Friends for the Ride

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‘‘When you have guests in your car, they become family!’’- an Indian taxi driver in London, Ont.

Taxi drivers are intriguing human beings. They sometimes have complex life stories, whether they became taxi drivers after fleeing a war-torn country or did so because they dropped out of school. Most of the time, they are very good at reading people. It is not surprising considering that what they do day in and day out is picking people up and talking (or listening) to them.

My fascination with taxi drivers began in childhood. I grew up in Montreal, and with a mother that didn’t drive and a father who didn’t have a car, we took taxis between and to places from time to time. My parents also used to put me in taxis when it was time to ship me back to the other parent with all of my stuff.

For the month of January, I was lucky to have the opportunity to intern at CBC in my hometown. With that came the privilege of getting taxi coupons to go between places for reporting or other journalistic purposes. Usually, the drive was not very long- CBC is downtown, so most of the city is a short cab drive away.

That was until I was sent to St. Leonard to record streeters for a radio show. Streeters are when a journalist ask people for their opinion on any given topic. I had to ask people in the area what they thought about the fact that legendary hockey goaltender Martin Brodeur was retiring. I was going to that specific location because Brodeur is from St. Leonard and has an arena named after him there.

St. Leonard is a borough of Montreal that used to be its own city. It is a predominantly Italian borough, but that is quickly changing. It is situated in the North-East corner of the island of Montreal and is hard to get to by public transit (no metro goes there). That being said, I knew that getting there (and back) was going to be the longest part of my mission.

I called the cab inside of the CBC building and stepped into the sunshine. My taxi was already waiting for me. I got in and gave the driver the address. Of course, he didn’t know where it was. Thank God they have GPS these days.
My Bengali driver spoke in broken French to me. We talked a lot about what we did, what we thought and banalities about Montreal or the January weather. It was a long ride, so much that it was the maximum allowed for a taxi coupon (35$). As I was paying, he wanted to tell me something. But he couldn’t find the words in French.

-I’ll just tell you in English, OK?
-OK.
-Keep doing what you’re doing. You are a great person. Keep working hard, and you will be famous one day.
-Thank you so much!

This small Bengali man had seen a glimpse of my personality during the taxi ride and we shared a positive connection. His kind words gave me the courage to embark on my real mission: asking people for their opinion.

I went to the arena and found awesome hockey moms (who also happen to be figure skating moms looking at their daughters ice-skating through the window). I approached them, and one of them said:

-I don’t want to be filmed!
-I don’t carry a camera with me. It’s for radio!

I always love to see how the public can misunderstand the media.

I interviewed a couple of people, but it was a tough chase. Most people who were hanging around the arena were underage, so I couldn’t interview them. Many people didn’t know who Brodeur was, and some didn’t want to be bothered. I was so desperate that I went to the pharmacy to buy a snack and even asked people inside for their opinion. I even tried to interview the guy working there, and he said he would, but he didn’t speak English. Tough luck.

I called another cab to get out of the faraway borough, thinking that I had been saved by the hockey moms. As I was stepping outside, I ran into two Italian gentlemen carrying boxes. Perfect. The grey-haired one spoke to me. He used to play hockey with Martin Brodeur’s brother. He was opinionated and memorable, and he made my streeters just that much better.

Content with my few good sound bites, I was waiting for the taxi. I was going in and out of the pharmacy’s hall for a good ten minutes and I was about to call back the cab company when I saw one. The driver pulled over awkwardly, almost getting in another car’s way.

I climbed inside.

-I called a taxi from your company like 10, 15 minutes ago!
-But it’s me!
-It’s you! Ah!
-What’s your name?
-I’m Lili
-I’m Lou.

Lou was a chubby black male in his late twenties. He was a true comic and a friendly type. He was already high-fiving me as I got into his car.

-I was in the neighborhood and asked people what they thought about the fact that Martin Brodeur was retiring. Surprisingly, not everybody knew who he was.
-They don’t know Martin Brodeur is! C’est chien! *

We drove on the outskirts of the city, down Pie-IX and West on Notre-Dame. It was around five, the golden hour in late January. It was calming to be driven around and to look at the no man’s land around the city while the sun was beaming its last rays. An orange colour was overtaking buildings and streets, softening the industrial landscape.

We covered a wide array of topics. We talked about facial tattoos and the people we’ve met with them on- what they say, why they have them. The conversation became very philosophical as we talked about the fact that modern-day lifestyle is not adapted to human needs.

As two anxious people, we talked about well-being and then showed each other breathing exercises. We almost got into an accident on René-Lévesque Blvd as I was showing him a breathing technique I learned in yoga class.

Lou was like the cool, older version of elementary school friends I had years ago. He was easy to get along with, and his sense of humour, openness and familiarity made me feel like I’ve known him for years. That, and the fact that we are both quintessential Montrealers. Lou dropped me right in front of the building’s entrance, giving me a last high-five.

Taxi drivers like these easily turn a grey day into a bright human experience. These two drivers made my interviewing adventure in St.Leonard so much better. It was like having friends for the ride.


*It loosely translates as ”it’s mean” but realistically it means ‘‘it’s dog!”

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Associate Editor of Blonde. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre & Development from Concordia University and is currently a student in the Master of Arts in Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario.

Photo: Peter Lindbergh for Vogue UK, September 1992.

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A Tale of Two Cities and One Suburb

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When I left Toronto just over five years ago and headed for the west coast, my Dear John letter read, “Dear Toronto, it’s not me, it’s you.” But it wasn’t Toronto at all. It was me. I was blaming a city for everything that was wrong in my life and thought, it’s time to hightail it out of here! Being a city girl, I chose a new city–Van City. I’d never even been there on a visit (I’d never been further west than Windsor, seriously); but when the option to apply for a job transfer to Vangroovy came up, I was compelled to apply. I needed an out. Toronto tasted like a hardened, stale bagel and I need to gnaw on someplace else.

I found myself an extremely cute little apartment in Vancouver’s West End. I had my cat, my dog, a place to learn to cook recipes from Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking, and the ocean just 90 seconds away from my door. I ate too much butter, drank too much wine, and I buried any sign of the Trellawny who had ever lived in Toronto (literally, my new expanded waistline ate her right up).

But I never felt like I was at home. Three years, a seven-day uHaul drive across the country via the Crow’s Nest highway (I advise anyone against this route, by the way; and wish someone had advised me prior to the longest white-knuckle drive I’ve ever experienced), a parrot attack in a Thunder Bay hotel hallway, and a sublet in an apartment with a problematic amount of scary spiders later: I was back in Toronto. I was “home.”

Well…

Trellawny random city photoshoot

I was renting an apartment in the Beaches with a boyfriend I’d met in Vancouver. The door was on Queen Street and the lock broke; but the superintendent wouldn’t replace it. Not cool. So I bought a house. In the suburbs. I did a test drive; it was only 45 minutes back into the Beaches, where I worked. I could do this. Sing-alongs in the car every day! Hells yes! I was in a financial position to do it. I could pay into the equity of my own house rather than pay a slumlord and help his bankroll. This was a great idea. Homeownership = respect in our North American society. It’s like some sort of status symbol and I was about to be worthy of respect as an adult. Afterall, I wasn’t married, had no kids and no astounding career. But I could buy a house!

So, the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs, not far from where I bought my house. My house. When I saw the house for the first time, my first response was, “It’s so cute. What a cute house!” But cute houses have lawns that need to be cut. And front porches that need to be replaced (unless you want to fall through them). And every utility bill? Yes, that’s up to me to pay as well. Shovelling in the winter: yes, must do that too. And I’ll tell you, that puts a damper on the drive-to-work sing-along. Also dampening, and not in the sexy good way, is traffic. Traffic. Other people get into a lot of car accidents. They don’t signal. They randomly drive slower than the speed limit…by a lot. And house centipedes. Let’s not forget those.

Other life events unfolded, like the end of my almost four-year relationship with that boyfriend. I started going to concerts again and went on road trips with girlfriends (of note: any trip I took had to be coordinated so my old dog was taken care of. During this time, my cat died, which just broke my heart).

city dinner alone

I lost 25 pounds. I cooked even more than I had in Vancouver–and made better foods. I started hula-hooping in my backyard. I BBQ’d. But everyday I had to drive in traffic: horrendous. Summer ended and girlfriends stopped visiting me.  Road trips stopped. Concerts dwindled. Bills piled up.

Owning a house. Not all it’s cracked up to be. Being a commuter: absolutely not for me. After almost three months of trying, I sold my house. Packing. Now that’s a way to get lost, especially when you are the type of person who keeps far too many items. But I did it. I downsized. I’m back in a city–Toronto–renting an apartment. I can walk to work. I’m just figuring out my routine. It’s just Maggie (my 15-and-a-half year old blind, deaf shih tzu) and me. Talk about feng shui-ing my life.

I have a lovely new boyfriend. He lives across the ocean. (We met at a concert and that’s a whole other topic.) I’m thinking about that move–across the ocean. I don’t know all of the details yet. But, what I do know is I’m a city girl. I know the specific city doesn’t matter. I know I need to walk places and be around people. I can still feel lonely in a giant apartment building, but it’s comforting to know there are people here breathing the same air as me, literally, who also feel lonely, lost, confused, inspired, encouraged, loved, happy… I know that if I see a bug, I can scream and someone will hear me! I know that “home” is not a geographical location. It’s where I can be comfortable. Be me. Be afraid of bugs, drink wine, paint doodles on a canvas, play my saxophone, write introspective pieces, be made love to, cook fanciful dishes or eat cheese & crackers. And where I can walk down the street and pass other strangers who aren’t sure where home is, but for now… it’s here in the city.

Trellawny has been teaching herself to cook for the past few years. She claims neither to be a chef nor a cook, just a girl who makes the most of making meals. You can check her out on YouTubeInstagram and www.distancedish.com