ARTICLES

The awful revelations of a streetcar driver

This is the harrowing story of a lonely man’s ordeal among demented drivers, wise guys and livestock on Toronto’s toughest line. If you’ve ever ridden a fifty-two seater you’ll be shaken by

JOHN MOWRY August 16 1958
ARTICLES

The awful revelations of a streetcar driver

This is the harrowing story of a lonely man’s ordeal among demented drivers, wise guys and livestock on Toronto’s toughest line. If you’ve ever ridden a fifty-two seater you’ll be shaken by

JOHN MOWRY August 16 1958

The awful revelations of a streetcar driver

This is the harrowing story of a lonely man’s ordeal among demented drivers, wise guys and livestock on Toronto’s toughest line. If you’ve ever ridden a fifty-two seater you’ll be shaken by

ARTICLES

JOHN MOWRY

ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN

For five years I've operated a streetcar on Toronto's Bloor Street line. This is a ten-mile cross-town route that carries forty million passengers a year through some of the most congested traffic on the continent. It's the busiest line in the city, and one of the busiest in the world. It connects with thirty-two other routes. In rush hours it's serviced by 117 cars. ! 12 of them coupled in pairs so that two cars can get through traffic as one vehicle. If many more cars are put on Bloor they'll all have to be connected and used like a conveyor belt. Work will soon be started to replace the whole line with a subway.

The way I see it. surface-car service can't be pushed much further, and someday not too far from now the streetcar operator will go the way of the lamp lighter and bare-knuckle prize fighter. There'll probably be a model of Toronto's last streetcar operator in the Royal Ontario Museum, with some inscription like: “A typical operator as he looked just before excavation.” In the meantime, I’ve started to shift over to driving buses. Operating a Bloor streetcar began to get me down. I started moaning and groaning in my sleep, dreaming of Volkswagens coming to a dead stop in front of me and slamming on my brakes so hard I nearly shoved the end out of my bed. I went to the doctor. He told me to sit the way I did at my job. felt my muscles and said they were as hard as cue balls and I'd have to learn to relax. I figured I'd have a better chance if I got oil Bloor Street and drove buses. I was right. I like driving buses.

But I still take out a Bloor run occasionally and every time I do I get wound up tighter than the Luttrell Avenue loop. Most of the reasons don’t show up in traffic statistics. Sometimes I think people hate me. They don’t when I'm driving a bus. They treat a bus as a vehicle provided for their convenience, driven by a man doing his job. A streetcar is just

something that was always there, like the sidewalks, with this goldbricker up front who doesn’t care when he keeps them waiting twenty minutes. People on Bloor always wait twenty minutes. Never eight minutes, or ten minutes.

"Eve been waiting twenty minutes.” they snap. “How'd you enjoy the beer?”

I like beer as well as the next guy. but I don't leave my streetcar parked out in the middle of Bloor to nip in for one. What I’ve been doing when I'm late is fighting motorists. They race me to parked cars, and when I slam on my brakes to keep from giving their tail fins a really forward look, they pull in front of me. I can do a lot of things with a streetcar, but I haven’t figured out yet how to pick up the tracks and put them in a new place, or how to make a thirty-seven-thousand-pound vehicle with an eighteen-thousand-pound human load stop as fast as a Jaguar. Yet motorists seem to think I can do both.

There's a score sheet at division headquarters where accidents are entered. Every operator’s ambition is to have an accident-free year. I've never made it. The closest I came was seven months. Then one afternoon rush hour I was westbound at Spadina and started to overtake a girl automobile-driving-school student. I was overly cautious. But when 1 started to pass, the instructor, evidently an old streetcar fighter, gave the girl emergency instructions. She floored the accelerator, pulled past my car and cut in front of me. where she came to a dead stop. I gave the car all three braking systems. which include electro-magnets that drop on the tracks, and a spray of sand for better friction. I added a fourth—will power. As I bore down in a shower of sparks, the girl put a pinky out the window and indicated her turn. She pointed the wrong direction on a one-way street and I pulverized her tail light. She was so scared she couldn't

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The awful revelations of a streetcar driver

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“You jerk,” the passenger said. “Will I remember you. You left me standing on the street”

talk. In fact, the only ones who kept talking were the passengers I'd kept waiting.

"How'il you enjoy the matinee?” they asked after I’d spent ten minutes making out my reports and trying to get passen-

gers to admit they saw me run into something.

But I don’t have to be late from an accident to get chewed out. There are so many cars servicing the 121 stops on Bloor Street that during rush hours

there's one along every two minutes, but if I pass any passengers they remember it for days.

A while ago I was standing at the corner of Coxwcll and Danforth having a smoke before checking in for my run.

There was a woman standing beside me. and I noticed that she kept looking at me.

Suddenly she said. "So you wouldn't wait for me yesterday?” swung her purse playfully and hit me in the stomach.

'I wasn't even working yesterday,” I told her.

She hit me in the stomach again. "Don't try to get out of it. young man. I should have reported you. I.ampy is a friend of mine."

Everybody either knows Allan Lamport. the chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission, or is related to him. If my passengers arc telling the truth, he must have more relatives than King Earouk. But I can't help it. I've got relatives of my own: my wife and three kids, and if I don’t do my job they’ll all be out on the street selling pencils. No operator deliberately passes people up for laughs, although the way some people act you'd think we did.

A Bloor operator I II call Art pulled out of the Coxwcll yards one morning and opened the door for his first passenger. a sour-looking guy who kept glaring at him.

"Good morning," Art said.

" You jerk." the passenger said.

"What's that?"

"You're nothing but a cheap punk." the guy said. "A public servant."

Art looked around to see if somebody was looking in the window at the other side of the car. because all he’d done so far was check his gong, sand button, exit doors, lights, brakes and adjust his rearvision mirror. He hadn't had time for anybody to get mad at him but the pigeons.

"Boy! Will I remember you!" the guv saiii.

"What's the matter. Mac?"

"You passed me yesterday."

It spoiled Art's day. When he got home at three o'clock he told his wife about it. She told him he had to expect it. there’ll always be some people like that.

I know, but I should have punched him." Art kept saying.

lust then the doorbell rang. When Art answered it. the passenger was standing there. It was the milkman, collecting for tickets.

Art canceled his account, accused the milkman of ringing the bell too loud and of selling sour milk. The milkman started apologizing. He said he hadn't been feeling well that morning. Art just kept telling him he'd overcharged a couple of times and that he was nothing but a middleman for cows.

Maybe it didn't make sense, but it made him feel good, and I don't blame him. A Bloor operator has enough to do keeping calm in the middle of man's fight for survival without being insulted as well. I haven't started a Bloor run for a long time without telling myself. "This time, nothing will get you down. Vlowry." as I circle the yard reads to make mv debut for the day.

I try to make a smooth stop at the top of the safety island. I lock the car b\ pushing my foot down on one brake pedal till it clicks into the interlocking position. I Hick the front door switch with m\ left thumb and swing around to face nn first passenger of the day. If it's one of the helpful ones who step up fast with a "Good morning!" I figure it's going to be .1 good trip. But I get ready

for trouble if the first customer complains about the height of the step or asks me why 1 didn't have the car warmed up I can't help its being cold. 1 don't like it myself. But the car is heated by friction from the brake ribbons. I have to make a few stops before it warms up.

If there's been a recent raise in rates. I'm pretty sure to hear about it. Some people seem to think the extra fare goes to the operator. One time, right after the last raise in rates. I took on an extra run to help pay the bills for my last baby. I didn't have time to go home and eat. so my wife met me at Broadview and handed my lunch in to me. I'd just taken my first bite when a drunk got on and tossed a dime in the fare box. I explained about the fifteen-cent fare. He looked at my sandw ich.

"You guys live like kings, don't you?” he said. "What's that, caviar?"

1 was eating a salmon sandwich. I don't even like salmon and intended to >peak to my wife about it if I got home long enough to run into her.

By the time I reach Pape Avenue on a morning run. passengers are running up the closed side of my streetcar and putting their hands against the front of my car to hold me till they get around to the door. If I'm so crowded there are a few purses and coat tails sticking out between the doors and I won't open them again, they hit it with their fists and lunch boxes. One guy put his toolbox right through it. If I do open the doors they stand on the step so that I can't get the car started, while, inside, the passengers won't move down to let them on. If I appeal to the better natures of the passengers in the car and ask them to move down, they make little waddling motions without looking up from their newspapers. but they don't move. 1 try the ones on the step again.

“What's the sense in crowding on? There's a car right behind me."

'We've waited twenty minutes already." they tell me.

I lie transfer game

When I finally get the doors closed I start off, watching for open switches and surprise moves by motorists and collecting fares at the same time. 1 make change with my right hand and issue tickets with my left hand. I also have the transfers I may issue in my left hand, and collect transfers with my right hand. I check the time of issue on each one and when I refuse a late transfer I usually get into an argument.

I hc other day a man and a woman got on carrying parcels marked with the name of a store at the transfer point. Between that and the way the woman had rolled up her transfer to the size of a kitchen match. I figured they'd been shopping between cars. I was right. When I got the transfer unrolled I found it was two hours late. When I refused it the woman started to argue. She did all the talking for both of them. All this time her husband stood a little behind her. smiling at me. When the woman gave up. he wound up to take a poke at me. The woman gave him a shove that sent him halfway down the car.

A lot of hands just give my fare box a blessing, but don't drop tickets. Other hands, a lot of them belonging to elderly ladies, just drop half-tickets that have been steamed in two. making two for the price of one. I begin to have visions of sweet old ladies sitting at home steaming tickets apart instead of crocheting.

The other day a woman said. "I put two tickets in there, would you mind getting one of them out?v She pointed to my fare box.

“I.ady," I said. "I'd get my hand stuck. Anyway, one of those tickets was there before you got on."

You got me that time." she said and gave me a tap on the back of my neck.

By the time I'm getting near Yonge Street the fifty-two seats are full, the eighty-passenger standing-room is full, the spaces in between are full and some of the jollier passengers trying to get on are coming out with battle cries like. "Here I come! Watch the fat H y !” Some work out special systems, like a guy who stood behind me on my last run gripping the

pole at my back as if he had hold of ;t complaisant movie starlet, saying. "They can't shove this pole over! They can't shove this pole over!"

A lot of passengers get out by the front door. They're not supposed to. but I've seen people fight their way the whole length of the streetcar past the centre exit doors and arrise at the front looking as if they'd escaped a lynch mob. If I say. ‘1 cave by the centre doors, please," they say. "Tm going for an eye treatment." or "I've got a lump on my knee." For some reason people think

that going to a doctor is a good reason for leaving a streetcar the wrong way.

The trouble is I can't always tell out of the corner of my eye which way they're going. The other day I caught a glimpse of a woman well inside the front door and flipped the control. Just then I noticed she was stepping between the closing doors. I got them open again, but I fanned her.

"For crying out loud, wait a minute," she said.

"I'm sorry." I said. "Come on in."

"Fm not getting on. I'm getting oft."

“Then why aren’t you leaving by the centre doors?”

“I ll fix you.” she said. “I’ve been sick in bed for a week.”

Once I get past the Yonge Street subway station things quieten down. On the return trip the morning rush is over, and there are just small strains like kids going shopping with their mothers leaning out the windows touching trucks, and high-school youngsters who get on at the west end and start pulling the bell chord in rhythm to Lollipop. But passengers never stop surprising me.

One day a man got on my car. said he d had a good day at Dufferin race track and that he’d phoned his wife and she had told him to bring home a dozen eggs. "To hell with my wife," he said, and hammered the full hag of eggs down on my fare box.

Another time a man got on my car on the Danforth, asked me to wait a minute and got off again. He picked up one of the trees that had been set out in tubs as street decorations by the Danforth Business Men’s Association, shook most of the dirt oiT, brought it on the car and explained to me, "I don’t need the tub."

Friday is the big night for drunks. I don't mind the ones who fall asleep or go to the back and harmonize. I’ve heard some good concerts that way. But drunks are touchy. If you happen to hit the wrong word you’re in trouble. I’ve picked one man up in the east end for years and I’ve never seen him sober. As soon as he sees me he yells "There’s my boy!" He gets on, announces “You’re à scholar and a gentleman. Take me home. and flakes out. One time I couldn t wake him and took him right into Coxwell yards with me. When I turned out all the lights, he got off, got

on another empty car, yelled, “Take me home, and fell asleep again. He was transferring around some private world.

As Toronto grows, more and more people get on with strange loads. They bring on cribs, carriages, mattresses, bicycles. live ducks. I get more and more notes stuck in front of me by people who can't pronounce where they’re going. One little old lady with a black kerchief over her head got on my car and started to do the cutest little dance you've ever seen up and down the aisle, clapping her hands and crying. A passenger who could talk some Italian got her story. She'd just arrived from Italy and already her husband had got on a wrong streetear. She’d lost him.

I’m asked everything from where’s the nearest stop to Calhoun’s Drugstore to whether Simpson’s is open tonight. A lot of passengers, when I tell them, give me an argument.

“What’s the quickest route to Honest Pete’s Bargain Store?” they ask.

I tell them I don’t even know where it is, and they give me the street and number. I get out my street guide and look up the best route.

“Take a Parliament car, transfer west on Gerrard," I say.

“That’s not the way I went last time.”

Sometimes I think they’re just trying to find out if I’m an impostor.

“I’m a stranger in town.” someone will say. “Will you be sure to let me off at Dovercourt?”

When I reach Dovercourt, I open my mouth to call the stop, look in my mirror and the passenger is standing at the door waiting to get off.

If I miss calling out a stop I get bawled out, but half the time I know they don’t listen to me. I’ve proved it on one

of those drowsy trips when everyone is staring out the window and looking a million miles away. I’ve called in a loud, clear voice:

"Ham and eggs!”

Everybody goes right on looking out the window.

“French fries!”

Same result.

One time when nobody seemed to be listening to me I started to eat a sandwich left over from my lunch. I’d just taken a bite when a woman came up and said, "Why didn’t you call Christie?”

I swallowed and said, "My mother told me not to talk with my mouth full.” I got reported.

I don’t really blame the woman. To be honest, I don’t really blame myself, either. I hat day I’d listened to a woman tell me about her daughter-in-law who borrowed a baby carriage and returned it in such shape she had to buy a new one, and a man who got on in west Toronto had told me that since he’d moved out there his wife wouldn't let him play poker any more. I’d heard a little boy call his mother a four-letter word as they got out the front door, and neither of them hatted an eye. When I’d tried to get a lone dog off the car he bit me and a drunk at the back said, “Dogs can tell about people." A woman, when her husband waltzed down the car to pick a good seat, had put her head down to my fare box as if she were taking my picture and said, "Do you mean to tell me that cheap hum didn't put a ticket in for me?” I’d had a real rush-hour crowd and about six people yelled at me asking me how I got my job when I had to slam on my brakes for a jay-walker. I was just a bit punchy from operating a streetcar on Bloor Street. if