There is a woman who sits in a wheelchair at Bathurst and Bloor. She is missing her legs and fingers and teeth. She chants “change, change, change” frenetically. There is something about her that makes me feel uncomfortable… guilt? stress? anxiety? I’m not sure but I just know that I have avoided that corner so I am not confronted with those feelings. My mission is not so much to give change, but rather to treat people with dignity and acknowledge them. I’ve been frustrated by my ability to do so with her because of my own insecurities.
Yesterday I took a deep breath and walked over. I didn’t have much change… maybe 80 cents, and so I said… “sorry, I don’t have much” and handed it to her. She smiled broadly and said, “oh honey, that’s ok, trust me, it all adds up and thanks so much”. I was so taken aback. I wasn’t expecting her to be so… articulate, or positive. She usually stares up to the left and chants repetitively and I kind of thought she was out of it. I asked her how her day was and she said, ‘honey, I can’t complain, I’m alive and people are generous”. I smiled and told her I loved her attitude and then was on my way.
That’s been on my mind since then. So many people locked away in their own personal hell of poverty and homelessness and mental issues and addiction, but they are real people in there.
This morning I was on my way to the bus stop across from my house. There were three lanes of traffic stopped at the light. I cut through them, but when I got to the third lane, a car was coming. I stopped to let him pass, but he stopped and motioned for me to cross. I waved and crossed. A few seconds later I could see him shaking his finger at me. I was taken aback, and felt annoyed… I started to say something and he rolled down his window. I walked over and he smiled. He was a late 50’s Italian gentleman in a fancy SUV. “Please, come in” he said. So I jumped in. I told him I was going to the subway. He said in his strong Italian accent, “I like you smile, you a so sweet”. I couldn’t argue with that, so we chatted for a few minutes. All of a sudden I heard a beeping sound and I asked if my seat belt wasn’t on properly? He said “No… it let’s me know if I cross over the line… maybe I no concentrate and I cross it’. I said, ‘oh, yes, like maybe you are so distracted by a beautiful woman and you aren’t paying attention”. He threw his head back and laughed uproariously. Then he pinched my cheek and said “I like-a you so much”. Anyway I think we have a date tonight. If I just found my new man, I may never take the TTC again! Momma’s gonna ride in style!
Yesterday I was sitting across from an older gentleman with flyaway Einstein hair and a little beige windbreaker. A young, stylish 20 something girl sat beside him. She asked him politely to move his coat and I think he got excited that someone actually addressed him. He took this as a sign to initiate conversation. He said “what’s that”? She replied, ‘an iphone”. He went on to ask 20 questions… can she go on the internet with it? can she call someone when she’s on the ttc? can she play games? She was frustrated but she answered politely. Finally she curtly said, ‘I’m going to listen to music, good day”, and put her earphones in. She was reading her book and he was looking inquisitively over her shoulder. I was smiling through this whole thing… I don’t know why… because these things amuse me lol. Anyway, a few stops later, a seat became empty. The girl got up and moved. I watched the man’s eyes follow her, craning his neck to see her into her new seat. Then a sad look came over his face. Why did she have to move and make him feel so bad? So I pulled out my phone and said to him “I have an iphone too”! And voila, she was so old news!
I was on the Queen street car when an ample Spanish woman boarded. She had a cart and a large black garbage bag full of laundry. She had rosy cheeks and she was chatting incessantly with the driver. When it was time to get off, I walked up behind her and offered to carry her laundry off. She was really happy and when we got out she looked at me and said “Oh wow, you are so gorgeous and big. Are you married”? I’m not sure why I said yes, but I did, and then she said… “Oh too bad, I wanted you to be my sister in law”. As I walked away, I shook my head at my lost opportunity – there is probably a robust, jolly, Latin American man out there who is my soul mate and now I’ll never know
Yesterday I went to the Bank to do our weekly deposits. Paul is a chubby, sweet, Portuguese banker who has a crush on me. I know this because he works at the front, and no matter where I am in the bank he yells “I can help you here, I can help you here”!!! Even if I’m walking up to an available teller, he frenetically gets my attention. As I’ve now accepted that Paul and I have an intimate banking relationship, I just go to him first. Yesterday they had cookies out, and as I walked up I said, “Paul, I have to be honest, I love cookie day”. He laughed and said “well, we used to have it more often but it got out of control”. This was amusing to me.. how does cookie day get out of control??? I had to know! Apparently, the homeless people (not from Regent Park) would go in and eat a lot of cookies and drink a lot of coffee. Paul then spent 10 minutes telling me about how he treats all his customers equally, whether they have $1 or $1 million dollars, but that he has no use for users and losers. And it’s not that I don’t understand… but as he got more and more snarky, in an effort to impress me, I felt less and less impressed by him. Come on Paul, you didn’t buy the cookies.. I’m sure the Scotia Bank can afford a few bucks a week for coffee and cookies and maybe try and feel good that someone who has nothing, got one tiny reason to feel happy that day. In one moment it was Paul and Rina against the world – vendor relations gone right, happily ever after, and the next, Paul the homeless hater is off my list!
Our upscale office is uniquely placed right in the middle of Regent Park. I am surrounded by soup kitchens and shelters and homeless people, and yet oddly enough I am rarely, if ever asked for change – and I walk around super approachable with a smile in my eyes:) Today I had this delicious chicken and avocado sandwich on foccacia with sweet potato fries. I could only eat half and decided I was going to share the other half with a person in need. As I walked back to the office, I could feel my anxiety rising. Half the people in the park had white Styrofoam containers, as they had just gotten their lunch from one of soup kitchens, so I thought another meal would be anti-climactic. I noticed a bunch of guys on the corner, but I thought they looked like drug dealers and could probably afford their own meal. There were a couple of aggressive crack hookers but I know they don’t eat. As I got closer to my office, my fear of rejection kicked in… what if someone said no… I have to admit, I froze up. I walked in with my sandwich still in hand… so I ate it. Now I know what disappointment tastes like. Better luck tomorrow.
I left work at 5pm and took the Spadina streetcar to the subway. I stood on a packed platform waiting for the subway. The trains flew in at a rapid pace – every minute or two. Each train was more packed than the one before. I would stand against the wall and then move towards the door. As they opened, I could see people squished mercilessly against the glass. There wasn’t a square inch to squeeze in. When the train left, I’d return to the wall. I repeated this process 5 times. Finally a man looked up and smiled at me and we were unified in our pain. When the 6th train approached, I looked at him and said, “If this train is packed, I’m jumping in front of it”. He was taken aback and laughed and said “me too”. Then, a man who was standing behind us said “I’m in”. The train arrived and we all squeezed in.
About a month ago I was on the Royal York bus when 2 school kids got on. They were probably around 13. One of the boys had a panicked look on his face because he had forgotten his wallet and phone and they had a field trip. He asked his friend if he should get off at the next stop and run home and grab it. He was conflicted because he’d been late so many times and the teacher said he’d get a detention the next time it happened. He said, “what if I can’t go on the trip”. His friend was indifferent and just shrugged. He didn’t jump off at the next stop but was looking progressively stressed. Finally I said, ‘Listen, get off and run home and get it. Even if you get the detention, how bad can that be – I’m sure the teacher won’t make you miss the trip, and you need your money”. He looked relieved, jumped off and i saw him running down the street. I always wondered if I made the poor kid miss his trip and I saw him on the bus today. I asked him how things went and he said “I did get a detention lol, but I did get to go on the trip, and I really needed my money so I was glad I went home”. He’s 13 and didn’t have the emotional maturity to say “thank you – you were an angel sent from God”.. but he felt it… oh yes, he felt it!
Last week Lily and I were riding the Spadina streetcar into the station. The new streetcars, well, all Spadina streetcars operate on the new Proof of Payment system. This means if you don’t have a pass or a transfer, you have to pay on the streetcar with cash or a token, and get a transfer. If you are caught without one, you can receive a huge fine if the transit fare inspectors catch you. They randomly show up and I’ve seen them a few times.
So a woman gets on, holding a token in the air, swinging her arm frantically, with a panicked look on her face. The whole scene amuses me. Of course, there are two machines to pay, the one in the middle is broken and has been for a week – and the assistant, obviously, is not standing beside it because that would make too much sense, instead she’s standing at the end of the streetcar, beside the one machine that does work. I watch numerous people try and pay at the middle machine, and I have to continually tell them it’s broken, until I grow tired of this job.
The woman sits down across from me and she’s despondent. I tell her she can either go to the end of the streetcar and pay, or she can take her chances, as we are 2 stops from the station and the inspectors are not likely to arrive. I explain, ‘listen, even if they come on, you can just play dumb – this machine doesn’t work and this is all new to you, don’t stress”. She sits there hyperventilating. I want to laugh out loud at the absurdity. We roll into the station, and omg, the fare inspectors are standing outside. She starts crying… like, real tears rolling down her face.
I shake my head and tell Lily, ‘let’s go, we need to help this woman’. She’s full out crying by the time I get there, which to be honest, is a nice touch. I mention to the men that the machine is broken and they just nod and dismiss her.
Tonight I went to Indigo. I found 2 books and I was waiting at the cash to pay but no one was there. I was looking around impatiently when this guy walked up and said, ‘what, no one is here’? I shook my head and then he started in a high pitched, European female accent “somebody to help please… somebody to help please”. I was startled and amused and told him I’d be so freaking impressed if that actually worked. He raised his voice an octave and yelled “SOMEBODY TO HELP PLEASE”. Finally an employee heard and started coming our way. I told him ‘nice job’. He was laughing and said, “I heard an old lady do that once and it worked” and left. I had a huge smile on my face by the time the annoyed sales rep arrived. She looked at me and said, ‘very rude to yell in store’! I put my hands up and said ‘it wasn’t me’!!! She gave me the “whatever Shaggy” look, and checked me out. I wanted to say, “Retail 101 – have somebody there to take the money” but I was too happy and amused by my experience. Fun times at the bookstore!
I was on the subway yesterday, and a boisterous, slightly “out there” gentleman absolutely wanted to chat. He was trying to smile and talk to everyone around him, but not one person replied back, they just looked straight ahead. When he said “nice day eh” to me, and I replied, “It sure is”, he knew he now had a captive audience. He told me his life story and I actively talked to him for about 20 mins. One thing I’ve noticed – when someone is a little different, and you talk to them, people start to wonder if you are a little “different” also. I don’t care what they think, but just an observation.
When I finally got to my stop, he looked heart broken that I was about to leave. He kept yelling “have a great day” as I walked to the door.. followed by “it was nice talking to you” and “don’t forget, we guys that work at Purolator are the good guys”. He waved enthusiastically and then I was gone.
I was laughing as I walked off and thought, it really takes so little to indulge people and actually make them feel worthwhile.
I stepped onto the Royal York bus during rush hour. The bus was packed so I was standing in the door. A very old, sweet gentlemen was sitting up above and he got my attention and pointed to the empty seat beside him at the window. I smiled and said “I’m fine” but he wouldn’t relent. He just kept pointing and smiling until I felt like I might offend him. I laughed and said, “sure, there is an offer I can’t refuse”. Now… this man was about 80… and I watched in pain and he struggled for about 2 minutes to actually get out of his seat and let me in. lol, it was so surreal. When he finally got back into his seat I thought, dear lord, please let him get off before me. Fortunately his stop was one before mine and he struggled, awkwardly for a few minutes to get up and move towards the door. He was holding the bar, smiling at me. I smiled and said bye, and then he took his hand off the bar to start waving at me and then he was falling all over the place. A sweet moment on the TTC.
I went to Metro after work and then I was waiting at the bus stop. For whatever unfortunate reason, the bus took about 30 minutes to come. I was sitting beside a 64 year old woman with food in between her teeth, and bed head and a not so pleasant odour. My instinct was to recoil, but she started to talk to me and so I found myself chatting with her and asking her questions. By the end, I wanted to cry. I literally had to hold back my tears. She was talking about how she’d lived her whole life with her parents and then they died. Now she is all alone in life… except for her fiance – a crossing guard who lives with his mom who has Alzheimer. Now it’s too bad so he cant really see her.. in fact they don’t talk on the phone and she hasn’t seen him in months. The last time he showed up at her home, she was out so in frustration he later told her it was finished but he’d see her later. She wistfully looked at me and said, “what do you think that means honey… is it really over”. She told me she spends $450 a month to store her parents belongings and has done so for 9 years. By the end of the conversation I was emphatically insisting she get that stuff out of storage and go on OKCupid to find a new man. Heartbreak on the TTC.
Earlier this week on the Queen streetcar, there was a man who was mentally challenged. He kept yelling out “It’s raining, it’s raining”~ Everyone was trying to look in the opposite direction so they didn’t catch his attention. I was standing close to him so I said “It sure is, where is your umbrella”. He said “at home, at home, at home”!!! At every stop he’d say “Is this the subway”? And I’d say “no, not yet”. This happened for 12 stops lol. When we finally got to the subway, I was about 6 steps behind him. He went down the stairs and towards the snack shop. I guess when he pulled out his money, a $5 bill fell on the floor. There was a young kid, rapping, with ear phones on – he grabbed the $5, and a second later ran up to my new friend and gave him back his money. That was so nice to see. Faith restoring times on the TTC.
Here is a TTC Tale from 2013 – before they even existed:)
So today I was on a streetcar and a kinda crazy woman stormed to the back sitting across from me. She says very loudly “You have so many crazy people in Toronto, I just walk past them and find a good place to sit”. Everyone is looking away uncomfortably so I say “good plan” as not to make her feel like she’s being ignored. She keeps talking loudly about how hot it is, and I say “you got that right”! She says something else, and I comment, “you know your stuff”. I’m trying to be polite and at the same time, she’s clearly out of it, so I don’t want to be engaging in a full on conversation. All of a sudden she says “HAAAA you don’t say much, but everything you say is perfect. You’d be great in sales. What do you do for a living?” So we end up talking about my store and she’s writing down my website lol, and then she storms off the streetcar, and everyone smiles because it was such an ironic experience. Anyway, another girl asks me about my store and gets the address – so now I’ve decided to embrace the crazy and start networking wherever I can:)