blarg?

November 11, 2002

Though you wouldn’t expect

Filed under: Archives — mhoye @ 12:00 pm

Though you wouldn’t expect it, Downtown Toronto can be an quiet
place. I started my weekend on the redeye bus, getting to T.O. at
five Saturday morning. My final destination was going to be Oshawa,
so I decided to hike down to Union Station to catch the Go Train
that would let me backtrack to my final destination.

That was a fascinating, eerily quiet walk. The stars over Toronto are
completely washed out, but the lights in the skyscrapers stay on;
the contrast is striking, and looking up from the sidewalk the sky
was so deep and black that it seemed like those towering, monolithic
buildings were about to fall back into it. I walked the ten or twelve
blocks between the terminals and didn’t see another soul, just one
street-sweeper furiously going the other way. Placid horror-movie
calm, Madame Tussaud’s special brand of stillness oozed off the
buildings. It was peaceful, like the space between the end of the
explosion and the start of the screams.

Union Station, if you’ve never been there, is huge. Vast, especially
when you’re the only person in it. Towering stone pillars and
an enormous arched ceiling, the whole place is a single room lit by
a single chandelier. You could never get a modern-day taxpayer to
spring for a building as majestic and imposing as Union Station,
the bunch of cheapskates. What a magnificent structure. Not many
ways in it to spend an hour waiting for a train, mind you, but if
you’re already ensconced in a piece of old-world architecture big
enough to hold an ultimate field or three, I think that asking for
a twenty-four-hour arcade or a newsstand might be a bit much.

This brought me, agonizing moment by moment, to my first Go
Train ride. The clock in Union Station does not tick – it sweeps.
Clocks must never be permitted to sweep, not at five in the morning.
The ticking clock still provides a space, a halting indeterminacy
that feels brief and interminable; time halts, and you can breathe
in that moment before it lurches forward again. Sweeping minutes hands
give you no moment for yourself, grinding mercilessly, horrifyingly
forward, and you are just grist for the mill. Look closer, and all
you get is a fine-grained glimpse of inevitability.

This is the kind of thing that happens to your mind when you’re
absolutely alone in a hive meant for millions. It’s one thing to be
dropped into an unfamiliar context, but when your context is dropped
into an unfamiliar context, your brain starts getting its advice
from whatever lizard part of it is afraid of things that go bump
in the night.

It gets worse. I now have very limited and very misleading Go Train
experience; it turns out that they are an eminently civilized way
of travelling, especially if you are the only person on the entire
train. This might not be surprising for 6:15 Saturday morning (Or
maybe it is. What do I know?) but it can’t be a common occurrence
for the mass transit system of Canada’s largest city. Either way,
getting to see the sun come up over Lake Ontario was a treat. The
only nervous moment was when I got on the first time – there is
a button on the outside of a Go Train that will let you in, but
there is no facility once you are in that Go Train to get
out. At 6:00 in the morning, you either do that right or you
presumably end up in Hamilton somewhere; once that realization sets
in, well, you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride, horror
movie or no.

I got only a brief, snapshot view of Oshawa during my say, and
walking across town at 7:15 on a Saturday is hardly the best way
to learn about a city. Arlene and I didn’t even eat there, getting
a good dinner at a small Japanese/Korean place called Akashia,
on Kingston street in Ajax. That was a fine and reasonably priced
meal, which surprised my obviously narrow mind.

Sunday, after a morning that involved the kind of catatonia that
money just can’t buy, we met Antoine and Alethea for dim sum at the
Bayview Gardens restaurant in Richmond Hill. This was also good,
and it turns out that I’ve been there before a few times with
Arlene’s family. My memory is what it’s always been, I guess. It’s
hard to tell from here. It was good to see them, of course, though
too brief. The whole weekend was too brief, ending at 4:30 so that
I could engage in another useless battle with the school labs. Two
hours of sleep and 18 hours of SQL, User Interface design and poking
unceremoniously at the Linux scheduler, I’m going to sleep.

Assuming I can get to sleep. The “coffee” machine in the CS
department will sell you a cup of lukewarm lies for seventy-five
cents, something that tastes like pencil shavings brewed in
Kitchener tap water. But it does have the magic ingredient. Java,
and a whole new set of foundation classes now, for me. A-hunting
I go, in the hopes that the BigInteger classes aren’t as stupid as
they were in 1.3.

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