Toronto has the largest streetcar system in the Americas. Please don’t make fun of us. It stretches across 82 kilometers of track, cutting from one end of the city to the other, to take you – slowly, and with many delays – wherever you need to go.
I wait on streetcar platforms in a subtle, impatient irritation, united with hundreds of fellow commuters. Hungry and tired, we stand captivated by our boredom until not only one or two streetcars appear before us, but five or six come slowly inching into the station. The rush-hour traffic jams that happen across the city are mirrored by this everyday back log of big, old trolleys. I push against my cross-city neighbors, clamoring to claim a sliver of space on the first one. After all, my streetcar system is neither a tourist attraction nor a historical landmark; it is, simply, how I get from Point A to Point B.
On the streetcar, faces become foreign and hair becomes spiked as I glide – unevenly and over sharp bumps – through my vibrant, 6-million-person home. Thousand-dollar loafers join the grime on the streetcar’s floor while the mixture of expensive and cheap perfumes create a stale, sweet odour in the air. Together, we start, stop, stall, and inch ahead.
This streetcar system is, in a way, Toronto’s ugly duckling; a symbol of my city’s unique character as it attempts to assimilate with the metropolises of the developed world. Gaps of race, class, age, nationality, and beliefs are bridged through these kilometers of old wires and winter-distressed tracks, giving the streetcar lines a purpose far beyond physical transportation. Here, connecting north to south, east to west is as important as connecting the Muslims to the Jews, the Blacks to the Whites. Together we suffer through rush hour exoduses and wars against our ticking wrist watches, and together we move forwards.
Finally, my streetcar ride ends at the wide, open expanse of Lake Ontario. Here at this shore, I am fixed between Toronto’s two important claims to fame: our Great Lake and our less-great transportation system.