Saturday, 9 March 2013

Bayshore! For Squareheads.

The old two route was an absolute beauty.

You would start at Blair station, or Gloucester Centre for the old-timers, and wind an Icarus stinky n' slinky bus around Jasmine crescent to Montreal road, then head up through Vanier and across the Cummings bridge to Rideau street. You would head through the Rideau centre, then down Bank street to Somerset and follow that through Chinatown until you hit Hintonburg where it turns into Wellington street, then Richmond road to Bayshore. The bus would then turn into the mall, heading first up the cement bridge and back down again to the road way on the north-west side of the mall under the rickety and decrepit parking garage.

The sound of that old Icarus two-stroking blue smoker echoing off of the many facades of that old garage was trumped by only one other familiar sound on the number two route.

"BAYSHORE! TETE CARRE!"

For years, drivers would pick up the "Bayshore Lady" near Wurtemburg and Rideau street, and then proceed to get cursed at all the way to Bayshore.

Legend has it that The Bayshore Lady was a relative of an OC Transpo driver. I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, and that relative is reading this blog right now, please send me a picture of her and I would be happy to post it here in her honour.

To accurately describe the Bayshore Lady, words such as eccentric, loud, acerbic, sometimes frightening, all fit the bill.

The Bayshore Lady earned her moniker for shouting the same question at every driver. "YOU GO TO BAYSHOOOORRRE???" Upon answering the question, she would then proceed to the first or second front facing seat on the right side of the bus, where she could see the driver in the mirror. As people boarded the bus, she would mumble various phrases punctuated by a loud "Tete CARRE!" as she saw someone she disapproved of.

Her voice was memorable. Think of Julia Child. Add a splash of Mrs. Doubtfire. Now give it the cadence of a Monty Python faked falsetto in the Spam! skit. It was awesome, and it carried throughout the entire bus.

For quite a long time, I dreaded picking this woman up. It was like she hated me. She would take over my bus with her running dialogue, and she always looked me right in the eye when she called me a "Tete Carre". (That's squarehead in French, for you anglos) I would see her at the same stop every day as I pulled up Rideau street. There she would be, same bag in her hand, same look of disappointment on her face as she saw who was driving the bus, same question.

"YOU GO TO BAYSHOOOORRRE?"

The badgering would then continue for the next 50 minutes, with the other passengers raising eyebrows at first, then snickering behind hands and seats, and finishing with a burst of laughter as they quickly exited through the doors. All the while, The Bayshore Lady ran through her routine. The woman was an absolute spectacle.

Until one day, I didn't see her at the stop anymore. In talking to a few other guys stuck on the 2 route, neither did they. It turns out she had moved to Orleans. I know this because I had booked work on the 125, and one afternoon, there she was at Place d'Orleans, same bag in hand, same look on her face, but as I approached I was now wondering what The Bayshore Lady was going to ask me. This would be a life altering development in the mundane world of steering wheel manipulation.

The woman was legendary in the break rooms at OC Transpo. Most drivers had a bang on impression of her, with the high falsetto "BAYSHOOORRRE" sparking bursts of laughter and recognition.

She couldn't just turn into the "INNES ROAD!" lady, or the "JEANNE D'ARC!" lady.

I opened the door, she walked up the steps and pushed a schedule into my hand. On the schedule, she had marked an X along the map, near Innes and Belcourt. I knew the spot.

She was trying to ask me something, but I couldn't understand her, and it was becoming apparent that she couldn't understand me either, in French or English. I pointed to the X, and then to her. She smiled and nodded. She sat down quietly in her usual seat. She still looked agitated, but she was quiet. I was a little unnerved.

The stop she wanted was on Innes road, across the street from a pathway that leads to a bunch of houses on the North side of Innes. This is before the South side of Innes became Box Store City, with the remnants of hay bales and cattle standing where Canadian Tire now is.

I let her off the bus on the South side of Innes, and became acutely aware that her agitation was turning to hesitation and panic as she contemplated crossing Innes rd in a spot where there is no traffic light or crosswalk. She stood there on my bottom step, looking down, then back at me, then down again.

I pulled the brakes, and turned on my four ways.

I offered her my arm, and she grabbed it with both hands in the same way my daughter does on a scary ride at Canada's Wonderland. Her grip was tight on my arm in the same stiff way one might feel leading a blindfolded friend into a surprise party. The whole walk across Innes rd took only thirty seconds, but The Bayshore Lady packed an entire novel's worth of dialogue into it. She was raving in broken French smattered with English "Thank you. Vous Etes tres bon. Oh, mon Dieu!"

My God, she was happy.

When I got back on the bus, a regular passenger told me that he thought it was great that so many the drivers helped that lady across the street. "So many?" I asked. He said that he's seen it a few times now, and that he thinks it's awesome. I thought it was awesome too, I just hadn't realized it yet.

I haven't seen The Bayshore Lady in over ten years now. The rumour mill says she passed away awhile ago. She is still spoken of in the break rooms, although fewer and fewer drivers have actually ever met her. She is the very definition of a legendary rider, which is why I'm writing about her now.

Upon reflection, I think about all those times on the 2 route where she would call me names and yell at me. That was a reciprocation of the respect she received from the drivers. We dreaded her, and she reciprocated.

But walking across the road with her was a thirty second lesson in humanity. I took that lesson several times that summer, leading her across the road, all the while listening to the blind ambition of her vocal chords work a day's worth of thoughts into thirty or forty seconds of real time.

I may not have understood her, but I understood her appreciation of being treated like a human being.

You get what you give in this life, and sometimes it takes a few months of being a squarehead to realize that.

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