Speeding through a city near the mountains, lost in a sea of mirrored isolation

You are crouching in a fragile transit shelter. They say these things were built to ward off at least some of winter’s keen sting – the heavy snow, the gale, occasional freezing rain. But, apparently nobody told that to this icebox. Cold air sings through the gaps between glass and metal. Beyond the frosted panes, the wind moans through the narrow station.

You exhale and when you breathe in again it’s all city exhaust stink and frozen iron. The Chinook Arch looms red in the distance, a flaring frame for the city outline that sprouts up from the ground like the Rocky Mountains themselves. Inhale. Exhale. Calgary. 

A 69th Street train whistles past in a blur of white and red. It’s all colour-coded — the melting snow and the sunburst arch and this bullet train — all contained in the greyness of Shaganappi Point station. This is Canada, familiar in all its grimly coloured alpine comfort. The train stations stand as more of a reminder of our heritage than many would perceive. They are common ground, a gathering place for all those perfect strangers to sit and wait for a journey to begin. What a wonderfully intimate place to be among (new) friends.

 You wait in the wind, the strap of your messenger bag digging into your shoulder. You don’t mind it much though, the pain is familiar, and after all, the destination awaits. Murky light spills onto the platform through dirty, windows, casting a shadow on the twenty-something man across the platform. Across the tracks, he meets your eyes with a tired smile as the train comes in, breaking your contact. It darts off in an instant. The traveller is gone.

You wonder where he’s going in that moment after. For a second you were weary travellers together, two Calgary students making the long trip home after a longer day. Or perhaps his day was just beginning. Perhaps he wasn’t a student at all, or even a local. You will never know, but for a moment he could have been and that chance of sameness has made you curious of his own journey’s end, regardless of true circumstance.

It’s 2:48 p.m. on a Friday and you are standing in Shaganappi Point station, waiting for the Saddletowne train. Four kids dressed haphazardly swig from a shared beer can as they cross the street and approach. They swagger up the ramp to the platform as though the world doesn’t matter, not today. Today is a day off, whether permitted or not. Today is a free day, a day to shatter boundaries and break the rules. May as well add littering to the detention rap sheet, their leader finishing the can and tossing it onto the tracks. 

The sickly sweet stench of corner store candy and smuggled alcohol – modern adolescence, suffocates you as they pass. They huddle in a bus shelter at the end of the terminal, cackling over their phones and staring back at you, casting you as other, as some sort of authority. The nostalgia is overwhelming. We so often forget what it is like to be so young and blissfully unaware, but their drooping jeans and frosted hair makes you crave that naivety. Nevertheless, you will later take care to board a different car than they do.

The orange neon time stamps of approaching trains blink on a board in the distance. Cigarette smoke and your own breath fogging up your glasses making the flashing numbers impossible to read. As it is with all scheduled things, it’ll get here when it get’s here. It’s not like you could do anything to make it come faster or slower.Shaganappi Point Station, Jan. 16, 2015, 2:55 p.m. The orange neon time stamps blink in the distance over the heads of rowdy teenagers and handsome students, faceless entities waiting to board the oncoming bullet train.

Photo by Michaela Ritchie

Instead of tapping your toe to keep time, you examine fellow cityscape adventurers as they mark the minutes around you. The crisscrossing tracks are a great chasm dividing the tiny hoard. There is no mingling. And although they are all around you at once the same, they are completely different from you, yet also from each other. They are moving on a different track, heading in a different direction, towards an unknown point on the line, perhaps one that you will never visit.

A mechanical voice cautions not to cross the yellow line. Another Canada-coloured train cuts through the station. This time it is your own.

It’s 2:55 p.m. and the wide doors spring open, the fresh determination of an aging machine. As you board you watch as others disembark through the doors opposite you. The thought occurs to you that you could run right through the train and never let it take you away. You could spend all day jumping through the trains… but that would make for an awfully repetitive adventure.

A bell dings once overhead. The doors close. No turning back now.

The train lurches to life again before you find a seat or steady footing. You hurtle towards the nearest pole and hang on for dear life as the slush in the grips of your boots slips over the speckled beige plastic flooring beneath you. At the head of the car a man coughs — neither into his elbow nor tissue, just into the confined, cramped airspace. Must be flu season. Elegant bronze women at the back of the car bicker in a foreign tongue.  One dabs at her child’s nose. The language is familiar, though not yours. It is both comforting and commanding.

mritchie@cjournal.ca

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