It's amazing that there aren't riots at Toronto bus stops.
Sure, we've all mastered passive-aggressive techniques for insinuating ourselves forward in a line we have no business being at the head of. But most straphangers in this city couldn't jostle if their lives depended on it.
The reason to riot is the same reason not to: for many, "the better way" is the only way. Yet TTC riders feel something akin to love for the system. It doesn't matter how many frustrated rush hours we've endured.
The ghostly whir of a streetcar, a three-year-old singing along with the door chime, a subway emerging into sunlight these all have some small but undeniable magic.
The TTC is a meta-community, one we can belong to even if we feel no allegiance anywhere else. Witness the popularity - from Market rats to the mayor - of the subway-stop buttons minted by Spacing magazine's Matt Blackett.
A Spadina button expresses love for the neighbourhood and a recognition that it's part of a greater whole. The TTC allows temporary membership into a nomadic tribe.
"You can really define a community by leaving it," says Rafael Gomez of Think Tank Toronto, talking about his departure from Scarborough's Wexford community for London, England.
In London, he was struck by the mythic qualities of the underground tube. "People defined neighbourhoods by how they got there," he says. When he returned to Toronto, where he now teaches economics at York's Glendon campus, he brought that sensibility with him, eventually applying it to a project spearheaded by the Tank.
The project, the 54East, takes its name from the 54 Lawrence bus that runs from Yonge and Eglinton to the outer reaches of Scarborough. "The bus," says Gomez, "goes through the whole city all its differences." Intended as a focus for artistic celebrations of the communities linked by the route, the campaign currently consists of the pilot issue of a magazine focused on Wexford and a CD.
The Wexford EP features original tracks by local musicians inspired by the route and meant to be played by riders as they pass specific intersections. The theme of the magazine's first issue is the strip malls of Scarborough.
"I didn't realize [when I lived there] that strip malls, which I thought of as blights, were actually quite interesting," says Gomez. Centres of economic and social life for numerous immigrant communities, the dissonant patchwork of stores provides interesting photographic material for the magazine. "You see the waves of immigration displayed there."
Transit commissioners were quite taken with the project when Gomez presented it to them. "I'm already thinking about what I could do with the 40 Junction route," said Councillor Bill Saundercook at last week's transit meeting.
Councillor Michael Thompson, whose ward contains Wexford, agreed. "People want opportunities to be excited about taking transit," he said. "This is really thinking outside the box."
But just as transit tribesfolk tend to be perennially shy around each other, the TTC may not yet fully grasp its community responsibilities. John Martz, a graphic designer, was one of many in the blog world who saw the remixed London tube map on which all the station names had been turned into absurd anagrams.
Similar maps began to surface in cities across the world. Martz gained notoriety for his Toronto contribution and the cease-and-desist letter the TTC sent him when he posted it on his weblog, Robot Johnny.
Maybe commission lawyers have something against calling North York Centre "Her Knotty Corner." Or perhaps the reminder "Transfer required to fustigate nonoccurrence" got a little too metaphysical.
Or maybe, as Toronto bloggers insist, someone at the commission just has no sense of affinity.
"Championing the TTC has been a huge part of Toronto's online community," says BlogTO's Tanja-Tiziana Burdi, citing the subway buttons and anagram map as well as blogger publicity for the In Transit art show. "The online community, with our unrequited love for the TTC, continue to showcase Toronto transit to the city and the world. The reaction of the TTC was out-of-touch."
Martz relented, replacing the offending map with a another, more personal rendition. "Apparently," he jokes, "the layout of public space is intellectual property."
It is intellectual property and emotional property, too. Commission lawyers simply made the mistake of thinking it was private property. Certainly, calling Dundas "Sun Dad" makes no sense but, then, neither does the Sheppard subway line.
And at a time when the TTC needs to finally stand up for itself in dealings with senior government, it also makes no sense to spend legal fees on quashing personal protestations of love.
On the last track on the Wexford EP, composed by local musician Soha Radjpoust, the lithe mixture of tabla percussion, country guitar and bossa nova trumpet transports me to a very specific mental space returning to a lover's home on a bustling but not too crowded bus at sunset. He describes his intended feeling for the track simply: "The day's over. You're heading home."
I feel an immediate connection with the composer someone I've never even met.
If I were the TTC, I'd be downright excited about losing control over my intellectual property if it meant having a role in that singular kind of urban relationship.