Knitting in Transit

If you live in or have ever visited Toronto, you may be familiar with our venerable public transit system, the TTC. Having grown up in car culture Edmonton, where public transit is relatively poorly funded and, thus, requires its users to maintain an intimate geographic familiarity with the city in order to understand that the circuitous bus route will eventually get you to wherever you’re going, I was instantly smitten with the TTC the first time I used it. The TTC seemed impossibly fast compared to ETS, with its frequent bus, subway and streetcar service. When native Torontonians would complain to me about the TTC,  I would scoff and tell them to move to Edmonton, and then we’d talk about poor public transit.

Lately, my benevolent feelings towards the TTC have begun to wane. In fact, I hate the TTC now. Under Toronto’s infamous crack smoking mayor, service has been cut while fares have increased, and no matter the method of conveyance–bus, subway, streetcar–the experience of traveling on the TTC has become a miserable one. Delays are ubiquitous, overcrowding is rampant, and everyone is unhappy.

And yet, I do manage to find glimpses of goodness on the TTC. More recently, I’ve been reading novels like crazy, and if you’re going to be stuck standing up in a fast moving tin can for 30 odd minutes, you might as well be lost in a good book at the same time. When I manage to get a seat, I like to knit.

Knitting on the subway turns me into an instant object of fascination. Most people just stare for a few minutes and then return to their cell phones (those candies won’t crush themselves, after all…). Occasionally, people will talk to me about what I’m doing. I remember once, on a particularly hot and crowded day last summer, a man watched over my shoulder for about 15 minutes as I shaped the toe of a sock before going out of his way (and I mean really out of his way… the streetcar was packed and he had been forced to shuffle to the back of the car with the surge of rush hour commuters) to tell me that he really admired what I was doing. Another time, a woman saw that I was knitting and proceeded to touch my head to see what the hat I was wearing–she assumed, correctly, that I had made it–felt like, not believing that it was made from wool. Yet another time, a woman loudly talked about me and my knitting like I wasn’t there while seated right next to me: “That’s really cool, what she’s doing. I really like her pink scarf. I also really like her blue hat. I bet she made those, too.” On the rare occasion that I see another knitter on the subway, I do a silent internal cheer. Though there are lots of knitters in Toronto, seeing one in the wild is a bit like finding a unicorn, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having proof that there are others in the world like me, who rely on knitting to get them through the awfulness of crowded transit.

So, in aggregate, most people are nice, some people are perhaps a bit too enthusiastic with the whole touching-without-an-invitation thing, and still others are passive aggressive in their support. And, until recently, I thought that was all there was to it. Then, blogTO ran an article identifying the ten worst people on the TTC, and this was the very first comment:

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That’s right, everyone: Knitters, according to “Al”, are right up there with the seat hoggers, the doorway blockers and the fragrant hot food eaters! We are among the worst on the TTC, and I, apparently, am one of the worst offenders.

Unfortunately for Al and other destroyers of fun, I don’t think I’ll be giving up my transit knitting any time soon. As long as I have two hands and somewhere to go, the knitting will happen. Besides, it’s definitively autumn now and the air is crisp and chilly. A girl’s gotta keep warm somehow, and I choose wool. I just hope that Al’s grumpy judgement is enough to keep him warm…

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