Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 25 - Riding a Subway Train

I have never ridden a subway train. Knowing millions of people around the world use this mode of transportation each day, I realize this experience may not be unique for many. However, in the first 30 years of my life I never had the opportunity to ride a subway. Sure, I traveled many places before, but I never required the use of a subway at any point in my life. As a result, I figured I had the perfect opportunity to experience a subway for the first time on my last day in Toronto. After all, a subway ride in North America's fourth largest city was likely to give me the full experience, which appealed directly to my ongoing efforts to make the most of each of my "I have never..." events.

With knowledge of my intent for the day, Justin helped me plan evening dinner plans after our conference concluded this afternoon. Together we reviewed restaurant locations around the city to narrow our choices to a few locations requiring a trip on the subway. We focused our attention on those choices nearest the subway line given the rain that persisted throughout the day had all but soaked us on an earlier walk. Ultimately, we settled on a location named "The Keg" several miles away from our hotel. We heard some positive things about the restaurant from a local the day prior, so we figured it would be a good choice. In turn, we grabbed our things and headed out at 5:30 pm, just in time to catch rush hour traffic on the Toronto subway.

Well, here's something new...

After leaving our room we worked our way down to the underground mall we had found the previous day. At that time we had learned the subway terminals in downtown Toronto linked into the underground mall, and with Union Station less than a block away we knew we would have easy access to the city's main subway station. The walkways were packed with people rushing from one place to the next as we neared the main conduit in the underground space. We dodged through several bodies in motion to find a gap in the flow of traffic and began walking toward Union Station. To our surprise, the entrance to the station was the first subway terminal we encountered in the underground mall. After passing through a set of heavy metal doors, we found ourselves at the top level of the central subway station. We quickly purchased subway tokens from an automated booth and proceeded to enter through the turnstiles blocking the entrance to the subway terminal. After a brief walk down a flight of stairs I was on the subway platform, ready to make my maiden voyage on a subway train.

Rush hour subway traffic

Roughly a minute after we arrived our train approached and began loading. Justin and I squeezed our way into the already packed space lined with people making their trip home after another workday. We hastily found a small pocket of space near the subway doors and immediately grabbed the red handles dangling above our heads. People bumped into one another as everyone boarding tried to find a space to occupy for their ride to their destinations as periodic tones of whispered discussion could be heard through the mass of bodies. We were close enough to everyone around us that it would have been uncomfortable and borderline unacceptable in any other context, but the confined space made such proximity a necessity. Eventually, everyone settled in as the train doors drew closed around us. Moments later the train took off and we were en route to our evening destination.

Just another day...
Initially, the new experience made me focus on the speed we were traveling and the sounds of the train clicking along the tracks. However, after the first few stops I began to take notice of the scene around me. The train was crammed with people like livestock in a pen. I watched as they all swayed side to side in unison with the movements of the train cars, standing silent with their eyes fixed on the ground as we stopped at each terminal and accelerated to the next. Some of them would periodically shuffle off of the train at the stops we made with the same stoic looks cast across their faces. The sight of it all made me think about how odd we are as people and reminded me of our tendency to fall into routines that become just another part of our lives.

As I glanced around at the diverse group of faces around me I thought about how each person on the train, simply going through the motions of another part of their day, could break the familiar routine and experience something new. "All it would take is getting off a few stops early" I thought as I took stock of the somber faces before me. Breaking the silence, I leaned toward Justin and said, "Right now, each of them could find something different or experience something new, if only they would make the most of the city around them..." After taking a moment to distinguish the meaning of my  obscure statement, Justin looked at the crowd over my shoulder and responded with a brief, "Yeah." "You know, it makes me glad I'm doing this thing, something new each day" I continued, "I can't fall into those routines or habits. I've decided not to." Justin acknowledged my position with a brief statement, wisely avoiding reading too much into my words. I fell silent again as I continued watching the people around me. Over the next few stops I thought about how each of them had a story and about how each of them were likely failing to recognize the amazing things around them. My thoughts carried me for the rest of our ride until we finally came to our destination at Eglinton Station.

The train... Well, not this one, but the next one.

The train slowed to a stop, parting its doors at the Eglinton terminal platform. Still thinking about the perspective I had gained over the previous 20 minutes, I exited the train and began walking toward the exit. Justin and I climbed the stairs to find a familiar site facing us on the surface. Rain was falling on the cloud-coated city around us. Without hesitation, we walked straight into the dreary weather and began walking down the street. Once again, we were exploring someplace new and different. We had little knowledge or where we were or where we were going, but we were intent on making the most of the evening. After a little searching we found our way to "The Keg" and grabbed a table for our meal.

Different but still the same
Our dinner went quickly as we discussed work related topics and the takeaways from the conference we had attended all week. Good food and involved conversation gave us reason to enjoy the evening, so we had a few drinks and a few laughs as we took in another new experience. Eventually, we were ready to call it a night, and we headed back to the subway terminal for our ride back to our hotel. After working our way back to the subway platform, it became apparent the ride back would be much different than the one we had taken previously. The platform was sparsely occupied by people in comparison to our earlier trip. The subway train maintained this theme as we boarded for our return trip. Although there were much fewer people on the train, I took notice of the same blank expressions, muscle-memory motions, and silence I noticed on the ride to the restaurant. The same emotions I had felt on our earlier ride struck me as the train took off toward Union Station. There was so much life before me, I just wanted everyone there to live it.

Once again occupied by my thoughts, our ride home seemed brief in comparison to the earlier trip. Upon arriving at Union Station, we departed the train and began the walk back to our hotel lobby by way of the underground mall. In a matter of minutes we made it back to our hotel, but decided to stop by the hotel bar, "The Library" before we headed to our room for the night. Justin had the bar's "award winning" chocolate martini as I sipped on a glass of water. People chatted over expensive dinners among the wooden lines walls and leather furniture around us. I took note of the crowd and pointed out a few interesting characters before Justin topped off his martini and we headed back to our room.

The Library Bar
My first ride on a subway train proved much more insightful than I would have ever expected. After today's experience, I'm more committed to my "I have never..." objectives than ever before. Seeing so many people in a small space stuck, emotionless, in an everyday routine made me rethink what it means to make the most of everyday. I realized today I was probably a victim of such routines more than I would like to admit, but that my "I have never..." experiment offers an opportunity to break those routines every time I face the day. Who would have thought a simple subway ride would give me an opportunity to reflect on something so important? While I never would have expected such an outcome, I'm glad I acted on today's "I have never..." event. Now, I have so much to look forward to as the remaining 11 months of my journey come together.

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