Locomotives and Tall Buildings

By train, from Toronto. Home to New Brunswick for the holidays, for the winter, for the hell of it.


Drive 5km to station, leave bags—two checked, two carry-on—return car to house, make a leisurely return to station, board train.

Drive to station. Aware that construction has turned everything around the train station into trench warfare, I decided in advance to pay any amount required to park near as possible since I won’t be able to take in all my bags at once. (Surely parking for a few minutes will be cheaper than taking a cab, right?)

If there are two things I’ve learned in this life, one is, never marry someone you’ve known for barely three months, and the more important one is, never enter a corporate, automated, underground parking garage in a car you aren’t willing to abandon.

From the outside, the parking garage looks damn near to the train station, like back-to-back, but that’s an illusion. Joined, but worlds apart. Drive down three levels to the first available spot, which I take, despite misgivings that it is a trick of some sort. I take out three of my bags, unable to manage the fourth, but sensing merit in unloading as much as possible the first time around, and I drag them up three levels of prison-like stairs wells, wondering where the elevators are hiding.

Having walked what must be halfway back to my house—all the while fighting the current of commuters like a salmon returning to his spawning grounds with 75kg of winter clothing, digital apparatus, and research books—I check two bags and pay $3 to store one of my carry-ons which I’m informed is 2.5kg overweight so will have to be repacked when I return with other.

Hike back to car, discovering elevator this time. To avoid paying to park longer, I decide to drive home and bring the backpack when I return to the station. I get to the automatic exit gate and find the $10 parking fee is more than I have in cash and the machine won’t accept debit. I am informed by a man in a fancy suit, who says he’s “from head office”, (hanging around the automatic gate?—hmm, warning sign) that the nearest ATM is three floors up in a convenience store. Conscious that time is money, and that I’m rapidly running out of both, I make haste. And we all know what that makes. Anticipating a significant run, I leave my coat in the car.

I’m in a video game in which the object is to avoid and outrun angry mall security guards, retrieve parking funds, and get back to the car before the parking fee reaches the daily maximum and get the car home with enough time remaining to get back and make the train. Getting directions from one of the Mario Brothers, I find the shop. The owner asks what I’m looking for. Was he deliberately concealing the ATM behind his body? To be safe, I choose $40 quick withdrawal. Insufficient funds? That really puts the F in “WTF?” Stupid convenience-store ATM doesn’t understand I just deposited $155 @%^&* yesterday! Stay cool. This is the bloody Financial District; throw your wallet and you’ll hit a bank.

I go exploring, and promptly find a National Bank which is only across the street but gotta navigate a 500m shopping-tunnel maze to get there (which I calculated to be less time-consuming than being struck by a car). Insufficient funds lie is repeated. The entire staff gathers to give me directions to the nearest branch of my own bank—the national headquarters, sure to have all the answers, is just four blocks away! I take my chances with traffic and frostbite.

In my sweaty T-shirt I burst from the malevolent complex and fly betwixt taxis and streetcars, doing back flips over renegade bike couriers, halting for a red light at the corner of Bay St and What Aver-nue to regain my breath and composure. The little walking man lights up. Surely looking like a CGI effect, I launch myself across the street and through the revolving doors.

The foyer of Canada’s most venerable bank tower. What do I see? Bankers in elf suits decorating a 20m high Christmas tree, banks of elevators, acres of empty space. Quick, Robin, down the escalator! Ah ha, real live bank machines with no line up! Now the truth is revealed. Five day hold on all cheques. I am able to withdraw $20 of $38 available. Now, shiny new $20 bill in hand and 20m below the earth’s crust, I must navigate a galaxy of mirror image coffee shops, luggage stores and hair salons to find a nameless parking garage somewhere between the train station and Lake Ontario. How hard could that be? I was just there 80 breaths ago. There must be an app for this, but my phone is a dunce.

Subtle signage gets me part way but it’s taking too long. At the risk of misinformation I ask a custodian how to get to the overpriced parking garage south of the station. “Damn the tunnels, man; point!” He is a worthy guide. I surf the sidewalk down to a comedy of doors. Two strikes and a homerun!

In my absence, the parking fee had jumped from $10 to $15. If math is true, $20 should be more than enough to cover that, unless… It seems the machine doesn’t recognize the newest bill, and who can blame it. Even the Queen’s portrait is eyeing with suspicion her doppelganger in the clear plastic window and the clip-art maple leaves on her own bill. Thankfully, there is someone there to yell at.

“But I’m from head office. I don’t really know anything about…Wait, I’ll go ask my boss.” He disappears around corner where I hear a woman yell at him “Well you’d BETTER find me a parking spot. Here, I’m going to park in this RESERVED spot.” Poor guy. “You can’t do that, Ma’am.”

I save him, her, and myself. “You can have MY spot, right here, if I can get outta here!” Mr Headoffice opens the gate and I peel outta there like Batman after the Penguin.

The car safely returned to the Batcave, I hoist the bulging backpack onto my sweaty-T-shirt-back, throw my down-filled coat over my frosty forearm and take the subway back to the train station.
Arrive at baggage counter as boarding begins. I redistribute contents of my luggage so that neither carry-on is overweight. The big one, on wheels, is half empty; the smaller one, strap cutting into my shoulder, is vomiting computer components and gift-wrapped major appliances. The guy ahead of me is told to put his carryon on the scale. I stagger by unnoticed. Riding the escalator to the platform, I dump the excess from the small bag into the big one, and stroll onto the train with my head held high, dreaming of my east-coast Fortress of Solitude.



Filed under geography

14 responses to “Locomotives and Tall Buildings

  1. S

    FAN-fucking-TAStic. This should be published for Saint John Tourism Board.

  2. Dave

    At least you’re still in one piece! …look what happened to ME!!

  3. Kate

    You ought to have called; I’d have driven you, thereby robbing you of an excellent tale, but saving you from such a caper. Also, you left without saying goodbye. (aha! Two birds, one stone.)

    • I said goodbye; you just weren’t close enough to hear me. I’ll say goodbye next time I see you. And thank you for the offer, but I eat capers for breakfast. I hope you enjoyed my excellent tail.

  4. D

    Your tale was a lovely ray of sunshine in my weary dreary work day. Bravo for beating the system! Usually this kind of hurdle-jumping disaster aversion is only found in the opening sequence of James Bond movies…..

    • And all that on four hours of sleep! When I reach my Fortress of Solitude tomorrow, I will replenish myself with locally grown and prepared grape jelly! (Is it still “local” after the consumer carries is 1,000km east?)

  5. With all that practise, it will be no problem for you to get from where the train dumps you 90 miles from your destination. You can just roll merrily on your wheeled luggage if the highway’s ploughed or slide if not. With occasional sprinting breaks to maintain your high spirits and circulation.

  6. Stevan Jovanovich

    Excellently told excellent story–why were you hiding this talent when working for Runtime? Hmmm–I understand. Keep writing!!!

  7. marcuspeddle

    Come to Korea! Taxis are dirt cheap and it’s nearly a cashless society. Of course, getting a train to New Brunswick from here is a bit of a problem . . .
    Excellent story, by the way.

  8. strollermom

    Quite a send-off that city gave you my friend.

  9. Sarah

    This was a stressful read. Why am I not surprised? Life. Enjoy home enough for both of us:)

  10. kaya

    So, you’ve proven (in true superhero style) you’re more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings, but are you smarter than a speeding bullet? Was it your cape that caused your luggage to be overweight?

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