Last night I was riding the streetcar home. Gill was going out with a friend and I was heading home to spend some time with the boy. The streetcar was unusually empty, in fact three stops before reaching the Bingham loop, my stop and the end of the line, I was the only passenger left. At Scarborough road the driver looked back at the nearly empty car. “You’re my last streetcar passenger ever. On Monday I’m moving to the Subway.”
I walked up to him. “I take it that’s a good thing?”
“Yes and no. I used to drive the subway when I started. I’m licenced for everything, trains, streetcars and buses. You can get buses and trains anywhere but streetcars are special, so I’ve been driving them for over 20 years now. I’ve worked every line in the city. I love these things.” The lights changed, and his foot stomped the heavy pedals that made the car move forward. “But this is ruining my knees. I need to save something for when I retire, you know what I mean?”
“I hear that”
The car pulled to a stop in the loop and the doors opened.
“Thanks for the ride and good luck on the subway.”
“Thanks” he said, and I walked away.
I recognized this man, I’ve seen him before. He use to drive the King car when I worked at Joe Rockhead's Climbing Gym so many years ago. I’ve also seen him on Queen late at night taking loads of tired people home. He was memorable, not only would he call out every stop, but he would also call out every cross street and local points of interest. He was friendly, he would joke with the passengers and when he was forced to hold a car at Young for 10 minutes late at night he would apologize and explain that we were running ahead of schedule and that people needed him to be there at the right time, that they relied on him. He would thank us for our patience.
I met him in a bar one night, it was a local joint I would go into sometimes to write. He was drinking beer, telling stories about the TTC and mildly flirting with the young woman working the bar. I told him that I knew who he was, that he’d taken me home many nights. I complimented him on the way he worked the mic, the way he went above and beyond the call. This was shortly after the TTC had installed the automated stop announcements.
“Yeah, they don’t want me to do that anymore, they have a machine for that now. It’s good in a way, most drivers won’t call out any stops unless you ask them to, but I prefer to talk to my passengers.”
We shared a few beers that night as he shared a few stories and secrets about the job. As someone with a compulsion to share things, I often recognize the same in others so I mostly just listened as the waitress poured us beer, thankful for someone to share his attention.
I don’t really know anything about this man, other than he loves this city and the people who live here. He loves his job even though he sometimes shares our frustration with the organization he works for. We need more TTC employees like that man. It seems unusual that I would have so many encounters with him, but I think the sad truth is his excellent service makes him stand out and be more noticeable. There are only two other TTC driver’s that I will always remember, one was treating a homeless man so poorly that I took the time to go to head office to report him, the other needed my help dealing with a passenger who was harassing the women on the vehicle. I’ve ridden the TTC literally thousands of times and I only remember one driver for doing their job so well that they stood out.
When I think of that I’m kind of honoured to have been his last passenger for a job he loved and did so well. I hope the Subway is good to him.