Il fait beau dans l’métro!

Nouveau métro de MontréalIn early October of last year, after an on-and-off call for bids, the Government of Québec finally announced that it was awarding to Bombardier-Alstom the contract to renew the very aged rolling stock of the Montréal métro. The rolling stock of our métro is among the oldest still in use in the world, some of it dating back to the mid-1960s, but it has been extremely well maintained and upgraded over the years so that it doesn’t really show its age. However, we can only milk so much life out of them, and replacing the stock is by no means a luxury at this point, even though plans are to keep some of the rolling stock in commission until 2017.

I really like the fact that the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) has called upon the public to choose the exterior colour scheme of the new stock, which should start rolling out in 2014. Even I voted, and the STM announced last week that the scheme pictured above is the one that won by an overwhelming majority. People have more than grown accustomed to the blue of the exterior; they’ve grown to love and “own” it. It’s the colour of our métro and don’t dare take it away! The STM’s next consultation is to come up with a less “technical” name than MRM-10 for the new stock in the hope of coming up with something similar to the city’s wildly successful bicycle rental service, BIXI, a concept that is now being exported to cities around the world and is a coinage from the words “BIcycle” and “taXI.”

It will come as no surprise to you that I prefer Montréal’s métro over Toronto’s subway. Both are almost identical in terms of length and number of stations; although slightly shorter, Montréal’s métro has a significantly higher daily ridership than Toronto’s. But I admit that Toronto’s is better in significant ways, notably wider cars and air conditioning — except that I really despise the fact that Toronto’s is on rails. (Montréal’s is on tires.) Toronto’s is SO noisy when it brakes into a station and, worse, when it takes a curve. And although stations like Bloor-Yonge have been extensively redone over the years, the appearance of Toronto subway stations is still more reminescent of public washrooms. For its part, each station in the Montréal system is different. Some are truly horrific or run down, but at least all attempt to be different, with artistic elements being integrated into the architecture of each. Another significant downside of Montréal’s métro, though, is the very thing I like about it, namely the fact that it IS on tires as well as the overall design of the stock: any extension has to be underground, whereas Toronto’s is and can be more easily expanded above ground outside the city’s central core.

Speaking of expansions, more than a year ago, it was announced that a study to expand three of the four lines of the métro was being undertaken. We were told at the time that the study was NOT to look into the viability of the extensions but into how the extensions were to be done. The blue line will eventually go as far east as it was intended; the yellow will extend deep into the densely populated suburb of Longueuil, and the western branch of the orange line would go a few stations further north of Côte-Vertu, the current terminus. But what kills me, though, is the refusal to look into extending the blue line west of Snowdon into NDG, which is as densely if not more so populated than the extremities of the green line. If the party in power in Québec City were the Parti Québécois, I’d understand that it would be because of petty politics — not wishing to extend into an enclave of les Anglais — but coming from a Liberal government whose power base is the western half of the Island? I really don’t get it.

Tonight is Nuit Blanche, so the métro will exceptionally be operating all night. I think I’ll take advantage of that and go out but not take the car. And perhaps have as much fun on the métro as in this cringe-worthy 1976 promo!

The One Who Said No

Métro de Montréal @ McGillYesterday morning I had to provide the first phase of training for a new client at my day job, and given the size and importance of this new account, most of the training is being done on-site at the client’s workplace rather than by phone or webcast. So, like thousands of other workers, I found myself on the métro heading downtown — orange line from Snowdon to Lionel-Groulx and green line to McGill — which is a major shift from my normal commute from my bedroom, to the bathroom, to the kitchen, and finally to my home office.

It’s toward the end of my journey along the green line that I saw her face, and as I stepped out of the métro at McGill, I’m sure I must have had a grin going ear to ear. One of my very few good memories from high school had come flooding back.

Her face was on an ad for L’École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal. It was the face of Annie, who is now an associate professor in mechanical engineering at the Poly and is doing research on topics I can bearly understand. But in 1981, she sat behind me in Chemistry 112. And I really liked her.

How much did I like her? Well, Annie is the only girl on the planet whom I ever dared ask on a date.

I still remember my Grade 5 class with Madame Marie at École Essex, specifically the shenanigans going on where the boys and the girls were starting to want to pair up as boyfriend and girlfriend. I say “shenanigans” because I recall that everything had boiled over to the point of an obsession among my peers — except with me, who “inexplicably” (ha ha!) showed no interest in finding myself a girlfriend. As everything had become such a huge distraction in class, Madame Marie put an end to it by declaring, “For heaven’s sake! You’re only in Grade 5! You have a lifetime to find yourselves a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Just take it easy here.”

I took Madame Marie’s admonition to heart and as a sign that THEY — my peers — were the crazy ones and I was the sane one for not obsessing about getting a girlfriend. I stuck to that reasoning for years and I was still holding to it by the time I reached high school. But, of course, what Madame Marie suggested back in Grade 5 wasn’t pertinent anymore by Grade 11, and I realized I had to snap out of that frame of mind.

The thing is, though, that by Grade 11, still wanting to deny to myself that I was gay, I had come to rationalize that I simply needed to find a girl who was really, really smart in order to get me interested. And, in addition to being attractive in her own right and having an easy smile and a propensity to laugh a lot, Annie fit that bill perfectly. So, one evening, out of the blue, I called her and asked her if she’d like to go on a date.

She said no. She already had a boyfriend.

As simplistic and non-sequituresque as it may seem to you, dear readers, that was it for me. Within a very short time after that call, I concluded that if Annie, the only girl in whom I had ever had the remotest interest, wasn’t interested, then I had to face the fact that what I really wanted is to date boys. However, there was one thing that would remain (although I clearly haven’t stuck to it): the object of my affection would have to be really, really smart in order to keep me interested.

It would be tempting to be flip and say that Annie’s rejection is what turned me gay. In fact, I’ve said that a few times as a joke, but of course I have never meant it. She had nothing to do with that, and I don’t believe she has ever known where my thoughts and feelings went after that fateful call. As a matter of fact, that phone call that was such a turning point for me, she probably doesn’t even remember.

And now there she is, on an ad in the métro for L’École Polytechnique of the Université de Montréal — a successful teacher and scientist. I would love to say hello to her and perhaps even tell her this little story. But I think that would be way too weird, especially for her. It goes to show, though, that we all may touch other people’s lives in a pivotal way yet never ever realize having done so.