Public Transport

There is that one moment when the subway train comes out onto the Bloor Viaduct, and the light of day shocks most of the temporary dwellers of the car, who lift their heads and swivel them towards the nearest window. It’s instinctive, I think. There’s the weary mother with her toddlers thankfully shocked into silence by the change in lighting; there’s the construction worker dozing in his debris-whitened steel-toed boots; a university student lifting their head from the notes highlighted and underlined in colour-coding that bespeaks a visual learner; the professional who leaves the gripping plot of their book for a second; and the senior, hands propped on the flowered shopping buggy in front of them. It’s my favourite moment on public transit.


I’m very lucky to live on the subway line, and that’s probably why I can declare my love for it. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is the object of many Torontonians’ ire, frustration, anger, and even hate. It’s understandable, for such a massive infrastructural service that millions of people (1.7 – 1.8 million to be precise) rely on every day. Like any crucial support service, we tend to notice it when it breaks down. And it does, quite spectacularly. But this post is not supposed to be “Welcome to Obvious!”

Subway service suspension

Instead, it’s about how public transit brings us closer to each other. Some people might hold that against it, and opt for—if they can choose—the isolation of their personal vehicles. I, on the other hand, prefer to be around people. People, especially strangers, allow me to see, observe, and learn about other lives. It shows me how much it’s not about me. How much it’s about everything else: other lives, other feelings, other choices, other circumstances. Otherness.

I try to steep myself in that otherness, rather than turning it on myself, i. e., it’s not about how this otherness makes me feel or think. A year ago, I was on the subway one evening, and the car was not very full. I was sitting on one the lateral seats, and there was a woman across from me, in one of the back-facing seats. I’ve always had strong motion sickness, so I can never travel in back-facing seats. [Yes, part of it might be about control, but did I mention how this was not about me?] The woman across from me was wrapped up in strong emotions: she was almost writhing, but she was not grimacing. Instead, she was smiling little sad upward quirks of her lips that did not move her eyes, which looked sad. Every few seconds, she would change positions, moving her entire upper body. Her lips would purse as if to stave off something powerful that wanted out through her mouth. Then she would shift again, resting her head on her hands stacked on top of the seat back in front of her. Then, again, her head would jerk up as if from minutes under water, fully backward, extending her neck and displaying first a sad smile, and then pursed lips. Throughout her squirming, she was absolutely silent.

Was it grief? Was it denial? Was it disbelief? What was her struggle for? It’s been a year, and I’m still thinking about her and many others I’ve met on public transit.

One Response to “Public Transport

  • I love this post Margrit! And I do love the subway for reasons that have nothing to do with convenience, though that is there too…

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