Jan 17, 2011
Sam Turner resurfaced from his thoughts as the subway rumbled and squealed into St. George Street station. He watched a number of University age young people descend along with a miscellaneous collection of other citizens. Moments later, the doors chimed and the train rushed into the darkness of the tunnel.
Sam did not know entirely where he had been in his mind; he seemed to be zoning out more and more of late. He did, however, have a firm concept of where he was going: after Spadina Avenue, he would descend at Bay Street, fetch his coffee at the corner Starbucks and be at his desk a few minutes early. Those were the facts but, he knew, it was also the problem.
Sam had every reason to be thankful and he was mindful of that. He had a minor civil service role which guaranteed him work and even a pension – both of which were highly sought after commodities in the reality of the world. He also thought himself a reasonable and practical person in the sense of not being one to fix something which wasn't necessarily broken. He sighed. The train sighed and rolled into Spadina station.
'Spadina Avenue,' intoned the recorded female voice. 'This is Spadina Avenue. Change direction for University Avenue trains. Next stop: Bay Street.'
Longing for his morning coffee, Sam yawned and rubbed his eyes.
'Stand clear of the doors,' commanded the voice. The subway accelerated into the darkness.
At some time in the past, Sam recalled, they had used a male voice. He had been glad when they had changed it because, for some ridiculous reason, he had found the previous voice to be accusatory and intimidating, as thought it had just spied you doing something you shouldn't. He grinned at the silliness of it.
Sam was good at his job and he didn't mind doing it; he worked in Supply Chain for one of the provincial level ministries. He was low enough on the food chain that, even in the case of an election-induced change of provincial government, his position remained safe. He had often referred to himself variously as a minion, a paeon, or a very small gear in a very large machine. Nevertheless, he was aware that the small gear, even in the largest machine, has it's own part to play in making the whole function correctly.
Feeling the train start to decelerate, Sam hefted himself from his seat and moved slowly toward the exit only a few paces away. There, with his arm looped around a pole for support, he buttoned his overcoat up to the neck and pulled on warm gloves to protect against the strong, cold, January wind which was the inevitable corollary of the Canadian winter and so many tall buildings packed tightly together in the downtown core. Satisfied that he could make the dash for coffee and arrive at the office without freezing, he stood patiently waiting for the train to stop.
'Bay Street,' came the announcement as the trained heaved to a stop in the brightly lit station. 'This is Bay Street. Next stop: Yonge Street.'
Descending with the other commuters, Sam silently wished 'Good morning' to the recorded voice and smiled at his private joke. He fell into step with the throng of business people heading for the financial district and, without needing to follow signs, his shoes, clicking on the worn, floor tiles, guided him through the labyrinth of passages and toward the exit.
He always hesitated at the turnstile and he knew why even though it made him blush to think of the foolishness of his own associations. His exit - the one that would put him kitty-corner to the Starbucks – was on Cumberland Avenue, a quaint street of fashion, jewelry stores and small art galleries just behind the Bay and Bloor streets intersection. Rather than a regular, three-pronged and vertically oriented turnstile, this one was a floor to ceiling, clanking, mechanical beast of interlocking poles. As this was an exit only, it was there to prevent 'subway divers' from leaping a regular turnstile and dodging into the station without paying. Still, to Sam, it resembled, if on a smaller scale, something that might be used to slice deli-meats or cheese at the local Druxy's and he always imagined going through and, on the other side, perfect Sam-slices sliding onto a sheet of wax paper to be carefully layered onto some giant's lunch menu choice.
'I'll have a Sam sandwich with bacon, lettuce and mayo,' said the giant. 'Toasted on whole wheat, please.'
Sam pushed through the turnstile and emerged, unscathed, in front of the stairs to street level. He took them two at a time.
Standing in the short line at Starbucks, Sam checked his pocket for change and, realising there wasn't nearly enough for the exaggerated prices of the place, he pulled a ten from his wallet and, holding it folded in his palm, stood gratefully inhaling the heady, coffee aroma.
He was stuck and he knew it.
Better than 'stuck', he referred to it as 'immobilised' – a state in which, while fully cognizant of his dissatisfaction, he could not rally his energy sufficiently to counteract the inertial forces of his stasis. He knew it and he hated it. Perhaps, what made it worse, was the cognition – the awareness of a visceral need for change from what had become a drudgery and a burden but, at whatever psychological level, being blocked from effective and organised action leading to a more positive outcome. Sometimes, when not being honest with himself, he wished ignorance – to blithely walk through life and absently ignore inner longings for something different but not necessarily better defined. He yawned again and, staring at the wooden floor, wiggled his chilled toes.
“Good morning,” said the girl at the counter. Sam stepped up. Her name was Christina and he wondered how anyone managed to be so bright, first thing in the morning. Yet, her bubbly attitude made him smile and he was grateful for it.
“Good morning, Christina,” he said. “How are you today?”
“I'm great, Sam. The usual?”
“Yeah, please – venti, strong and black,” he answered in the incomprehensible lingo imposed on Starbucks customers although it always made him laugh to hear the really good orders. The girl capped the beverage and slid it across the counter.
“Anything else this morning, Sam?”
“Can I have a 'get a life' to go, please?
Christina paused and looked at him, cocking her head slightly. He handed her the ten, grown warm clutched in his palm.
“I'm afraid that's not on the menu today, Sam. Sorry.” She made the change and dropped it into his outstretched palm. “Maybe tomorrow,” she offered.
She smiled but, in her eyes, Sam detected some sort of sadness – for him and what must necessarily be the negativity coming off his person or for some inner turmoil of her own, he could not tell. Sam quickly put on his gloves and then picked up the cup.
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow. You have a lovely day, Christina.”
“You, too, Sam,” she said and bestowed her morning smile on him.
Walking toward the door, he thought of her words. He took a sip from the cup through the tiny lid opening and the hot black beverage scalded his tongue.