I board the TTC for the first time in over three months. I hop on at Sherbourne station and take a transfer at Spadina. The trains are beginning to awaken; it is packed, but a novel, dispersed sort of packed, as per the distancing guidelines. The heavy air-conditioning beats the summer heat out of me. I hold on tight to the grab-handles as my legs acclimate to the movement, my body weight tossed side to side between the carriages where I’m standing. My travelling is short-lived. I am a returning tourist on the TTC, but a tourist nonetheless; I get off at Queen’s Park (yes, I missed a stop).
I’ve known about the TTC being used as safe havens for the homeless for years now, but like a tourist, I partake in that kind of feigned ignorance/innocence captured so well in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place. As the curtain draws back by COVID-19 and the homeless is revealed, on the other side of the world, a hotel opens in the mountainous city of Takayama to exactly no one.
A week ago, I was scouring the internet for news, and I find this brusque comment on Reddit:
That’s weird. I noticed no smell, apart from my own. What do people w/ no home smell like anyways? Cinnamon? If we’re talking about smells, I reckon the opposite makes more sense. Antigua does not smell like Antigua, Takayama does not smell like Takayama; the tourists smell like tourists, and vis-a-vis outside-the-TTC smells like people w/ homes, or, well, people with particular kinds of homes, the kinds that sit beside bright patches of grass or enjoy car-watching from atop the downtown skies or just in general prefers resting over moving. There is another kind.
The proprioceptive experience of this “other” home, the home of the homeless, mirrors the olfactory turn of perspective. When the fare-checkers return in the coming weeks, the residents of the TTC must get off their ship and onto “solid land” with a bad bad case of sea legs, lest they be seized wholesale. They can’t even stand straight, some might observe, but the whole time, it was the land that was moving, not the sea. The ground “out here,” our ground, the ground that belongs to us who reside in these weird, sedentary homes, it will not stop for them, not for a second. Their homes are made for us tourists, after all, to take us not just to work, but to the beaches and the bars and the hiking trails and the art galleries; to take us away. Even we can’t stand our homes sometimes, so why do we expect them to?