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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Off-Limits

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I am from the second biggest city in Canada, and yet it often feels like a village.
Many people I know (including my best friends) become friends after a while, even if they used to evolve in different circles, and many people also date or sleep with each other.
It becomes normal to know so-and-so’s ex-boyfriend and some of the people they slept with.
It’s not only like that for others though, it’s also like that for me and my good friends, and sometimes the burden becomes heavy and the past remains too present.

Last weekend, I went to a house party at some guy friend’s place. There is one that I used to date, but we are just friends now.
The night of the party, I was getting back from my best friend’s place in the countryside. We had just spent two days without electricity under bad weather conditions.
I came back to Montreal on a rainy evening, but that wasn’t going to stop me from going out.
I wore my best weather-appropriate outfit (no easy feat, considering that I had only brought one pair of pants). I was in the mood to meet new boys that I could have some good conversations and some fun with. Hey, that’s also what vacation is for when you’re single. (Summer Lovin’, anyone?)

I arrived at the apartment early to catch up with my friends, discussing my life in Ontario and theirs in Montreal, talking blogs, art and life. The boys all commented favourably on my shoes and one of them looked at me from head to toe. ”Nice outfit,” he said. I was beaming from the compliments: it is quite rare and always lovely when men comment clothes. I was happy to come early so I could chill with the boys before people came in droves. And boy they did. A couple of people at first, and then the apartment got packed. The little yard was filled with various kinds of hipsters, some with beards, some with caps, some with side ponytails. There were some people I knew, some I barely did, and some I didn’t. But as my friend said the next day, I am a social warrior. So once again, I tried to talk to everyone, remember their names, and make an effort to hold a conversation. But that being said, sometimes socializing completely exhausts me.

I was feeling a little bit under the weather because of the evening’s dampness and the effort require to socialize with strangers. That night, I was constantly looking around for a beautiful boy to meet, and it was starting to make me dizzy. It was around then that I started talking to a very tall and handsome boy, coincidentally a good friend of my friends. We talked for a long time and the more we did, the more he was becoming someone I could actually picture myself with beyond one night. He was talking to me, and I was saying: ”you’re right” after he spoke, agreeing on his vision of things. He is a screenwriter. Like me, writing is his daily bread. He is also lanky and an introvert, traits that I have found endearing in boys since high school. Because I am outgoing and outrageous, I need a man to calm me down and hold me tight.

I wanted to offer him a beer, but somebody stole the two left, and so we shared a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
We went outside to smoke a joint, one that I had kept safe inside of my wallet, waiting for a good moment.
I got my bag from my friend’s room and went outside. We smoked, and then I tried harder to seduce him. I approached his face and kissed him close to the lips. Nothing happened. I backed off, puzzled.
”What’s up?”
”Nothing.”
”I’m sorry.”
”It’s OK.”
”Why don’t you respond?”

He told me that he was too close with the other guys and so he could not do anything with me.
”What are you talking about? I’m done dating this guy, we are only friends and the other guy, nothing ever happened, we are just friends!” He didn’t wince, but rather tried to explain.
Just to confirm the fact, I asked: ”so you’re kind of off-limits?”
”Yeah.”
He kept talking to me, but I was mad, sad and heartbroken. I left right then and there. I was walking fast and probably not in a straight line.

A few blocks down the road, I heard my name. Two of my favourite theatre buddies were on the other side of the street. We were very excited to be seeing each other again. We hugged, we laughed. It’d been a while. They told me that another friend was having another party, and it happened to be on my way home. I stopped for a few minutes, seeing one my best gay friends and making a new one. I left with a renewed sense of happiness and wholeness.

I was walking home when I saw newspapers already delivered on stoops. I took one, thinking that it would make my dad happy. He always goes out on Sunday mornings and buys it. It was 4: 30 a.m. when I made it home. I left the paper on the table and I went to bed. My dad was very surprised when he first woke up at 6 and saw the paper delivered to his table.

The next day, I went to yoga to feel alive again and then back to my friend’s place to grab my forgotten umbrella. We chilled outside, we listened to music, we shared poutine. I realized how happy I was to have him in my life. We decided to go out to the park with his other roommate to meet other people. My best friend came to meet us there with a dog she is looking after. We all went for coffee on an outdoor terrace. The light was beautiful and their presence was calming. When we were ready to go, the boys went home and me and my BFF walked in the opposite direction. Finally, I could tell her the story, and it felt incredibly liberating.

Upon hearing it, she said:”it must have been terribly awkward.”
”It was fucking awkward,” I answered.
”What can I do?”
”Nothing,” she said.
”I know,” I sighed.

She has also destroyed relationships because of sex and touch and many other of my friends have. Last year, two of my best girl friends slept with somebody I had previously slept with (one an ex-boyfriend). It did hurt a lot, and I felt like I was replaceable. Upon talking with my friend, I realized that maybe it was the best thing that nothing happened. I usually go with the line ”bros before hoes” anyway, and it sums up the ”best” way to react to the situation, although it’s more complicated than that. This story generated good conversations with my best friends. Many of us are fed up of being limited by our past or our social circles. Many of us are also fed up with dating people that are bad for us, and want to find that special person by expanding horizons. But it also underlined once again that friends are the most important, really.

Another of my best friends met her long-time boyfriend on the Internet in order to break the vicious circle of people-that-know-people.
Yesterday, I was coming back from their place with friends.
I told them what happened.
My guy friend said: ”I am especially wondering what he said to his friend so that he would reject you like that.”

I’m still wondering what my friend said to my late-night crush in the course of their friendship. I’m still wondering if I’ll ever make the guy that rejected me change his mind.
I doubt it. I know that I have to move on. Still, rejection is though.
I was hurt in many ways (it was especially hard on my ego), but hey, it won’t be the first time.
I’d rather keep my friends than my pride.

Lili Monette is a multidisciplinary entertainer and writer, and the Montreal 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: from i-D Magazine’s archives. Model: Lily Cole.