Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Right place, wrong time; Wrong place, right time?

Since we have been in Toronto, media personnel asking our opinions have twice approached us. The first time was Good Friday last year, as we were entering St. Mary Magdalene's Anglican Church (this is many of our friends' church, as well as the one that was Robertson Davies inspiration for his book The Cunning Man and the church that the queen goes to when in Toronto--in order of my engagement and interest with these random facts). Anyway, we were there with our priest from St. Anne's Anglican (see Course Papers, Community Dinners and Consuming Beverages, below), who had suggested that we experience High Anglican Mass at this highly impressive church on this highly significant day, and we willingly agreed. Because of the special-ness of the day and the special-ness of the church, I suppose (in retrospect) that it shouldn't be surprising when all of a sudden we hear...

"Did you give up anything for Lent?" There is a cameraman holding a camera next to a TV station's van right in front of me.

But, at the moment, walking into a new church on the most somber day of the church year, it did catch me a little off guard. So much for attaining a mood proper to the occasion...

"Well, yes. I gave up desserts." Not a difficult feat, since we didn't really have room for them in the budget.

"Did you keep it?"

I said, "Yes, I did, as a matter of fact." Probably wasn't the right answer. I could imagine he was waiting to hear about how someone blew it and all the appropriate details. But, better he asked me than Mike. Mike had given the intangible negative attitudes toward people that he had realized in himself as a product of soul searching and desire for Christ-likeness --something that marks the true spirit of Lent.

I felt pretty good about myself walking into church that night. I had curled my hair (good choice), I kept my lenten covenant, and I had some publicity about it--at least potentially. It was Good Friday and I was feeling good. Through the self-reflection and desire for Christ-likeness that the service provoked in me, however, much of that smugness disappeared. Why couldn't I have said something meaningful!?

Flash forward to today (Monday): Toronto Media Encounter #2. This time it's AM 680 talk radio. Unlike the first encounter, this one is a highly unremarkable day in the beginning of February--except of course for the extreme cold (-30 degrees Celcius wind chill!) that keeps us from biking--but little did we know it would turn into a subway fiasco.

Paying our fare, we rush downstairs as we hear the train stopping--hoping we can just hop right on. Alas, when we do arrive, it was only the other side--the doppler effect concept doesn't work so well when you are standing above the moving object. Instead of hopping right onto an on-schedule train, we descend into a veritable sea of people also waiting to head East-bound into the city. It's rush hour--this is normal. Three minutes--another train heading West-bound. Ten minutes--another West-bound train, then the third, fourth, fifth Over a half hour later... What is going on!?

"We are experiencing some mechanical difficulties at the Dundas W train station... There are crews on the scene... You may experience delay... Thank you for your patience." Not two stops to the West of us. So we wait. We leaned against the wall and chatted for awhile until a microphone was thrust in our faces:

"Do you take the subway often?"

"No, not really--this is our first time in a month--just when it is really bad weather." Of course, we have used it within the month--not only for the bad weather days this January, but also to visit friends that are beyond the possibility of biking distance in a Toronto January. That's probably not important here, though... I gloss over Mike's generalization--caught up in the anxiety of someone recording our words.

"So, what do you think about it so far?"

Truth be told, I wasn't thrilled to be waiting in a dismal crowded tunnel for the better part of an hour, but it was warmer than biking, even if we weren't going anywhere at the moment. Besides, this happens all the time, as our interviewer was well aware.
"I am going to be late for work, and since this happens so often, I was thinking about writing a story about how the TTC isn't really a better option." (By the way, this is the Toronto Transit Commission's current advertising slogan)

I admired her dedication to her job--which was seemingly off the clock, and her desire to make Toronto transit better. We told a bit of our story, the hours we normally take transit (rush hour, generally), and how we felt about the current delay (miffed, as any other honest person down there). We chatted a bit more, mostly making generalizations into the hear-all microphone and tape recorder that didn't really do justice to the specific situations that they were meant to make sense of.

When we finally crowded onto a slowly moving sardine can of a subway car, I watched her as she continued interviewing. Sometimes she recorded, sometimes she just got to know the people she was talking to, off the record.

If I was more prepared for this, I would have said something totally different! Why did I want to generalize my experience--'we usually...' when it was usually so specifically situational?! Aren't the specific stories more human--more helpful for provoking change? Besides, by telling our story, what she was really after, we could have given a particular perspective--showing that our situation was different, as unique as anyone else in that underground tube." Mike and I had both wanted to sound like everybody else, to fit in, that we had said, well, nothing.

Well, anonymous woman from AM 680 talk radio--this is my short and less interesting but more real story.

"No, we don't take transit often. We are students who are deeply thankful for our bikes that transport us all the limited places we need to be for significantly less than the couple hundred a month it would cost us to rely exclusively on public transit. Even so, I am grateful for Toronto's commitment to public transportation and am nearly always more impressed with its punctuality and coverage of area and overall cleanliness in comparison to Chicago's system--where we used to live. We are also appreciative that we have lived here for a year and a half without a car and have rarely missed it--especially since this public transportation is so much better for the environment."

Yes, that is what I could have/would have said, if I was thinking, if I was ready to. It's not very interesting, it wouldn't have fed her anger at the TTC, but it's true and it's my story. Why is it that when I am faced with the very real possibility of having my words go public--when someone is recording what I say with intention to release it to the world--I attempt to give some self-perceived right answer instead of my answer? I don't know the answer to Toronto Transit hiccups (I know there are many)--but I know why it is good for me, even when it's bad. I don't know what sexy thing I could have given up for lent until I broke down in weakness--but I do know why we do it, and what that means for me.

I hope that most people aren't like me--that most people can say what they mean and give their unique story when faced with mass-media exposure. Mostly because I would prefer not to think that the stories 'from the street' that I hear on TV and radio are just people trying to fit in to what they think someone wants to hear. I guess even more so--I hope that I can stop being one of those people.

1 comment:

sara without an 'h' said...

good post.
thank you.