I don’t drive much. I have my license, but being a full time student on student loans doesn’t really allow me many options for how I get from place to place. Which means Monday to Thursday, and sometimes on Friday, I can be found squished somewhere among the rush hour crowd on a bus or a train, getting to know people in an intimately physical way that only users of public transit can truly appreciate. More often than not I can still smell the breakfast of the person squished up against me near the doors. It’s a manageable situation. As much as people who have the kind of money needed to own a car like to complain, transit isn’t nearly as bad as it seems. A certain skill develops in being able to shut out the world, to the point where a razor thin bubble of personal space envelops you, and it’s possible to ignore at least the most obnoxious of social faux pas the general public, generally, commit. The old man next to you making those obnoxious chup chup sounds as he sucks on his cough drop can be drowned out by music you can stuff in your ears. The lady shaking her leg just inside the fuzzy edges of your vision can be ignored simply enough by looking out the window, and we all manage to head towards the start of our day in relative peace. But my how nice it would be if that old guy would stop with his chup chupping.
I like to people watch at times like that, when I’m forced into the very close confines of general society. I can see what the pretty twenty-something year old blonde girl is reading in her seat. 50 Shades of Grey helps me to immediately judge her tastes in what some people affectionately call “High Culture”. I hardly consider 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight to be beacons of class. It’s easy to judge people in that way. Much harder is to figure out who exactly is living with that certain joie de vivre that most of us wish we had more of in our lives. Once upon a time, which was really not so long ago, even I was living in a foreign place where hardly anybody knew me and every day was an adventure, and coming back to reality was a novelty in itself for at least that span of time we call a year but is really only three-hundred and sixty-five days. More and more I’m finding a year passes by just too quickly.
And at some point we find ourselves floating through our lives in what some people would call bliss. Bills and rent, and girlfriends, and boyfriends, and family holiday parties and layoffs, and what that politician in Toronto did last week, become part and parcel of our lives and minor inconveniences, and we’ll manage them the same way we always do. Practicality above all things is the God of our society and we’ll go to school to study something that can help us find a job where we can make a lot of money, even if we come home at the end of every day tired and pissed off because of something that Sally Nobody said around the water cooler, or because our boss chewed us out after lunch for missing a deadline. Forget that once when we were 12 and still knew how to dream that we wanted to play jazz trombone when we got older. That takes talent, and practice, and time. Better to work on the rigs. That’s what reality tells us. In that time just after high school when we think we’ll finally be able to work full time somewhere and “I’ll have more money than I’ve ever known what to do with!” reality will come by and pounce on us from behind. Not everything is so easy as a dream. English majors will all become teachers, or else they’ll pretend to be barristas at Starbucks and serve more accomplished people their six dollar grande-soy-half-sugar-no-foam-latte who pay with their credit card.
But what if things weren’t like that? I hope I’m wrong, despite what everyone else around me thinks. It was my grade 9 Language Arts teacher who taught me one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned after all. “You’re not a robot. Think a little. Whatever you read, hear, or see, use your brain and think at least a little bit for yourself.” Smart man, Mr. Dumais. He makes a lot of sense. At least I know that I won’t be serving pretend high end coffee in my hometown where opportunity is coloured a tarry black and graces us with its presence via pipeline from Up North. My calling is somewhere else doing other things. I just hope that there are other people out there who dream as big as me.