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Feel good TTC stories (an antidote to the recent spree of bad press)

24 Feb

The TTC hasn’t had it easy – public relations wise – over the last few weeks.  Even before the the sleeping TTC collector and the break-taking bus driver, they had to contend with the realization there were 31,000 complaints in 2009, a 15% increase over 2008.  In response to this spike in general dissatisfaction, the TTC has recruited a customer service panel with private sector advisors in other sectors such as the hotel industry to give them tips on how to improve.  This panel is still underway so it remains to be seen exactly how its recommendations will be rolled out.

Many of us are familiar with the frustration involved in using public transit everyday, so few of us are surprised to hear about the high number of complaints.  But while most of these are legitimate, we should remember that where there are complaints about service on the TTC, there are compliments.  And those compliments are voiced much less often.

So this blog post is about the memorable exceptions.  Everyone has at least one or two feel good stories about riding the TTC.  Here are a few of mine.

Streetcar Entertainment

This was years ago.  I lived by Bathurst & Lakeshore and took the 511 Bathurst Streetcar on a daily basis.  Long before the automated stop announcements were in place, there was one driver who had this route who would call out the names of each stop, as I believe they were required to do.   But he had a little twist: he would say the names of the stops– BACKWARDS.  That’s right SDRAWKCAB.

So we would pass Tecumseth – but it would be Htesmucet.  I think it was this same driver who would announce his own “guide to the city” as we went along.  “Toronto Western Hospital is next, Toronto Western Hospital.  Let’s hope you don’t have to end up there.”

The Irresistible Pout

While still living lakeside, I was once attempting to catch a southbound streetcar at the corner of College and Spadina.  Here the streetcar stop is located on the south side of the intersection. I was waiting at the south east corner of the street and saw the streetcar as it rushed past me.  I pouted in the streetcar driver’s general direction, making a little puppy dog face.  I was going to miss my ride because the traffic light looked as though it would not change in time for me to cross safely and run to the stop.  Surprisingly, the driver happened to catch my sad little face as he passed the intersection and waited for me a whole minute until I could safely cross and run to meet it.  When I got on, I thanked him.  He replied: “But of course.  Who could resist such a pout?”

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A block in ruins

24 Feb

The February 21 front page of the Toronto Star had some arresting images of the fire that all but razed a full quarter of the 600 block of Queen West between Bathurst and Spadina this past Wednesday. I think what got me even more though, was the language in a sidebar describing the damage sustained by each affected business: from “water damage,” to “gutted,” to “collapsed”. There’s something about the word “gutted” that’s especially heartwrenching.

Made a point of passing by the scene of the fire yesterday afternoon. Four and a half days after it broke out, the flames have been extinguished and demolition has begun. The area remains blocked to traffic and yellow “Fire Line — Do Not Cross” tape still sections off a vast portion of the street. My curiosity and need to see these ruins in person turned out to be far from unique: dozens of people and their cameras took a moment this weekend to gape at what remains of the strip of Queen West framed by Pizzaiolio and Organized by Design.

Gutted really is the right word for the state of many of these structures. What’s left of them is just a shell, if that. The former buildings’ insides and outsides are spewed on the sidewalk and street in chunks and shards.

The most incongruous thing in all this mess is the presence of a small rack of relatively undisturbed clothing in what used to be the back of preloved. About ten ‘nouveau vintage’ sweaters are just hanging there in a tidy row. Lightly sprinkled with ash, perhaps; maybe a few frozen threads, but essentially fine— probably still with the price tags on. There’s something ostentatious about the intactness of the stuff. If those sweaters were people, they’d be naive, oblivious, blissfully unaware of everything that has crumbled around them.

But there’s beauty here too (well captured by the Star and countless citizen photographers). Elegant icicles hang from charred bits of structure; what used to be walls or doors and are now pieces of brick, wood and glass fall into interesting arrangements… the odd office chair is visible under the rubble, turned on its side. The scene, moved indoors, could be an installation at the Power Plant. Only it’s a lost slice of T dot (not to mention a few homes and livelihoods). It will be interesting to see what pops up in the next couple of years in this spot, and to follow the displaced businesses to their new homes.

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(Image: preloved.ca)

Toronto Faves, 1990s edition

19 Jan

Cheek’s
1205 Queen Street West, c. 1990
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At the corner of Queen & Dufferin, where the Dufferin bus stops after passing under the CN Railway bridge en route to the Exhibition, there’s a small commercial plaza. Its tenants are a motley crew that includes QD Computer, Queen St. Pharmacy and Comesee New & Used Restaurant Equipment.

I hate to be negative, but these guys may not want to hold their breath. Over the years, turnover at the plaza has been unusually high, as one off-beat assemblage of businesses and organizations has given way, property by property, to another. Some corners seem cursed that way.

As a kid, my school bus used to drop me off at my mom’s work, which has moved twice in the past decade and a half, but has always been located within walking distance of the plaza. At its easternmost end, now the site of a beauty salon called Jane’s Hair, there used to be the most amazing fast food joint, Cheek’s.

Cheek’s had an incredible BLT, the likes of which I have never tasted in the 15+ years since the burger joint graced one side of the plaza. If my memory serves me well, it was served on a hamburger bun, with generous mayonnaise and Canadian bacon, and they would wrap it up in foil to go.

A Google search reveals there’s a Cheek’s Homemade Burgers & Good Eats in Bolton, Ontario. Could it be the legendary BLT lives on north of the 401?

Dark City
307 Danforth Avenue, c. 1995

If Cheek’s BLTs bring me back to when I was 8 or 9, Dark City, an east-end café no longer in business, reminds me of the beginning of my high school years. Around this time, the Toronto Star was proclaiming coffee houses “the nightclubs of the ’90s.” Key difference: these nightclubs didn’t ID.

Located on the Danforth, steps from Chester subway station and walking distance from one of my best friends’ home at the time, Dark City quickly became a regular hangout. Our first ventures there came out of tagging along with her older brother who was 17 or 18 to our 13-14. But it soon became the spot we’d go just us two to discuss ‘serious’ matters and plot summer travels (some plans actually materialized in later years!). I don’t think I ever ordered coffee here, as this was some time before I drank the stuff—we favoured Italian sodas and maybe the odd hot chocolate, although we did get hooked on the chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Looks like Dark City is still roasting coffee, but to my knowledge, it has been a while since the company has been in the business of serving it directly to customers. At the site of the former Dark City one now finds 7 Numbers, an Italian restaurant. My old friend tells me they serve a lovely Valentine’s Day special at a very decent price.

Ted’s Wrecking Yard
549 College Street, c. 2000

Midway through high school, I started volunteering at North By Northeast (NXNE). I couldn’t work at the clubs yet, but I helped out on the conference side of the annual indie music festival. It was through NXNE that I became acquainted with a few bands on the Toronto circuit. My favourite of these was zoebliss. Continue reading