Shots From the Window Seat

A feature from The Lance, July 6, 2004. It reads like a naked baby photo. Call it a contributor to my development as a writer.

I am an anomaly. I am a freak, an oddity. I am completely out of step with my community.

I do not own a car. I don’t even have a license.

In some places, that’s perfectly normal. In most metropolitan areas, not having a car does not inhibit one’s ability to travel in any way. They have trains, buses, streetcars, a cornucopia of ways to serve your transit needs.

Windsor is not most major metropolitan areas.

In case it may have eluded you up to this point, Windsor is in fact the automotive capital of Canada. Not having a license in this town, especially when you are perfectly capable of getting one, is unheard of. It’s just not done.

Yet through a combination of adolescent apathy and the graduated licensing system, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Oh, you can get by in your younger years without a license. Friends get theirs, and the novelty of driving is so exciting to them they’re delighted to do you the favour of carting your arse wherever you need to get to, because then they get to drive more.

But friends get older, and as they get older, driving becomes a chore and you wake up one day to find your friends, while happy you are succeeding as a young journalist, have little interest in carting you from the office to the protest at noon, to the press conference at three, back to the office then home. They can get you into the city, but after that you’re on your own.

Which is the position I found myself in when I took the job of News Editor at The Lance. A friend was willing to bring me to the outskirts of the city on his way to work, but my own maneuverings through the city were up to me. Thus began my unholy love-hate relationship with Transit Windsor.
As we drove up that first morning, I had the whole thing worked out in my head: I would get dropped off at St. Clair College, take the Dominion 5 which would bring me up Campbell and hit Wyandotte. I’d just get off there and walk to the university. Easy peasy!

Let me tell you. It does not take as long to walk to the university from downtown as you think.

Okay, so I missed my stop. Big deal.
Okay, so I was a little unclear on the procedural details of the whole, ‘pull cord to alert driver for stop’ thing. No problem.
Okay, so I was too embarrassed about not knowing said procedural details that I didn’t want to get off the bus until someone else did, which happened at Pelissier. I need therapy.

Either way, I got to the office. An hour later than planned, but I still made it there. And by myself, thank you very much.
After a few days, missing stops became par for the course. I always ended up getting off too soon, because I didn’t know if the next stop would be past where I needed to be.
Let me tell you. I look like a real winner when I get off the bus, only to start walking and see the bus stop a block in front of me to let someone else off. Someone who then looks at me with confusion or pity, I haven’t figured out which.

As the weeks went by, the more I took the bus, the more I began to appreciate our city’s public transit system. I grew bold, and started taking the bus to places I wanted to go, not places I needed to be for work. If I wanted to do some shopping during a slow news day, I could take the Crosstown 2 to the comic store, maybe hop the Transway 1A toDevonshire on the way back.
It was great. I’d go rolling up to my destination and think, “Dude, this is so much faster than walking!”

Never you mind that 20 minutes in a bus would have been five in a car. Never you mind that my trips through the city typically cost me $147 since I don’t have this “transfer” business quite sussed out yet.
What I’ve come to love about the bus rides, though, are the people. Bus riders in Windsor are different than bus riders in other places. In other places you take the bus [or subway or streetcar] because parking costs a fortune downtown, and you’d rather not drive. In Windsor, you take the bus because you have to. And my fellow bus patrons never fail to engage me or put a smile on my face.

Most days, I sit there with my headphones on but the music off. I was taught as a young, impressionable journalist how to eavesdrop with aplomb. Overheard cellphone conversations and idle chitchat are what give me my snapshot images of the people I share the city with.

There was Denise, a thirtysomething on the Dominion 5 one Tuesday morning. She was looking at a two-hour wait at the clinic, so she had to reschedule her appointment. She had to go to work, she didn’t have two hours to spare. It was just as well, since she forgot her OHIP card. She did manage to hop over and take care of the headstone, so at least the morning wasn’t a total waste. She went to Milk afterwards. It’s the only place she goes for coffee.

There was a young woman I recognized from my favourite bar, who sat in front of me on the Dougall 6. She thought the Bif Naked concert the night before was kickass, even if they were charging four dollars for a bottle of water. She figured that’s how they had to do it at all ages shows, but it still sucked.

There was the man with the tiniest glasses I’d ever seen, who came on the Crosstown with a bucket filled with some sort of fluid and squeegees. He spent the entire trip with an expression on his face suggesting he was recalling his greatest regret in excruciating detail. Or maybe he was just tired. He got off after two blocks.

There was a young man, no older than 25, who put his legs up on the seat in front of him riding the 1A, and furrowed his brow as he read Sartre’s “Nausea.”

There was Julie, a teenager who sat with a group of her friends on the 1C, tucking her red hair behind her ears and staring at her hands as her friends whooped and giggled around her. They eventually noticed her silence and asked her what was wrong. She still hadn’t answered by the time I got off.

These are my stories. Every chronic bus rider has his or her own, and if they’re anything like m, they cherish them. These brief glimpses into the lives of these people colour my vision of this city, our city. I see aWindsorI didn’t know existed before, the Windsor we are, the Windsor we’re always trying to get the rest of the province to see us as.

If having a license means I would have missed out on that, I’m thankful I was such a lazy teenager.

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