JWR Articles: Commentary - My Train of Thought (Author: S. James Wegg) - August 31, 2002
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My Train of Thought

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A version of this article appeared in the August 28, 2002 edition of the St. Catharines Standard
We cannot prevent the worst of city living from coming to Niagara

Every weekday morning, the St. Catharines VIA station acts like a magnet for the 50-odd Toronto-bound commuters, seniors, lovers and students who congregate around the double tracks as they gleam in the rising sun.

Twenty minutes early, Internet-bought ticket in hand, I join the pack and, since it is my maiden voyage, hope I’m not standing in anyone’s regular spot.

A veteran businessman strides confidently through the crowd, ignores the thick yellow safety line, steps between the rails and, with an ease of movement that could only have come from daily practice, pivots his trunk eastward and squints down the line. “We’ve got a light—10 minutes,” he announces with satisfaction.

This equivalent of “be seated” cues the start of general conversation. Nine minutes later (causing a few good-natured cracks from the faithful to their lookout) train No. 90 halts before us. With traditional Canadian politeness, we obediently line up then step aboard.

There are two types of passengers: those already in pairs who sit happily together and those whose owners’ briefcases, books or papers demand a seat of their own and whose attention is unwaveringly riveted on the outdoor tableau until all newcomers are seated elsewhere.

Once safely aboard, I follow the old pros and discover the “magic” of opening the automated doors between cars. Soon we are comfortably lodged at the front of the train, greatly reducing the chance of sharing our journey with a fellow human being even though adding precious seconds to the disembarkation time at Union Station.

We’re stopped on a slight bend so, once seated and my newspapers resting comfortably beside me, I can see the next gated street crossing where frustrated motorists, blocked by our approach, are itching to ignore the flashing lights and swerve around the barriers gambling with their lives in order to arrive somewhere a little sooner.

Suddenly, a Buffalo-bound freight breaks the reverie and flies past us, its tri-pitched horn blaring. Luckily—this time—its path was not blocked by those time-saving drivers who just couldn’t wait.

We glide out of the city and are immediately surrounded by the spectacular agricultural mural that is drawn on the background of Niagara’s dark, rich earth.

Fruit trees abound in orderly rows, many providing protection to all manner of their less sturdy leafy cousins. Vacant aluminum step ladders lean in stoic expectation of the migrant crews without whom the harvest couldn’t take place.

The barren dormancy of a few fallow fields lies in stark contrast, like a long-suffering mother who needs rest and repair before beginning another cycle of bringing more life into the world.

Rivers flow beneath us; abandoned cement bridge stanchions—replaced by more modern high-speed models—have found new use as grassy flower pots for the wind-planted seeds that are rooted in permanent isolation but, like the commuters around me, live far away from the masses.

Then Beamsville arrives and I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of the gas station where an early morning “stranger-to-stranger” abduction nearly succeeded in June. I feel a sudden chill and wonder whether I remembered to bolt my apartment’s balcony door.

An ever-increasing number of condominiums and townhouses still dwarfed by the unmoving escarpment, heralds the arrival of Grimsby. Despite the best efforts of town planners and contractors, nature still predominates here.

After the station stop, a sensibly suited resident, who also knows the secret of the doors, joins us up front. I decide to rebel, look her in the eye and gallantly scoop up my reading material, but to no avail as she announces in a voice that could be heard in Vineland “Thanks, but I’ll take the backwards seat—what’s ahead is just too scary.” Another regular concurs as we jerk forward. I block out their continuing chatter by perusing the national news.

Yesterday’s multiple-murder suicide in the town that was now so quickly receding dominates the front page. The tone is of shock: “Grimsby comes of age,” “How could this happen here?” “We’ve lost our innocence.” And, idly thinking that the illegal graffiti splattered over the sides of an abandoned warehouse is a huge improvement on rust and decay, I reflect on our destination where its power-driven ambition to become a world-class city has resulted in more drive-by shootings, fraud and homelessness.

So many people use Toronto: They’re glad of its employment opportunities but much prefer to take their salaries and live in places like Niagara with its clean, green and safe environment. Growth is seen as evil once their needs have been fulfilled.

But human nature, prodded continuously by politicians with plaque-envy and developers seeking profit (does St. Catharines need its own arts centre?) will ensure that, sooner or later, everything that’s being avoided—smog, fraud, the homeless—will come home to roost. JWR

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