Toronto, July 3, 2018
Niagara Falls north to Toronto. I admit it, I was stunned at the size and beauty of this magnificent city! I had no idea.
The Toronto Blue Jays were playing that night and I passed scores of fans making their way from the train station to the stadium. I won’t bore you with the details of another fine burger, another great beer, my missing England score against Croatia, and my museum mis-haps. I did see that the Royal Ontario Museum has a fine First Nations exhibit. Oh, and Dinosaur bones, too.
I was leaving Museum #2 when I stopped and asked the information desk guy if he could point me to a bookstore. First a bit of chit-chat. Canadians are very polite and always have something to say. Something nice.
Then, “Yes – It’s just behind us here. When you walk out, turn to the right, go to the next street, and turn right again. It’s just behind us.”
The “just behind us part” — was three little alleys hiding within four city blocks. In the humid heat, with a heavy backpack and tired feet, once I walked into the air conditioned shop, I bought two books instead of my planned solo read – only because my backpack wasn’t quite heavy enough. Three days later, a co-passenger gave me a book that he’d just finished reading: Visit from the Goon Squad, J. Egan.
After replenishment of an ice cold Pepsi from Rexall Drug, I returned to the “under-renovation” colossal Union Station. I soon enough discovered a little side room with the plug-ins to charge my phone and laptop. Their were six chair in the room that faced a large sloping walkway to the boarding area. It was about 6 pm, and I had a lot of time to kill before my scheduled 11:30 pm train would leave. And it was delayed further.
Amtrak (U.S.) and Via Rail (Canada) really need to hire some Swiss guy to come in and show them how to run a railroad. I reminded myself, more than once, “it’s the journey, not the destination.” Don’t ever expect to be on time and you’ll be fine. Arriving the same day as scheduled is a good thing.
A couple of guys in suits were charging up. They took off soon enough. A bit later, a young man in jeans, black t-shirt and green ballcap walked in, reached down and plugged in his phone. Ten, twenty minutes went by.
“Do you mind if I ask you a somewhat random question?”
“No,” I turned in my chair to give him my full attention and smiled. “Go ahead, ask away.”
He went on to tell me about his girl-friend, their little boy, and their break up the night before. “She keeps saying she loves me, but she wants things to be different. What does she mean by that? It’s so confusing.”
He had a lot to get off his chest, and I was happy to lend an ear. Thirty years old, Allan’s a really nice guy, maybe a bit lost. He was headed out to the sand pits (or something like that) to work for the next six months.
A bit later, another young man comes in looking to charge up his phone. From Quebec, Pierre is 16-years old, very inquisitive, passionate and compassionate, a fine specimen of a teenager. Tall, too. He was traveling across Canada to visit a few sights in Winnipeg and beyond, before returning to Quebec City to start college. He was really excited to be going to the Museum of Human Rights, where he said his host would be picking him meet up in Winnipeg.
I leaned forward, eyeing him, wondering. “Are you a Couch-surfer?” I slyly asked.
“Yes! You are a Couch-surfer, too?!” We were so excited and totally bonded now.
Pretty soon, Lucie, a young German girl, somewhere in her 20’s I think, showed up to charge her phone. She’s been traveling since April, “woofing it,” she told me. She travels to a farm somewhere and stays there days or weeks, gets room and board and works a few hours daily at each farm. She’s been all over! She told me she’s always been interested in where food comes from and now she’s finding that out. I was impressed and pleased to be in such good company in our little side.
We were all chatting when another young guy – from Saskatoon – tall and thin, excitable and over-hyped bounced in like Tigger, from his delayed late train. We almost immediately started laughing with him. Allan thinks the guy’d had about eighteen cups of sugar.
“Oh my gosh, I missed my train! I’m a camp cook and have to be at a Camp and now my phone is broke.”
“I don’t know what to do! I wish somebody here had Skype so I could call my boss!”
“The train people say they’re getting me a private ride to where I need to be, but I can’t get ahold of anyone to let them know I’m on my way.”
“I need to call my boss!”
Hyper speed, his words tumbled out in a rushed stream, with nobody else geting in a word edgewise. And he was really funny about it all.
I considered his dilemma. Being a Summer Camp volunteer myself, I could relate. “I’ve got Skype on my laptop,” I said. “Can you login on mine?”
Oh, was he excited now! The rest of us listened in, chuckling at his conversation with his boss, and in a flash, he was out the door on the way to his private SUV connection Via Rail had arranged for him to get to Camp.
As we continued to wait to board, every so often, Lucie, Allan, Pierre or myself would go check on the boarding time to see if there was any update. Each time, we were told to be patient and stay where we were, to not come and line up ahead of time. After midnight, Pierre returned to us in a rush, reporting a whole bunch of people had already lined up! WTH?!
Here we were, waiting as we’d been asked to do – and now we were at the end of the line! How to get a window seat now? They are not assigned. It’s first come, first serve.
By this time, we HAD to get seats together to continue our mad journey across Canada. Allan, Lucie, Pierre, and me. A disheveled youngish train worker walked along the line checking tickets, looking for folks who qualified for pre-boarding. I had a senior ticket. He told me that was reason to board early.
“But we all need to stay together.” I told the ticket checker, nodding toward my pals. He looked skeptically at me, and at Allan, Lucie, and Pierre.
Pierre broke in. “We’re her kids!”
We all broke out laughing.
“Yeah, these are my kids! We need to stay together!” I echoed.
But the train guy wasn’t buying it.
After talking to “the kids,” I went to the pre-board area and waited, keeping an eye them, intending to throw a bunch of crap over four seats until the others could join me. But I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t brave enough to ward off the dirty looks I expected in the train car.
I went back to my kids. “I can’t go on without you.”
Finally, we boarded. Pierre, Lucie and I had seats together and Allan was seated in a two-seat combo in the car ahead of us. He hadn’t slept in days; he was stressed to the max, and we were glad he was going to be able to sleep. We barely saw him the next few days.
Pierre, Lucie and I shared window and aisle seats with a funny 84-year old guy, a nice guy. His last name is Nice. Really. Mr. Nice and I had a lot of laughs at some of the things we saw outside the windows on our world. Trucks along the side of the rails to refuel the train, and abandoned electrical grid poles. Pay attention, PG&E.
And I won the bet with “my kids” on what time we’d roll out. One thirty was my guess; it was actually 1:20 when we started moving. It’s ever a good sign when the first leg of a cross country train starts off two hours late.
By the time Allan departed the train, he and his girl had talked and he was hoping it would work out. Yes, don’t we all.
Lucie and Pierre and I are in touch and all’s right with the world. The long strange trip continues.
Winnipeg’s Provencher Bridge and Museum for Human Rights.