Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why write?

I can't put my finger on when, but sometime in my flying career, after Allison and I had taken up flying long distances, I found myself getting into a habit. After I shut the plane down, safe on the ramp or wherever I parked, I would touch the cowling or the propeller boss, and very quietly say or whisper "good plane". I though of it as my way of saying thanks-- to the plane, the people who built it and maintain it, the people who taught me to fly, the Creator who made the living Earth and the sky above it we had just traversed.

I regularly read a column by Rick Durdan, a lawyer and pilot who writes about his own passionate love for flying and the sky; I dare anyone to read his account of his daughter's first glider solo without tearing up. A year and a half ago, he wrote this:

Just before we closed the hangar door, and when he thought I wasn't looking, Hack gave the cowling a pat and I saw him mouth the word, "Thanks." I looked away and concentrated on pulling the sliding door closed.

I remember reading that and thinking: I thought I was the only one.

In this society, we have few more effective ways to communicate with other people, including people you do not know and may never meet, than the written word. If you ever need a reason to write, you can go back to that. When you write, you make everyone less alone.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Short But Ugly...

I witnessed a short but ugly incident on the TTC Monday night, at the start of a night that came with a jolt after seven months of "daylight savings time".

After running an errand in South Parkdale, I got on the eastbound street car at Dufferin and King. Right after we passed Spadina, the driver made a request over the public address for the last passenger to come up to the front and pay the fare. Did the driver mean the person on a cell phone beside me? I knew he didn't mean me; I had boarded several stops back. The driver spoke again, describing the passenger's jacket. He then said: "the fare is $2.75, not 66¢". We sat quietly, unsure of what to do. The driver then announced that the streetcar would not move until the passenger came up and paid his fare. That produced some rumblings of discontent from the rear of the car. Several more passengers boarded, only to find that the driver did not intend to move the car. At least they got out of the rain.

Then a young man pushed brusquely to the front of the streetcar. The passengers in front of me blocked the view of what he said to the driver, but I could hear the exchange. The passenger said he had no more than the money he had put in the box and had explained this to the driver; the driver replied that he hadn't heard him say that. After a couple more exchanges, someone apparently offered to pay the fare. The driver made a remark about a charity case, then demanded the passenger's student card. The argument then escalated, with the young man making increasingly free (though not imaginative) use of profanity. The streetcar stayed put. After a short time, the driver ordered the young man off, and the passenger stormed out, slamming into the front doors along the way.

After a very short pause, the driver then announced that the front doors had jammed open, and the streetcar would not move anytime soon. The car then emptied; some of the passengers who left by the front door expressed sympathy with the driver, while others abused him, the transit system, and the union.

I left with decidedly mixed sympathies. I can understand the position of the TTC; they depend on the fare box. Making fares optional would shut down the system, although, when I got caught in Mississauga at night with my bicycle, a friendly bus driver let me ride with a short fare, even when I offered to put a $5 into the fare box. I sympathize with TTC drivers; they do a necessary but boring job every day, and should not have to worry about abuse. I've also seen TTC employees throw their weight around with people of colour in ways I don't think they would with, say, David Miller.

In the end, I didn't much like the way any of us behaved. I didn't like the way I sat and did nothing, I didn't like the way some of my fellow passengers abused the driver, I didn't like the way the driver's insistence on two dollars and nine cents led to an incident that tied up a Toronto street and three streetcars (two that got stuck behind us), and I certainly didn't like the way one arrogant young man shorted the fare without apology or even an attempt at politeness.