Friday Train-wreck Of Thought: Where Did Everybody Go?

Well, my readers have spoken. Scratch that: they haven't spoken, and that was a message that I received, loud and clear.

Last week, I called on you to send me questions, to ask me for an opinion, for advice, or for answers on any topic, and I would respond in whatever way I thought best. I'd tell you what I knew. And what I didn't know, I'd make up.

I take it, by the lack of responses, that you're not interested. Fair enough.

Feel free to send any questions to roland_axam@yahoo.ca whenever you want. I'll add the Ask Ross post whenever. I've got time. I'm not going anywhere.

Speaking of going anywhere, on my morning commute I asked myself, "where did everybody go?"

On days that I awake early and ride the bus to work, I'm a creature of habit. My alarm goes off at 4:45 and I perform my morning ritual of getting ready and getting out the door by 5:25. I've been performing this routine for years. Only recently, my routine changed slightly when the transitway extension opened and I was able to walk to a station that is closer to my house, but that sets me off in the opposite direction to get to.

In the weeks that I've been walking to this bus station, I've come to expect a couple of things:
  • I will talk past a couple who are out on a morning walk. The husband always says "hello" as we pass; his wife, her face half-shielded with oversized sunglasses, never seems to acknowledge my presence.
  • At the station, there are up to a half-dozen people waiting with me. Two, who are always there: a young woman with long blond hair who almost always wears the same long, white dress; an older gentleman, who always says "hello" and also gets off the bus at my stop, always follows me into the Starbucks.

The walking couple weren't on the path. I can usually see them coming from about a half-kilometre away, but they were nowhere in sight when I finally reached the station. At the station, the woman with the dress wasn't there (she's always there before me); nor did the man show up. I received no "hello" this morning.

I recognized only one person at the station. He and I never seem to acknowledge each other. I'm guessing, like me, he's not a morning person.

The bus seemed less-filled than usual. Was there a holiday that I didn't know of?

As I approach my stop, I anticipate a man standing at the stop, wearing a 24 Hours smock and distributing copies of the morning paper. He wasn't there.

I went into the Starbucks this morning. Yes, after five days without coffee, I stopped for a cup. A small one (or should I say "tall"?). After noticing an absence in my morning ritual so far, I needed the comfort of something familiar. Also, I just needed a cup of coffee.

At the Starbucks, there are also people I expect to see:

  • A woman, about my age, sitting at the table closest to the front doors, wearing the same white t-shirt, drinking a large (venti) moccha frappaccino, reading a newspaper.
  • A youngish, 30-something man in a dark business suit, chatting up the barristas, his BMW SUV parked outside the front doors, four-way flashers flashing.
  • Another 30-something man, wearing shorts and technical tee, a fair-sized, looped earring in one ear, backpack and bicycle helmet strapped to his back, his ride securely attached to the bike rack, attending his grande cup, dumping excess coffee into the trash bin and replacing the gap with milk.

None of these folks were in Starbucks this morning. Not one of them. Only one of the two barristas that usually greet me was in this morning.

Was my schedule off? No, it was 6:11. I was right on time. Where was everybody?

I drank my Pike Place, ate my scone, and then continued to my connection in front of the Parliament buildings.

As part of my four-minute walk, I expect to encounter certain people:
  • A homeless man, not far from Starbucks. His grubby backpack leaning against an office building, a hat that is never placed on his head, lying upside-down, one or two coins collected. He often sips from a Starbucks cup, and I wonder if he had to pay for that or if it was generously offered by the barristas. A prestigious choice, considering the Tim Horton's that is kitty-cornered from where he sat.
  • Another 24 Hours paper carrier, offering the latest edition to folks at the bus stop a block up from the coffee shop. He always proffered one; I always declined.
  • Three women, who looked to be in their late 40s to early 50s, their government ID badges hanging from wide-banded lanyards about their necks, passing by me at steady intervals, always with cigarettes between their fingers or between their coloured lips, the smoke and stench of nicotine lingering behind them.
  • The commisionaire, looking tired, either on his way to work or, I assume by the dark circles under his eyes, home, after a long, late-night shift.

Again, not one of them appeared on my short walk. Instead, I passed only one person between Starbucks and Wellington Street: a middle-aged woman, with a government ID card, but not one of the three that I "knew." And she wasn't smoking. I didn't even see the regular joggers pass me as I stood at the bus stop. I felt as though I had stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The infrastructure of my commute was the same. Only the familiar details, the elements that made for milestones along the journey, were gone. It unnerved me.

I'm not a morning person. I don't like to interact with people, don't like to speak, don't like to do anything that my body hasn't automated for my commute. But it's when certain details—the people with which I try to avoid interaction—are gone, I know that my routine needs these people.

Without them, my morning doesn't feel quite right.

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