by Lynn on April 28, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

Music in the Subway.

I was in New York recently, in Pennsylvania Station, just off the train from Newark Airport. I was rushing to the subway to go uptown when I saw a young woman, violin in hand, ready to play. I stopped to hear what she was playing. It’s usually Bach or something else classical. But no. She began the familiar chords of “Erev Shel Shoshanim” a wonderful Hebrew love song. She played it beautifully. I didn’t rush so much after that. I hummed the music on the subway all the way to 86th Street. Here is what it sounds like sung:


But Then There’s Neil

There was a recent customer survey report about the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) which oversees the bus, streetcar and subway system in Toronto. The word has not been good—bad service on the subway; late buses and streetcars and surly customers and TTC employees. You can say good morning to a bus driver or ticket taker at a subway stop and are greeted by a blank face, as one wag put it, as if they wouldn’t have a reply to that greeting. Or they are numbed by something, life, perhaps.

But then there’s Neil. On Monday, April 27, I had to take the Spadina bus from College to King after work to go to Toyota to get my car after a service. (The streetcar was not running because there is track work.) I got on the bus and this charming, friendly driver said, “Hello Miss” and gave me a transfer in case I needed it. I said hello back and thanked him for the transfer. He had a crisp, clear delivery and a voice perfect for radio. He greeted every single passenger with either “Welcome” or “Hello Sir or Hello Miss.” When a passenger left he said “Good bye”, or “Have a good day.” When we approached China Town and a Chinese passenger got off, he told them “Good-bye” in Chinese. (he is not Chinese). When passengers got off at the back of the bus, to a person, they all said thank you to him. He relied, “You’re welcome.” If they walked up the street by the front door of the bus, they waved at him and he called out “Thank you” again.

He called out the stop before the automated voice did. He added the section “We’re coming up to Kensington Market, folks.” He made note that he was coming to the corner of Queen and Spadina and they could take the “always interesting 501 Queen Streetcar.” Or he would call out that we were coming to the end of the line at King and Charlotte.

It was a joy to be on his bus. It was wonderful to see the affect he had on people. They were polite to him because he was polite to them. I was the last person off the bus at the last stop before he went back up Spadina. I approached him and said that being on his bus made me think that TTC meant “Thoughtful, tender care” and I gave him a cherry Tootsie Pop as thanks. You’d think I gave him $1 million. He said looking at the Tootsie Pop, “My favourite. How did you know?” He held out his hand to shake. He has a firm handshake. I said that his courtesy to all his customers made them courteous in return. He said “if every customer was as thoughtful as I was, then every bus driver would be terrific.” I offered that it was the bus driver who made the difference. He said it was the customer. We agreed to continue the discussion on the next trip. A wave, a “thank you”, a “drive carefully” and I was on my way to the Toyota dealer. That encounter with my bus driver made my day, and made the $900 bill palatable (I went in for an oil change!!!! but of course, they found things that needed fixing). I knew I wouldn’t be taking that bus again.


When I drove the car away, I noticed there was a rattle that had not been there before. I would have to take the car back, the next day (Tuesday, April 28) and take the bus down Spadina to King, to get the car after work.

As wonderful luck would have it, I got the same driver. “Hello Miss,” and gave me a transfer, (he didn’t recognize me–and I didn’t expect him to). He gave the same cheerful greeting to every person who got on and said “Thank you” to every person who got off and thanked him for the ride. This time not everybody said it, but when they did, he was right there with a reply to acknowledge them. He saw people standing in the streetcar island waiting for a streetcar that was not going to come. He yelled out his window that there was no streetcar. At first people didn’t know where the voice was coming from, but eventually saw him. They then went to wait on the street for the bus. Buses passed those people on the streetcar island and said nothing to inform them that there would be no streetcar. My driver did.

I was the last person of the bus again. I thanked him for the ride and gave him another cherry Tootsie Pop. He was so touched. He said that he would never forget my kindness of the day before. His hand went out again. “My name’s Neil.” “I’m Lynn”, I replied. “I was thinking about what you said yesterday, that it was the customer that made the difference. I have to disagree. I see that not all your customers today thanked you for the trip or replied when you greeted them.” Neil offered that perhaps it was a bit of both (the driver and the customer). I said I wouldn’t be travelling on his bus again because I was going to get my car. As I got off his bus I said, ‘drive safe.” He said the same to me with my car.

His name is Neil and he has made the difference in a simple bus ride twice. My car still has that damned rattle. Hmm, maybe that wasn’t my last trip on Neil’s bus after all.


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