison stepped in, right foot first. They shuffled into a seat and sat down. The continued to hold hands saying nothing but smiling. I wanted to take another picture but it was such an intimate moment I didn’t want to be intrusive so I just smiled back at them.
I had an hour to kill and probably haven’t had a haircut in a year or two. Today was the day! I set out along College Street – there definitely had to be a hair salon nearby. Nope. I found a few on google maps and walked through the mini snow storm. First shop closed… second shop closed … third shop… I find this tiny Vietnamese man who is maybe 4’11 in this antiquated shop right out of the 70s. I look him in the eyes and say ‘Tam, I have complete confidence in you’… I didn’t but I wanted to build up his confidence so we could get through this together. He looked at me with trepidation, like what does that even mean, I have confidence in him??? Lol
Anyway success – my hair is adorable!!
As I walked through the packed Spadina Street car, I passed a Korean man with a bag on the seat beside him. He quickly picked it up and yelled “Lady sit here”! I couldn’t resist that and soon found myself sitting beside a man who smelled of alcohol and was quite vocal. He loudly told me that he lives in Pickering and that his mother lives in China Town… and that he has to visit her. His wife is at home and he works hard. He came from Korea and has lived here for 35 years. I always have this conflicting moment when I realize someone is drinking – half of me wants to move to another seat, and the other half wants to be polite and kind. I chose to remain and started to ask him questions. We had a full on conversation for about 15 minutes. At one point I pulled out my phone and said “Peter, I need a picture for my TTC tales”. He smiled widely for the pic and then pulled out his phone, put his arm around me and said ‘if you get one, I get one’. lol I hadn’t thought that through. I smiled for his pic and then everyone around smiled at our new friendship which was odd to say the least.
I was on the subway heading downtown when I noticed a young man sitting in front of me. He was fast asleep, dressed head to toe in Nike, with Beats playing. An older Guyanese lady got on at Dufferin and sat beside him. She immediately started to shake him awake. He opened his eyes, startled and she said “I just want to make sure you didn’t sleep through your stop, let me know which one and I’ll keep an eye out for you”. He pointed to the sign and shared his stop. I was mesmerized. Many times I’ve been on the TTC and noticed someone sleeping and wondered if they should be awake. I’ve arrived at a final stop on the line and stood for a few moments feeling like maybe it’s the right thing to do to wake the person but fear holds me back. What if they are homeless and just plan to ride the train that day. This woman was bold and brazen and I loved it. I was watching the young man. He removed his head phones off of one ear so he could listen to her. They talked for quite a while and he sat poised, dying to put his music back on but not wanting to disrespect her. After a 15 minute respectful conversation between the two, I decided they deserved a TTC Tale. They rocked human connection!
I was on the Bay bus when I noticed an off duty TTC driver a few steps away. He had jumped up to offer his seat to an elderly European lady. She started talking to him in a very loud voice and he was incredibly polite, answering all of her questions and comments respectfully. I liked that. At one point a man got on and was using sign language. Unbelievably, the off duty driver began mimicking the sign language in an effort to communicate back. I thought, wow, this man is a quick learner. With each kind gesture, I could see him stand a little taller and look a little prouder. Finally he said loudly, “this next street is a real NIGHTMARE…. coming up, Elm Street”. He laughed at his own joke and I could tell he was in his element. The European lady said “you are great, not like the other drivers on here”. He said… “ma’am, honestly, this can be a stressful job”. She said, “this is a stressful city… and this is a stressful life, no excuse”. We were all silent for a second pondering that. I thought, damn right girl, you nailed that.
I got off at the next stop and he had stepped off to let us all pass by. I said, “I love your personality and positivity. Don’t change – the TTC needs more of this”. He was so taken aback that I felt like he wanted to salute me. He nodded emphatically and said, ‘thank you so much, I appreciate that’.
His actions inspired everyone around him and it made me realize the importance of encouraging what you want more of, rather than complaining about what you want less of.
Yesterday I was on the Queen streetcar when this sweet Romanian woman was frantically waving around a toonie. She didn’t know where to get her ticket so she asked a young man standing near her. He took her money and looked around. He never used the payment machine so he really had no clue how to use it. I was sitting across so I started explaining the process. The fair was $2.10 so I reached for a dime and we tried to make it happen. The machine was out of order so the young man tried to explain to Suzanna that if the fare inspector came on she could just tell them. She looked horrified. I pointed to the machine at the end of the street car and subtly suggested the young man try that one. He did lol. The woman was so grateful and relieved when she finally had her ticket and she came and sat beside me.
She was on her way to rehab. She needed a hair cut. Her son bought her a cell phone that she never used but wished she was more fancy so she could pay for things using it. She liked the heat but it was too hot for her. She kept inching closer to me until she was almost in my seat. I thought, this deserves a photo. I asked her if I could take a picture for my blog. She paused for a while and said, “is it for the internet’? I told her it was and then she said… “ok yes then’. lol
I was on the Bathurst streetcar when I noticed a man standing near the payment machine. He had long straggly hair and was covered in tattoos. His face was hardened and he had an aura that turned people off and cleared a space around him in an otherwise packed vehicle. I was close to him and saw him making a commotion. He had noticed a little Asian woman with grey hair and a cart standing by the door. She was possibly in her 80’s and he was mortified that she was standing. He ordered someone to move and then he walked towards her to help her. She recoiled, but he put his hand out and insisted to help her. She didn’t take that hand but did walk in the direction of the open seat. He made it his mission to clear the path and get her seated. He stood for the next while, head down, weaving slightly. At College St, the older woman made a slight motion that she was about to get up. The man dropped his bags on the floor and jumped into action. He quickly was beside her, intent on helping her. She looked incredibly uncomfortable and was trying to avoid his gaze. He was relentless. He cleared the area and motioned for her to get up. He picked her cart up right off the ground and carried it for her. He got off first placing her cart on the ground before turning to attempt to assist her off. She defiantly avoided him and stepped off alone before scurrying towards her cart. He stood with one foot on the step and one on the pavement until she made it to her cart and shuffled away without a thank you or a look back.
I was fascinated by the scene. And I couldn’t help but notice that he walked a little taller when he returned. He had a sense of pride in what he had done and felt inwardly rewarded regardless of her lack of acknowledgement. I understood him. I understood that in a world where people who struggle with addiction and poverty are judged…no worse…ignored and invisible…. they’ve been conditioned that acknowledgement and rewards are not external. His pride came from his actions, not her response.
It was sad but profound.
Yesterday as I road the packed subway home, there was a couple squished in beside me. He was a big, burly man in a short sleeve plaid top and glasses. She was a petite blonde with an updo and little pearl earrings. He excitedly gushed about every detail of his day. It didn’t matter what he said, she had a kind, sweet, validating comment to make. I think he worked in the film industry.. maybe in staging or lighting. He mentioned that the lunches were catered and he choose steamed veggies. She said, “oh honey, that was a healthy choice”. He commented on how he was chosen for an assignment and she said “of course you were, you are the best employee they have”. He mentioned how Susan sat beside him and talked his ear off. She said “babe, anyone would love to talk to you, you are such a good listener”. I was really digging her strategy. As the congestion cleared up, I could see them clearer. They were sweetly holding hands and smiling at each other. I guarantee they had to be 3 months in. No one is that loving after the honeymoon phase is over.
Finally I said, “I really admire your relationship – you are so inspirational”. They BEAMED. “Really? Wow, thank you”…. I went on… “Yes.. it’s really beautiful to hear people interested in each other and supportive, I’m learning from you”. They giggled and smiled at each other. “Can I ask how long you’ve been together”? I asked.
“Sure… 7 years”.
7 Years I thought, OMG lol… I was stunned. She’d been listening to the boring, tedious details of his life for 7 years and responding with such kindness and interest and validation.
This woman was someone to learn from and I took notes:)
I was on the subway, heading to Royal York Station when I heard a conversation begin. A young woman with glasses, a buttoned up blouse and messy pony tail was holding a book. Apparently the man standing beside her had read it and they started talking excitedly. It was some kind of math fiction book…. exciting stuff. Anyway, he apparently knew the entire back story and she was giddy with excitement. They were finishing each others sentences. The conversation turned to school talk, and a university lecture. I was bored so I missed part of it but tuned back in when she said, ‘this is my stop’. He said, “mine too”. She smiled and said, ‘GREAT’. I was getting off also and I followed closely behind. They walked slowly for a while, talking… so I walked slowly behind them… and then they sped up, so I sped up. Yes, imagine this ample woman running after a nerdy couple – but I just had to follow this. I just had to see how it ended. All I could think was, ‘you two are clearly soulmates’. What are the chances that two odd people who love the same Math fiction book, live at the same stop and know all the same boring stuff? Yes, clearly soulmates. Although to be honest, any time I meet an African man with an accent who likes Speaking, I think he’s my soulmate, so I’m occasionally off. When we got to the exit my mind was whirling… how are they going to seal the deal? They walked slower and slower and finally smiled this wistful smile and said goodbye. They turned away and walked off alone. Two ships passing in the night. I was aghast. Never would I have let this opportunity pass by.
Yesterday I watched a friend of mine looking so handsome in his tux, propose to his beautiful, glamorous girlfriend in front of a crowd of people and cameras. It was so romantic and I was holding my breath, ‘oh god, say yes”! I thought…. and she did! I got a little emotional as it’s so beautiful to see someone proclaim their love like that.
When I left the office, I walked past Queen and Sumach. There was a couple in their mid thirties, their faces hardened by years of drugs and street life, laying on the sidewalk. Their upper bodies were on the lawn, and their bottom halves sprawled out over the cement. Her knees were between his, they were holding hands, their faces an inch apart, fast asleep. I was staring at them, mesmerized. I so desperately wanted to take a picture but I knew I couldn’t violate their privacy like that.
All I could think about was…. Love – it’s a universal need. It’s not gifted to the deserving – you don’t have to change or be richer, or slimmer, or more desirable. Love is ours to have and there truly is someone for everyone.
I was on the subway at noon when someone started playing Despacito on the accordion. Loudly. We were all looking around to see what was happening. I thought, yay, are we going to have a youtube moment??!! People went from looking mildly confused and annoyed, to smiling. He only played for 2 minutes and then started to walk down the aisle with a cup. I reached into my purse to get some change and I noticed every person in my section did the same. I told him I needed a pic for my TTC Tales Blog and he happily obliged.
After he left I was thinking about how often people walk down the subway or street asking for change and everyone looks away or shakes their head in contempt. How interesting that all people want is something of value in exchange. I thought back to the homeless man in front of the Bay last winter playing the Recorder. I had smiled and given him money and said “I love your ingenuity”. I thought about the woman at Yonge and Queen who hands out little stickers and tells everyone they are beautiful. I always give her money and so do a lot of other people.
It’s interesting what compels us, or motivates us to help others. I feel like offering a free marketing session to panhandlers. There has to be a better marketing ploy than “I need to get enough money to get the go train”.
I had a heartbreaking experience on the TTC a week ago. I’ve been trying to save this as an intro for our Fear and Failure Event but it’s eating me up inside.
I was on the subway around 8pm. There were two Indian women sitting to my right – maybe mother and daughter. There was an older white gentleman sitting across from them, and a young black couple sitting to his right. There was a man in his thirties, possibly Spanish, well dressed with ear phones and a wool coat and he was standing in the middle of our section, coughing, He walked towards the older white man and made a gesture, like he was pumping his chest, requesting the old man give him the Heimlich maneuver. I felt this panic inside and I sat up in my seat, positioned to rise, but frozen. I noticed the young black man to my left do the same. The older white man just stared at him and then got up and walked away. It felt like forever, but it was maybe 30 seconds when finally a woman from a section behind us ran over. By this time the man had coughed a few times and could breath. She was asking him if he was ok. He said, “yes, just embarrassed”. Then he got off and the woman returned to her seat. I was flooded with tears of shame. I literally couldn’t breath because the pain was too much. This is my whole mission in life – human connection. Connecting with people who are struggling with addiction or poverty or mental illness because human beings deserve attention and respect no matter what. And yet, when called to actually connect with someone and help, I was incapable. I thought for awhile about what had happened and why, and realized it was fear. In that very moment I had a bunch of thoughts running through my head – is he fooling around? Are his friends sitting a bit away and he’s playing the fool to amuse them? Is this a scam? Is he a bit unstable? I hadn’t fully processed what was happening before it was over. It was simply a fear of looking foolish. I mean, imagine you run over and give someone the Heimlich maneuver, and it’s a joke and everyone is laughing at you?
When I finally composed myself, I walked over to the woman who had helped. “I really admire you for helping out. I can’t believe we all sat there, doing nothing, how horrible” I said. She said, ‘thanks, you kinda have to help”. “Yes” I said, “but we didn’t. And you always wonder in these situations when you see them or hear about them, WHY did no one do anything, and the answer is fear. Fear of looking foolish”. The woman smiled sympathetically and I returned to my seat.
This has been a really humbling experience, and praying that next time I can do better.
Last night I was at the back of a packed Queen Street Car during rush hour. When we reached Sherbourne, a young Native woman began to push through the crowd to get to the door. She had a baby in a stroller, and a 2 year old son in a puffy winter jacket and mittens. Navigating the chaos can be hard enough for us assertive, extroverts, but for someone who is shy, it’s torture. This poor woman looked anxious and terrified. She kept saying “sorry, sorry”, as she tried to push through where there was absolutely no room. When she finally got to the top of the stairs, a nice gentleman offered to help her with the stroller. She went first, and he followed behind. However her two year old son was left mid chaos, standing amidst the crowd, wide eyed. I felt the flutters of panic. As the man stepped down with the stroller, people rushed on and the young woman was yelling “Daniel”, “DANIEL”!!!! I literally wanted to cry. I had this rush of empathy… and this nostalgic memory of going through those same feelings when Lily was young. Unless you’ve been through it, no one will understand the overwhelming responsibility of preparing yourself and your children and having to navigate through congestion and keep everyone safe and together. It’s exhausting. I jumped up and pushed through the crowd to Daniel. I stepped down on the stair to make sure the door stayed open and yelled “Daniel is coming”… by the time I helped him down to her, she looked near tears.
Our eyes met and we had a moment.
Tuesday I was on the Bay bus when a middle aged, Middle Eastern woman got on. She had her son in a stroller. He was maybe 3 and a half, he looked mixed with a poof of curly hair and dark skin and eyes. He was striking so I noticed him instantly. I also noticed that this woman was holding up the entire bus because she was trying to help her son put the ticket in. She was trying to lift the stroller and then eventually lift him all the while he was making a huge fuss. There were people lined up outside the bus and finally in frustration the driver yelled ‘get on’!
She sat at the front, close to me. I was watching them as the son’s behaviour was escalating. His fussing turned to yelling and finally he reached over and hit his mom 3 or 4 times. I felt this knot in my stomach and I was fascinated that the mom didn’t even react. In a very gentle, imploring voice she said “be good honey, we will be home soon”. The son’s eyes narrowed and he said “we never go anywhere” and then he hit his mom 3 or 4 more times.
I felt myself move towards them and then I sat back down. I was quickly debating what to say or do… torn… when he raised his hand to hit her again, I said “do not hit your mom’. Both the boy and the mom stared at me without saying a word. It was my stop and I had to get off but I felt so anxious and this image stayed with me all evening. I wanted to say more. I wanted to stare into the boys eyes and tell him he should respect his mother but more than that, I wanted to tell the mother that if she let her young son hit her and disrespect her now, that one day it would be no surprise when he was bullying a kid at school, or beating his girlfriend because she was late. But I didn’t.
I was in that ugly spot of wanting to do something and at the same time, not wanting to chastise another mother for her parenting… because truly, I don’t know her life. Maybe her husband beats her nightly and her son has learned this… maybe she’s raising her son in a culture where boys are superior and it’s all she knows… or maybe that’s what she watched her mother go through.
I was on the subway when I noticed a black man in his early 30’s standing in front of me. He wasn’t ‘cool’ by any standards, but he seemed like an average guy with dress pants and a polo shirt and a gym bag. He was maybe a little different in his demeanour but definitely not offensive. There was a young, attractive blond woman standing close by. The man was smiling to no one in particular and then said something to her about having to have good balance. She stared at him like a deer in headlights, and then had a frozen semi smile on her face. He stepped closer and repeated “You have to have really good balance on here”. He was smiling so happily. The young woman remained with a frozen smile and then stepped back slowly before turning and walking 10 steps away. The guy looked a little embarrassed, he glanced around to see if anyone noticed. I averted my eyes quickly. A second later I said “I’m pretty impressed with your balance”. He looked relieved for a second and then gushed excitedly “I know right – it’s not easy. Man, sometimes they jolt you all over the place and it takes everything in you to stay standing”. I smiled and nodded and said “well, you’re skilled”. That was it.
Just a simple moment of acknowledgement – that’s all most people need.
Lily and I left the Dufferin mall when we noticed this man playing ball alone, maybe 5’7, so adorable in his cute little outfit!
Lily said awwww, imagine I went and played with him.
It took all her nerve but she made her way over. (I love when she pushes through the fear and has her own stories of human connection). She grappled with the ‘what if he doesn’t want to play with me’ fear, and I assured her of course he does!
Look at the smile on his face lol.
Yesterday I was on the King Street car, heading south from Broadview. There was a stressed woman with a french accent trying to find Degrassi Street. The driver was short with her but ushered her on, asking WHERE on Degrassi. She didn’t know but she had an address. She climbed on with all her luggage. I pulled up the address on my phone and told her to come and sit with me. I showed her where the stop would be and what streets to take to get to her destination. It was nothing. It turns out she is from France, and looking for her AirBnB.
The more touching part of this story is about the gentleman sitting in front of me. His ears perked up when he heard me helping her and he slowly turned towards me nodding and said “YOU are a good neighbour…. yes, you are a good neighbour”. He kept nodding and finally he leaned over to the woman and then pointed to me and said, ‘this is a good neighbour, you are lucky”.
When he got off, he walked to the front and slowly turned to me and lifted his hat, and then gave me a thumbs up, nodding slowly, and then stepped off.
Again – it was nothing… a tiny gesture… but the beautiful part of that, was that it was almost like his faith in humanity was restored.
This is Justin. I’ve written a speech about him. I’ve ran into him many many times on the street. I have a soft spot for him. He’s probably one of the most offensive people on the street that you could ever encounter. He is often foaming at the mouth, he has wild untamed hair (he just had it cut in jail in this pic), he has crazed eyes, and he’s incredibly aggressive. He will be up in your face asking for change and he doesn’t take no for an answer.
I ran into him last week at Queen and Victoria. I was sitting in the park after visiting a close friend at the hospital. I was feeling sad and lost in thought when he came and sat with me. He was a bit calm, but so high on drugs that his jaw was clenched and I could barely understand him. I started asking him questions… how long have you been on the streets, how much drugs do you buy a day, do you love anyone, do you have any friends etc.
He said his mom dropped him off on the streets when he was 4 years old and he had been alone and through this system his whole life. He buys $80 worth of crack a day… he has no friends, no one he loves or who loves him… he prefers to sleep on the street than in the shelter. And then I said…. are you ever happy… ever, one single moment … happy? He thought for awhile and said, no.
Finally I had to go and as I stood up he begged pleadingly, pleassseeeee 5 more minutes… I paused before sitting down. This happened 3 times before I could eventually get away.
Lily and I were on the subway this morning when I noticed a familiar man. He’s Asian, in his late forties, with bad teeth and he walks the cars approaching each person as he signals he is hungry while smiling and nodding. When he finally got to me I smiled and gave him a dollar and said a few words. There was a man who had just denied him sitting in front of me and he turned sharply to watch me, mesmerized and intrigued. Then he whispered “one time, I gave someone money and then I followed them and they bought drugs”! His eyes got wide. This made me laugh. “Yes, they usually do” I agreed. Now this man was staring at me intently, waiting for me to explain. I shrugged and said, ‘but, it only cost me one dollar and look how happy I made someone – what a good opportunity that was for me”. The man stared at me for about a minute and then loudly proclaimed “You are a such a nice woman”! He then shook my hand, and then Lily’s and introduced himself. His name is Ahmed. He just came here from Egypt. A Muslim converted to Christian. He had been trapped in the Army and desperately wanted to get away. His sister died of Cancer – God rest her soul and now he is in school to become a brick layer. He’s not married… but he’d like to meet a wife like me:)
In the end I asked if I could take his picture and he said, yes… I trust you lol. Oh sweet Ahmed.
At my last Momondays speaking event, I shared my fear of running for the bus. I have missed a hundred buses and subways for fear that I’d sprint up to the door only to have a mean driver slam the doors shut while everyone points and says “oh, look at the chubby woman run”. No, I can’t do it.
This morning I entered Royal York Station and I was walking down the stairs next to a young, blonde girl in her early 20’s. She was extremely plump and cute. We were at the top of the stairs when we heard the train come in. All of a sudden she started to hustle down the stairs. I was surprised and thought, you will never make this girl. She awkwardly, painful pushed on, out of breath, running at a slow pace… I quickened my pace because I had to see what would happen. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, the chimes rang out and I knew the doors would close in a second. Unbelievably she started to sprint. I was amused and impressed with her optimism. When she finally reached the doors, they slammed in her face. Good try I thought. A second later, the doors opened and she excitedly ran on. I was getting closer and there was a black operator in his early fifties with dark glasses and a cap. I smiled at him and nodded and said, “that was nice”. He stared at me expressionless and then slowly nodded in acknowledgment of my praise.
I don’t know if I was happier that she ran fearlessly, with no inhibitions, or that there was someone kind enough to reward her effort. Feel good morning on the TTC.