Thirty Minutes on Calgary Transit

I watch the C-Train pull in to the City Hall station, already packed to overflowing.  I join the throngs of people who are pushing their way towards the edge of the platform, everyone eager to grab one of the few available standing room spots before the train departs.

I end up jammed close to the door.  I attempt to reach my phone so I can listen to some podcasts.  No such luck – I could likely manoeuvre my hand into my pocket to retrieve it but doing so puts me at real risk of getting charged with some sort of perverted sex crime by the high school girl in front of me.  I opt to forego the technology and focus on the people.

Immediately I begin to assign names to the various people around me.  There is “High School Chick” in front of me, “Professional Chick” on a bench nearby and “Librarian Chick” a couple seats away.  (Hey, nothing says I have to be politically correct in my own mind, right?)

Librarian Chick (named because of her conservative manner of dressing, glasses and hair tied tightly in a bun) has the classic “closed body language” pose going on – her left arm folded right across her body, which itself is squeezed as far over to the right side of the seat as possible.  She clutches a paperback upon which she keeps her eyes focused at all times.

I see why.  Sitting to her left is “Gangsta Boy".  He is your typical white suburban “hip hop” type – baggy pants around his ass, gold chains around his neck and – to properly complete the ensemble – a New York Yankees baseball cap perched backwards on his head.  His right leg is resting against Librarian Chick and he is making no effort to hide the fact that he is enjoying this forced intimacy.  A wry smile is on his face which morphs into a smug self-satisfied look the longer the contact continues.

In front of me, wedged up against High School Chick is a white-haired gentleman who earned the name “Captain Kangaroo”.  Next to him and off to my left is “Mark Zuckerberg”, so named because he looks very much like the Facebook founder.

The train pulls into the first station.  The doors open and a couple more people wedge in.  High School Chick backs into me and says “Haha, nice to meet you.  Looks like we’re going to get to know each other before this ride is over.”  Not often I am left speechless, but I manage to stammer something incoherent.  Just as I am mentally beating myself up for being such a dork (“C’mon, your’re more than twice her age, you should not be rendered dumbfounded by a female anymore, dimwit!”) the lights of the train go off and there is the disheartening sound of everything shutting down that is very familiar to anyone who rides the train on any sort of regular basis.

You can hear the entire car sigh as a collective.  Someone mutters “I wonder if this will be twenty minutes again.”  Like prisoners of war, we have all formed an immediate bond due to circumstance.  There is a second collective sigh, this time one of relief, as the lights come on once again and the train lurches forward, immediately sending a woman who was standing behind me stumbling backwards.  Damn Newtonian physics!

She is in the process of apologizing and explaining there was nothing to hold on to.  I decide that given the newfound bond we all share to take advantage of my captive audience.  “Calgary Transit doesn’t believe in handholds,” I explain.  “Their philosophy is that if you actually have room to topple over then clearly the car is not packed enough.”

There is a slight chuckle from those in close proximity to me.  Mark Zuckerberg is given a sudden boost of confidence by my ice breaker.  He starts in with a simple “Calgary Transit breaks down at least once a week.”

Like a good improv team, I follow up his opening with “Well, you know, it IS raining.  We certainly wouldn’t want to design a train system that can operate in the rain.”  It’s not a great line, but it is one I used to use in the winter when we were told the train was being delayed due to snow.  It works better in the winter, but I had to work with what I was given.

Mark continues the momentum.  “Yeah.  It’s not designed to work above ground.  Or below ground.  Or on days that end in ‘y’.”  We chuckle.  I’m sure if we were physically capable of turning around to look at people we would see a few eyes rolling.  I can sense the moment has passed and it is time to once again shut up.

High School Chick speaks.  “Yeah, it sure doesn’t take much to shut down the entire C-Train line, does it?”

Immediately Mark Zuckerberg’s comes to full attention.  He has garnered the attention of a female who is close to his age.  With renewed enthusiasm he carries on.

“It’s like when the voice says "’Thank you for choosing Calgary Transit.’ What a joke!  What other choice do we have?  Drive?  You ever tried driving these roads at rush hour?  All you need to do is stall a car on Deerfoot and you can shut down the whole city.”

There is a momentary silence.  Not taking the queue that it’s time to wind up the act, he continues – now launching into a Rick Mercer style rant:  “Rubber neckers!  It’s like they’ve never seen a stalled car before!  They slow down and look just to see what’s happening, never mind what it does to everyone else on the road.  What’s up with that???”

Another silence. 

I speak up.  “Well, they probably think it’s a photo radar vehicle or something.”  Yeah, sometimes I can’t help myself – nothing like holding a drowning man under water, eh?

Mark grabs that idea and runs with it some more.  “Yeah!  You’re already doing ten klicks under the speed limit – why would you think you need to slam on your brakes?  Don’t people know how fast they are going?  That causes accidents!”

Mark has now completely given up on witty repartee and has moved onto political commentary.  I decide enough is enough and leave well enough alone.  Using body language I try to convey to the rest of the patrons that I am now separating myself from Mark.  The Mark and Dan show is over, thanks for coming out!

While Mark continues to go on and on, I look around.  Gangsta Boy is still resting his leg against Librarian Chick who continues to immerse herself in her novel.  High School Chick is sorting through the text messages on her phone.  I am able to read over her shoulder and quickly learn her name is Jackie and she is meeting a number of friends after school and she feels the need to update them with every station we pass.

Mark is still going.  He has now moved on to a rant about how the same person who decides his bus should leave 30 seconds before his train gets to the transfer point is also the same person who synchronizes the traffic lights.  Captain Kangaroo hasn’t changed his expression once, continuing to have the same unimpressed look that asks the world “Why did I have to get stuck here with these young people?”

As we get further down the line the crowd thins out.  High School Ch—er, Jackie gets off.  No longer doing our impression of high density feedlot the cattle are able to start free ranging around the car a little more.  For the first time Librarian Chick looks up from her book to survey the immediate area for a vacant seat.  No such luck, deary – you’re going to be stuck for awhile yet.

I make a bet with myself.  I have no doubt Gangsta Boy will be riding all the way to the end of the line.  Anyone who is trying that hard to convey the image of a tough guy just HAS to live way out in the suburbs.  I’m sure if you were to dump him in the middle of south-central L.A. with real gangsters he would run crying home to his mamma.  There is nothing worse than a rich white kid.

I watch the passing “scenery”.  The muffled voice continues to announce each station as we stop.  Some people join our little club, but our membership is dwindling.  Librarian Chick has exited to freedom.  Captain Kangaroo also bails out on us.  Mark Zuckerberg left several stops ago with an exasperated “Yep, there’s my bus leaving now, damn it!”  Gangsta Boy surprises me by leaving one stop before the end of the line.  Dang.  Professional Chick left quietly, so much so that I didn’t even notice until now.

We reach the final stop and I disembark.  As I walk towards my car I have just two thoughts:  “I sure hope I don’t find my car window smashed.” and “Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t take transit more often.”

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