Travelling around this city by bus on a Sunday is, to put it politely, challenging. This is especially true on the Number 7 bus that travels from downtown to the far reaches north of the city. I don’t usually go in that direction too often since I am a downtown girl, have been since my very first day in Toronto, 21 years ago. Actually I’ve been a downtown girl most of my life from my early days on the Cleveland Avenue bus line to those hectic jaunts on the 42 bus in DC. But the Number 7, Bathurst Bus, is in a category all by itself. On good days, it’s there waiting for you at the station — on bad days, of which there seems to be many, you just miss, not just one, but two that go roaring past you in a row. I wouldn’t bother ever taking that bus, but for the next ten days I will diligently stand at that bus stop since there are two particularly sweet cats that are depending upon me for a little food, clean litter and a lot of loving.
So there I was today waiting for that bus to bring me back downtown. I really hoof it up hill from the apartment building to the stop since I can’t see if the bus is coming or not and I don’t want to just miss it because I didn’t walk fast enough. So I got to the stop and there, at the bottom of the hill, is a bus coming. I couldn’t believe my luck. Then, like a bad joke, it whizzed by me with that “Sorry, Out of Service” sign mocking me. I waited some more.
Another thing about Sunday, is that there are fewer buses so that means they are more crowded and, in addition, have more strollers, canes, walkers and bags than any other day of the week. Today was no exception. I scooted my way past a particularly huge stroller to the only empty seat next to a matching-cane-carrying couple. At every stop, more people got on so, since there were no more seats, they had no choice but to hang from loops above our heads. None of the babies cried which was a blessing. I thanked them. A few stops later, a woman got on with a walker and no seats free. I offered her my seat. The sentiment was sweet but it meant she had to maneuver her folded walker and bags past the bigger of the two strollers and slip by the two canes sticking out and try to find room between her walker and the other stroller to slip into the seat. She kicked the cane-carrying woman next to her in the process. She did not look happy at all and just nodded at the other lady’s apology. Then, everyone settled down.
I was too squashed in the seat to take my book out and start reading so, instead, I started making up stories about the cane-carrying couple. I figured they must have been in their 80s which I thought was pretty amazing since they were still taking their matching canes on this awful bus. The lady had a very flat looking face with lips that I swore had never seen a smile. She sat grumpily ignoring her husband, who kept his eyes away from her and towards the driver. I started to feel sorry for him and imagined his gloomy days living with this woman. Then, after the walker lady settled, she started talking to the cane lady next to her. Before the next stop, they were chattering back and forth and the grumpy look on the cane lady’s face had completely disappeared. Her husband continued to ignore her and watch the driver.
At the last stop, I let the cane couple off before me. I heard her ask the driver how they could get to Dundas. He told them to ask on the streetcar. Since I was going that way, I assured her that that very streetcar would take them where they wanted to go. She thanked me but, by now, her husband was heading into the subway station. “Harold!”, she yelled at him. “We can take the streetcar.” He was not having any of it. I said, “It’s true, Harold, that streetcar will take you there.” He stared at me like I was trying to trick him then murmured, “She always makes me late.” They still weren’t convinced that I knew what I was talking about. So, she, of course, also asked the driver if he went to Dundas. I called out to the driver, “She doesn’t believe me.” This made her laugh. Then Harold was getting on and I said, “He’s going to ask you too” which made every one laugh even Harold. I got them safely seated but Harold wasn’t giving it up. “We’re going to be late, again.” he grumbled. I could see that this made his wife nervous. I said,”What happens if you’re a little late? Does someone get sick or miss out getting thousands of dollars?” Harold eyed me but didn’t say anything else about being late. I didn’t tell him this, but I figure that once you’re in your 80s it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference whether you’re early or late. You should have the right to arrive when it’s convenient for you. Actually, I feel that way about the 70s too since I’m about to slip into them.
Finally, the streetcar started. Harold was nervous until it actually turned South, the direction of Dundas. I asked them where they were going. “The AGO,” she said. But someone was meeting them and that’s what had Harold all nervous and bothered. I said, “It’s a great place to wait. There’s a nice couch, good art, interesting people watching, and no one bothers you.” But Harold was still grumbling about always being late. Finally, she said to him, “Did you bring your cell phone, Harold?” Nope. I figured that evened things up for her. I offered mine and so did the lady behind me. So a message was left that they were on their way. I asked who they were meeting and Harold said, “Our daughter-in-law. She’s taking us to lunch.” That made me laugh. “She has to wait for you. So stop worrying, Harold!” Harold finally relaxed his grip on his cane.
As I was getting off, Harold took my hand and smiled and said, “Thank you.” I think it was more for the laughs than the directions. The whole encounter reminded me of that old John Prine song about just saying hello to old folks when you see them. In the end, I think my heart got more from them than what they got from me.