Never get involved in arguments on the streetcar

Posted on April 23rd, 2010 12 great comments. Room for one more!

Generally speaking, that’s a good rule. I usually just smile and ignore, but I was sucked into this one. Why? I offered my seat to a kid. Oi.

Two brothers, I dunno, ten and and eleven, were escorted to the back of the streetcar where I was sitting, by their dad. He sat them down and suddenly realized he’d forgotten to get transfers. The one kid was buzzing to look out the back of the car and he kneeled on the empty seat between me and the matronly, scraggly-haired woman on the other end. His dad sat him back down. Guess he thought the kid would be pestering us.

There were two empty seats across from me – the back  is a half-circle facing each other – so I offered to give the kid my seat. I knew the dad would want to sit with the kids anyways (correctomundo, btw), so I thought the kid might as well have a few seconds of fun gazing out the back of the streetcar. I loved looking out through the front of subway cars when I was young, so I get it. And I honestly didn’t see the harm. The boy was polite, he was obeying his dad, he was keeping his feet off the seats, backpack neatly to the side – damn if that kid didn’t deserve an ice cream sundae!

So shit, peeking through a greasy, filth-covered window for ten seconds seemed appropriate for a young man of that calibre.

Offered it to him twice. Twice he refused.

Scraggly-hair to my left says, “good for you!”, to him. “You listen to your dad!”

Okay, guess she had a point. But you know, not like he’s gonna roll up his sleeve, tie off a vein, and start hitting the dragon back there. Plus, potential weirdo ends up in a seat farther away from the kids. Where would be the downside?

Dad came back, seat gladly accepted. The opportunity was gone.

Oh well, the kid did refuse. And that should’ve been the end of it.

Scraggly-hair pointed at the kids and said to the dad, “You shouldn’t leave them alone like that here. This isn’t a safe neighbourhood.”

Internally, I begged to differ. Oddballs? Painful piercings? Imaginative body modifications? Yes, yes, and yes. Dangerous? No. But, this was still just between her and the three of them. :)

The dad replied, “I teach my sons well and they know how to handle themselves.”

The buzzing kid popped erect, beaming a smile, and immediately added, “We take the streetcar by ourselves all the time. We walk home, we take the subways, we take the buses. I know what to do if I get lost. On this streetcar, if I got lost, I would get off at St. Andrew Station and …”

It went on for another five minutes with the other boy interjecting excitedly in sporadic bursts to further heighten the tales of their prowess. The dad finally stopped them when they got on the subject of late-night taxi rides (if only he’d let them look out the window).

“You never know who’s around them down here. All sorts of people”, responded scraggly-hair after a short pause. “It’s just not safe.”

Then she looked over at me. For fucks’ sake!!

“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re a criminal”, she explained sheepishly.

Steady, old boy, I thought to myself. Not a problem, a broad smile and that’ll be my reply. No problem. I never felt myself to be a criminal, so ho harm no foul. And no statement. :)

“But don’t you think it’s dangerous?”, still looking at me. :(

“Well”, I replied, measuring each word, “I remember watching a documentary about urban parents that send their kids into the city by themselves. This guy isn’t alone. Personally, I’d be hesitant to send out any kid younger than ten, maybe eleven. But, you know, that’s just me. Not my call to make on anyone else’s behalf.”

“But you gotta admit it’s dangerous. Even for us!” She wasn’t going to let this go.

“To be honest”, I said gingerly, “I’ve lived in a number of cities and I can’t say that Toronto is that bad. I’d let my kids out by themselves.”

The look on her face … the look on her face … lipsed pursed tight, eyes squinting shut, head shaking gently from side to side, mouth pulled back in that broad, thin smile that says, unequivocally, that  you are so fucking wrong.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Well I’ve lived here for six years and I’ve experienced some terrible moments”, she retorted.

Out of nowhere, the dad cut in firmly, “I’ve lived here for forty years and I think it’s just fine.”

Silence for the next two stops, at which point the three left the streetcar.

Scraggly-hair stayed on with me for another few stops. She’d only meant it in the best interests of the boys, she assured me. He (the dad), was mad at her, she could tell.  Yeah, she was sure of it. And Toronto is no place to be sending children alone. She was attacked not too long ago herself!

“Oh wow, what happened?”, I asked, hiding a regretful and nearly instantaneous wince.

“Just down there … you know … the park on Queen?”

“Yeah … Trinity.”

“No, the one on McCaul.”

“Oh, that one.” (There is no park at McCaul and Queen.)

“Some drunk, or maybe whacked out on drugs, grabbed my backpack like this”, she motioned feebly at the air much as an injured walrus might. “If my partner wasn’t there, I don’t know what would’ve happened. My partner stood between him and me”, she made another pathetic attempt at a blocking gesture with her elbows, “he stood between us, and he said ‘no!’ And the man was scared because my partner is, like, six foot two, and then he ran away. My partner scared him away. Lucky for me.”

Lucky indeed, I thought. Lucky he’s your “partner”, as you keep reiterating, and not some other less formal entity in your life. That ten-foot pole distance would probably suit me fine too.

But lucky for me, her stop had come more suddenly than she’d realized and she had to bid me a hasty goodbye as she ran for the rear exit. “Stay safe!”, she urged, leaning back into the car for one final wave.

Maybe, I remember thinking, my kids will have something to fear down here after all.

By the way, the faux posters above are from a new National Post campaign to promote better manners on public transit. They may be real posters if anyone prints them out — large sizes available on the Post’s site. The “TTCC” stands for “Toronto Transit Civility Commission”; a quiet pet project of the paper. Normally I make a point of linking to the Star but what can ya do? A good idea is a good idea.

12 Comments on “ Never get involved in arguments on the streetcar ”

  • The Fitness Diva
    April 24th, 2010 3:22 am

    We need those same posters displayed prominently on the walls and trains of the New York City subway system. Badly!! ;)

    I would also add one entitled "Keep your damn leg off of me, I am not your easy chair!" Ah, the joys of public transportation! ;)

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  • Patrick
    April 24th, 2010 1:33 pm

    I can think of none better, Fitness Diva. Toronto is about fifty years behind on public transit by most estimates. That explains the charm, but it can sometimes be a challenging way to get around.

  • McAlpine
    April 24th, 2010 3:45 am

    Nice read. I work in the travel abroad industry here in Japan and I send customers to Toronto for work and study programs. Is Toronto a safe city?

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  • Patrick
    April 24th, 2010 1:37 pm

    Yes, McAlpine, I would say it is. I live directly across from a less expensive hotel downtown and there are many Japanese tourists that come through here. In fact, I'm looking at a foursome pulling their luggage out of a cab at this very moment. And a couple lugging some furniture down the street in the opposite direction. :)

  • Grace
    April 24th, 2010 11:33 am

    Love those posters – thought they were "real". They should be.

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  • Patrick
    April 24th, 2010 1:42 pm

    They can be real if you want them to be, Grace. :) If you visit the Post's site, they have links to really large versions of these images – I think you can get 8×11 prints out of this size. Distribution is left at your discretion.

  • Ninja Media
    April 25th, 2010 6:39 am

    nice post especially the pic you are so creative

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  • Patrick
    April 25th, 2010 8:54 am

    Not my doing, Ninja Media. These are courtesy of the folks at the National Post. But thanks anyway!

  • Stanya
    April 26th, 2010 5:32 am

    I cannot agree more about publc transit behavior but it is problem lasting for years and years. Some people think they are the owners of the wagons. Something seriously shoud be done. I would think that TTC should be more concerned about it. Luckily I don't have to use this transit system because we don't live in this city anymore. I use to love Toronto very much but now anytime we come down I can feel disappointment. I is not only transit system but whole bunch of other things, which make life in Toronto more difficult, not to mention environment. The air there always give us great headaches. But as always I love your blog and enjoy the reading.

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  • Patrick
    April 26th, 2010 6:36 am

    As always, thanks, Stanya. I've come to accept the TTC for what it is, hoping for what it could be.

  • William K Wallace
    April 26th, 2010 6:15 am

    Sounds like using public transport is as much fun as it is here in London.

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  • Patrick
    April 26th, 2010 6:38 am

    It's mostly in the politics, William. Overcrowding, having to stand near malodorous people, etc., result from too few vehicles, which comes from a lack of funding. Could be better.

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