On a recent Saturday, my husband I travel to the far east. This, in the era of COVID. Let me explain.
We set out from the West Harbour GO Station, 10 minutes from our downtown home, and prepare to be lulled into nirvana for the next hour and 49 minutes, past green and brown fields, back yards, lots, parks, ravines, ponds and light industry, as we roll toward Scarborough, where our newly-married son, his wife and spunky little Boston terrier, Mulder, live.
For these two seniors, the GO Train is a mechayeh.
After countless trips over the years, to and from Toronto, we have come to loathe that ride. It is stressful and long; you have to have the steely nerve and skillset of a NASCAR driver to manage the course.
The GO, for the most part, is predictable and punctual, and at $10 each for a one-day weekend pass, return, it’s a bargain. We tuck our car into a parking lot, with seven others, that has space for 300. The Rocky Mountaineer it isn’t, but when you consider that this is our first train trip since COVID, it’s pretty good.
We strike up a conversation on the platform with a woman in her twenties who tells us she thinks it’s “neat” we are taking public transit, unlike her mother. We kvell at how hip we are. Moreso, because I am sporting a pale olive-green backpack, carrying the strawberry-chocolate chip muffins, challah and pasta sauce I have made for the kids.
On this late morning train, there are relatively few passengers onboarding to and past Union Station, and we arrive at Guildwood at 1:02 p.m. as scheduled.
We spend a joyous afternoon with our two sons and their partners (and Mulder), celebrating the birthday of our daughter-in-law with pizza and Krispy Kreme donuts. The newlyweds extend warm hospitality, serving us food on a beautiful blue stoneware dinner set, and the six of us sit on jewel-toned chairs around their live-edge wood dining room table; wedding gifts.
It’s always joyous when we can be with our kids (and Mulder); but COVID has underscored how precious life and health are. And, if we ever did, we no longer take for granted how important it is to be with each other, hug each other, and take in emotion and feeling without the filters of Zoom and FaceTime.
All too soon, it’s time for our Jewish goodbye. No small feat for me. I’ve been told I can’t say hello in under 10 minutes. I’m sure it’s part of my genetic inheritance or lineage that I find it so difficult to part from dear family and friends. Once, after several attempts to get me to budge, my long-suffering husband left me standing (should I say, talking) on a sidewalk. Mortified (me), he circled the block, then came back to pick me up.
So, we say the final goodbye and board the west-bound train to follow the sun set.
The ride home is livelier, busier. At each stop leading to Exhibition Place, individuals, couples and small groups board the train. We sense something is happening this Saturday night. It turns out to be a Keith Urban concert.
Cloaked in our COVID masks, we scrutinize this cohort of humanity; dressed after Urban in classic jeans, button-down and low-cut T-shirts, blazers, and artistic tattoos.
It stays lively, even after the twenty-somethings exit Exhibition. Young people and families juggle bags, phones, AirPods (or EarPods or earbuds, who knows?) and, like trained circus performers, elegantly balance bicycles, strollers, e-skates and their children as they anticipate their stops.
The diversity is stunning and exhilarating; and we feel refreshed and renewed to be out in the world having been so long deprived of all manner of experience because of COVID—social, cultural, and in-person human.
As we near our stop—West Harbour GO, the final frontier—the train car is all but empty, like it was earlier in the day. We disembark, pull off our masks, and find our car, one of a handful.
Once home, my husband I smile at each other and think to ourselves … what a wonderful day.
Helaine Ortmann loves to garden, bake, walk, write and be with her family.