I Rode The Rocket

I never thought I'd say this, but here it is.  For a rare moment, it was kind of fun to be a subway rat.

An invitation to lunch with friends in downtown Toronto put me squarely in the sights of Toronto's subway system -- a labyrinth of grey, cement tunnels severed by rail tracks and permeated by an unidentifiable dank odour. (Think Phantom of the Opera-type gloom. All that was missing was the mist.)

And yet, I was excited to be in this new environment -- new for me because I live in small town Ontario and rarely venture into the city.  If one were to take all the people on one subway car, and dump them on my tree-lined street, it would seem like human apocalypse.  That's how quiet my home town is.

So naturally, it was with heightened senses that I did what the TTC tells all Torontonians to do -- "Ride the Rocket".  And it did not disappoint.

A surprisingly kind ticket taker changed my ten dollar bill into coins and instructed me to drop three bucks into the glass jar thingy on the counter, then explained I could simply do the same thing on the return trip back.  I skipped down the stairway and stood on the platform where millions of commuters had stood before.

There was an eerie sense of quiet among the others standing there.  A young man in khakis and open-necked shirt leaned against the tile wall and read a newspaper.  A college student hefted a backpack to her other shoulder before she checked out the state of her manicured nails.  An elderly woman in a worn "babushka" tucked her wrists up under her chest, effectively clamping her shopping bag in place on her forearm while she gazed wearily down the track.

No one spoke.  No one made eye contact.  All was still until I could feel a rush of wind and a burst of steel as The Rocket barrelled down the track and stopped in front of the platform.  The doors opened.  The people streamed in and out.  The doors closed and we were off.

There's a reason why the TTC calls it "The Rocket".  For those passengers who cannot find an empty seat and are forced to stand, the unexpected jolt of the train moving forward actually "rockets" you a few steps toward the back of the car, while the swift application of the brakes at the next station "rockets" you a few steps toward the front. 

Looking around at my fellow passengers, I was intrigued.  The car was full of people representing every conceivable nationality on earth, every age group, every social and economic stratum.  It was a microcosm of the world, a tiny sampling of global humanity, like a single drop of water in the ocean.  This was worlds away from my own experience where very few people congregate in any one place at any one time.  Life is quieter, traffic congestion non-existent, people more similar to their neighbours, and often more inclined to nod or say hello than pass unacknowledged.

And then the thought struck me.  The people of Syria, Iran, Egypt, Palestine, Israel.  Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs, Muslims, Jews.  If only they could ride The Rocket -- together, in harmony, as one flowing river of  human commonality, content to pursue their individual and collective purposes -- to work, live, love and laugh without regard to division and prejudice.

And me?  Small town newbie in full blown wonderment.  Fascinated to see how other people live.  Relieved to know I can return to Mayberry.  And maybe, just maybe, understand how the rest of the world works.

Because I rode The Rocket, I get it.

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