Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Magic moment on the rails - Toronto Star

Magic moment on the rails
April 17, 2007
Enez Perkins

I've been taking the GO train for the past six months, back and forth from an eastern suburb to downtown Toronto.

Maybe it's way too early to tell, but like that magic moment when you meet your soulmate, I feel pretty confident in claiming that I have indeed found my preferred method of commuting.

I make this bold statement, however, on a lonely platform – no, not the one where I board the train – a situation I find most perplexing: I'm surrounded by people who do not share my passion!

There is, firstly, my best friend, who dutifully drives into the city daily and scoffs at the idea of being at the mercy of schedules and switching problems. Then there is my significant other, who holds his haughty head far above the thought that someone else can steer him in the direction he wants to go.

The real joke, though, are co-workers – confirmed city dwellers – who stare incredulously when I mention where I live, not stopping to think that their city address finds them fighting traffic gridlock, taking thrice the amount of time it takes me to get to work.

It is true that during the first week in January, when the train arrived late three mornings in a row, I felt my passion for GO slowly slipping away, like the horrible moment when you realize that your perfect love has indeed got flaws.

As I stood in freezing sub-zero temperatures listening to the deafening silence of my station's absent paging system for an explanation of our already 20-minute delay, I felt totally disheartened.

The second morning of delays found me taking drastic and impetuous action. I angrily left the station, trekked back to the parking lot, jumped in my car and then spent a very long, very lonely ride stopping and not going anywhere fast on the mess that was the 401. That morning I was twice as late for work and every bit the contrite lover.

So morning three of being late found me on the train, simmering all the way into the city. I let loose my frustrations by firing off an email to GO Transit the minute I got to work. That helped a great deal, no surprise since I've usually found insurmountable problems get that much smaller when the details have been aired.

So after the email and subsequent cooling off, and amidst the back-to-normal schedules of the trains, a few weeks later I was back to joking with the ticket-booth attendant, quipping about my reluctance to buy another 10-ride ticket in the face of an impending strike.

My love for GO has many angles. The idea that I can personally do something significant in the fight against global warming is tremendously appealing.

Then there is the fact that I can choose any number of activities for the commute to work – reading, sleeping, talking to my new friends, listening to music, or just simply looking at the therapeutic scenery that Lake Ontario provides.

Let me hasten to add, though, that the GO ride is not all pleasant. After all, commuters sitting in a certain section of one of the popular rush-hour trains can attest to the annoyance of listening to a small group as they loudly discuss the fine details of Karen's upcoming wedding. We have heard of the engagement, the ring from Grandma, the planned joke on the groom and, more recently, the results of the wine-tasting session.

Then there are the times when your seatmate's headset attached to his MP3 player is blasting sounds beyond the listener and you sit helplessly trying without success to catch up on whatever.

We won't mention how cleverly you have to read the position of the doors and the body language of fellow commuters to ensure that you are indeed one of the lucky ones with a seat on the train.

But, for the most part, I arrive at work on time, unfettered by the stress of driving on the major highways, smiling from my latest escapade and totally ready to make my workday contribution.

My evening commute relaxes me, particularly if I take the train with the operator who fancies himself a stand-up comic and manages to make hilarious comments about even the most mundane "stand way back of the yellow line" message.

When you consider the odds, three times late in six months really is not bad. Then there is the sincerity in the voice of the operators as they apologize for the delays or thank you for choosing Go Transit; it makes you ready to forgive.

Yes, unless something drastic changes, I am a confirmed GO train traveller, one of thousands of people committed to GO save the planet!

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