“At last…have you no shame?”

The Toronto Transit Commission is on strike. And I am angry.

No, check that – I’m furious. Furious that a bunch of complacently overpaid doofuses can basically throw a tantrum that leaves thousands of their fellow human beings helpless and stranded (and in a not insignificant number of cases, drunk) on downtown streets at Friday midnight.

No, I wasn’t one of them; I happen to have a 9-5 weekday job, and no plans that would’ve taken me into the outskirts. First I heard of a strike I was being shuttled around early-morning service in Shoemom’s Kia.

Thing is, though, among TTC riders, I’m in the minority. I know this because the last time there was a major weekday strike I was working shifts at the bookstore. Only a quirk of scheduling meant 28-year-old me wasn’t tripping along freakin’ Yonge and Dundas at 11pm.

Supposedly, this time ’round the union bosses violated their own promise to give 48-hours’ notice of any strike action because they were concerned for the safety of their own in the interval. Uh-huh. If I’m the ticket taker at, say, Runnymede at 9pm Friday night, and I’m hearing this rationale to start kicking people off the trains at midnight (literally – TTC subway and most bus service ordinarily goes offline at 2:30 am, meaning these poor victimised fragments of humanity whom we should all rally behind in a spirit of blue-collar solidarity actually stopped the trains and told people to get off, young, old, handicapped, what-have you, regardless of how rough the neighborhood or how far from their destination)yeah, the first thing going thru my head as I face that mob is “Ooh, such caring, thoughtful leaders we have!” You betcha.

The next thing – had I my druthers this would be while our hypothetical hero was making himself a cuppa back home, trying to distract himself with thots of all the money he’s going to have; no recession for his lard-lined butt (mostly from randomly stranding his riders to pick up a coffee along the way) – suddenly, just as cup lifted to lips, he would be struck with a single chilling thought: “They’re gonna legislate us back to work in two days at the latest. What happens then?”

…I can tell you right now, it ain’t gonna involve commuters breaking into spontaneous choruses of angelic welcome.

Newsflash, poor miserable sots who so valiantly do the transit jobs nobody else wants: You don’t. Do the jobs valiantly, that is. As far as I can tell in twenty years of taking transit under all conditions, times and places, anyway. You’ve plastered posters all over the city trying to convince me that each of your employees is worth a million bucks to the city; apparently I misread and what you really meant was ‘each of the five people in these-here posters’, because the rest of them smirk sullenly at best and actively hate the people they ‘serve’ at worst.

I can respect a desire to be protected from the baser element; been there, seen that, it’s real. What I can’t condone is the assumption many if not most TTC employees make  that every single rider they encounter – including but not limited to tottery old ladies who can’t figure out where to  put their parcels – is potentially a threat.

Guess what, Clyde? I know this is going to come as a shock, given the amount of time your bosses put into making you believe that you’re just the most specialest middle-aged relicts in the universe, but…you make the trains run on time, most of us don’t even see you.
We have lives that involve getting to work in order not to be fired, see – you recall those, you may have had to take one after you dropped out in Grade Ten? –  so not so much time to plot elaborate revenge fantasies. At least, nowhere near the time you have to imagine we do. You screw up, on the other hand…yeah, well, there’s a simple preemptive strike for that scenario that doesn’t cost you the respect of an entire city. It’s called – hang onto your Tim’s cups, now – cheerful courtesy.

Seriously. During the Great Eastern Blackout of 2003, I was stranded on a packed GO bus travelling literally across the city. Hot, sticky, bored, unsure, you name it, the reason to be cranky was there. But guess what? Our driver was calm and pleasant. He talked to us about what was going on, gave us updates as he himself received them, even cracked little one-liners that showed his sympathy. Even back then, I found myself wishing they could make a training video out of this guy.

Your TTC maintenance crews make every day special? Gimme a break. Granted, the ones I’ve encountered are a tad more chipper than their counterparts on the frontlines…but hey, who’s kidding who here, it’s not likely they approach each new day of overflowing litter bins with manic enthusiasm. They do what they have to do, no more, and – usually – no less, although I wouldn’t hold your breath. Unless you’re heading into a TTC toilet, that is.

Let’s face it, gang: whether or not it’s entirely your fault, your system is outdated, overpriced, overcrowded, dull and depressing. A powderkeg just waiting for you to strike on it, in other words. It’s a rare day that I’m not confronted with some kind of major discomfort or a delay; I can only imagine the special hell reserved for people daily trying to get in from, say, Scarborough Centre.
Nobody ever does anything real to apologise for it, either. Ever single ‘sorry’ I’ve heard during any labour mess has the same damn meaning as the ones I hear over a sputtering intercom in the mornings: Exactly none. ‘Cause nothing ever changes, not even the inflection on the word.

Lest you dismiss this as a rant from the ivory tower, I worked in a union shop – the aforementioned bookstore – for years. I went in filled with idealism; I left totally disillusioned at the reality. I saw $30K-odd in legal fees spent to keep totally useless cashiers, I’m talking people who couldn’t even be chucked to come in within 45 minutes or so of their assigned shift time, on the job. So you’ll excuse me if I’m taking a random ticket-taker’s efforts to make me believe nobody else can do his job with a decent-sized grain of crystallised sodium.

In the end, I can’t say it any better than the people who actually were directly affected. Why the hell this brilliant, vibrant, genuinely world-class city, which I love beyond all reason, has to put up with this kind of cretinous crap I have never understood. The equation is a simple one: you shuttle around large numbers of people performing essential services, you are an essential service. Hell, common human decency mandates you damn well get back to work. Now. Period. Full stop.

Either that, or you get to watch me smirk sullenly as people treat you as you deserve, all day every day, for a good long while.

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