Commuter’s Bane: Specimens by David Whelan The trains into Toronto dump thousands of us each morning at Union Station. We climb down stairs and walk along platforms, sidewalks, and along city streets. Well, let’s use the term “walk” generally. Anyone who has been a part of this flow of humanity will recognize that some walk more than others. Here are some observations on some of the types of people I see in the morning.
A Crowd Walking
His back is broad and his shoulders’ are a bit rounded. If his head was up, you might notice that his hair is thinning a bit on top and that it’s a brown color. But you can’t really tell, because all you can see is the back of his head, tipped forward so that his eyes are looking towards his feet. Even before you get close to him, you notice the signs. His walking is a bit erratic, often not in a straight line but perhaps meandering on a diagonal or in a zig zag. His arms are only visible to his elbows, although you can tell he’s holding them in front as he shambles along. As you get close, and sidestep around him, you see the bright glow of his devotion, shining into his face. What rapture is found in a mobile device! His fingers are clicking, his lips perhaps moving silently as he communes with his silicon friend, and he is relatively oblivious of his surroundings. He relies on the flow of people to protect him from turning vehicles, open manhole covers, and other threats. As he satisfies his narcissism, you wish there was a shoulder for him to pull off too, so as not to be in the way of other people trying to get to their offices.
The Pack Mule
She’s noticeable – and almost always a she – because she moves more slowly than her surrounding travelers. Her head is up and she is moving purposefully towards something, whether an exit or her office. She has a computer bag over her back, black of course, and dragging that shoulder down a little. The hand at the end of that arm is holding a bag strap, probably Coach or Gucci. It is more than your average purse, noticeably rounded on the edges. But it doesn’t hold everything, because there is another bag, more carryall than purse, snagged in the crook of her other arm. There’s a good chance it’s a red Lululemon shopping bag, although it’s hard to tell if it’s one of those with the controversial phrases! Unfortunately, this added weight distributed around her body stops her arms from moving. Swinging. Like they do when your arms and hands are empty, the left swinging forward with your right foot, and the right swinging forward with your left. She walks like you would if you’d had someone tie your arms to your side, not quite unsteady but not as graceful as humans often can walk. The lack of swinging reduces her momentum even more than the added weight, and she is soon walking so slowly in comparison to her fellow commuters that she might as well be standing still, a rock in the middle of a flowing river. Hurry past, and hope that you don’t run into any of her hanging bags as you go by.
They are just ahead of you, where the sidewalk goes past store fronts on the left and parked cars, homeless men panhandling, and various bike racks and newspaper boxes on the right. No space to the left, none to the right. They are intent on each other, and, because they are not looking where they are going, they have slowed down to a stroll or even a saunter. If it’s a romantic couple, they’ll be filling the space between themselves holding hands or otherwise connecting physically. The colleagues, especially the business types, leave a space between themselves to fill with waving hands and emphatic physical jerks. The flow of people slows down as it reaches them. As gaps appear, as stores open on alleys or parking is prohibited, the eager step out and speed around, giving a slight boost to others who hope to similarly rush forward before the flow is once again curtailed.
The Joy of Commuting
I would hate to give the impression either that I’m in a rush on the way to work or that I don’t care for my fellow commuters. It’s a pleasure to see the regular characters, some you recognize even before you see their Blackberry or bags, knowing which buildings they peel off to. Similarly, you can see the ones who are haring ahead, crossing while the stop sign counts down to 0 or before the traffic has actually finished passing by. They are madly looking left, looking right, the kind of people who might do a lot of lane changing in rush hour. Slowly, they all leave the pavement and head inside, leaving the way ahead pretty clear and calm until it’s my turn to step off and go inside.