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Monday, April 18, 2005

An Ode To Heather

At the end of this week, Heather, a GO travel companion for the past several years, will no longer be riding on the morning East-bound train into Toronto with me. She recently found a better job close to Burlington, where she lives, and is putting the daily commute behind her.

As I contemplate staring at her vacant seat across from me (knowing of course that it won’t be vacant for long), I think back to the early days with Heather.

I started taking the GO train in November 1999 when I started my job in Toronto. In the early days, I often sat in random locations, but would typically find myself in the same seat across the aisle from two people I would later come to learn were named Norm and Heather.

Norm and Heather. Like peanut butter and jelly, like cream and sugar, like Abbott and Costello -- to me, they’re more like the Norm and Cliff of the GO Train -- two hearty souls who have “always” been there, and often together, going through the daily motions of the commute and yet offering it a unique light.

Of course, before I knew their names, I gave them nicknames in my head. I still do this on the train with people that I see every day but have no idea who they are. Maybe it’s part of our human need to classify everything or maybe it’s just an illness that I have. In any case, I nicknamed them Moe and Bernice.

It was only after a year or so, when a random commuter had the nerve to sit in Norm’s seat (yes, like the Norm of Cheers fame, he sits in the exact same spot every single day - I’m not making this up), Norm ended up sitting in the seat beside me and after he grumbled about the person taking his seat we engaged in a bit of chit-chat. Heather wasn’t riding with him that day (being the hard-worker and dedicated employee that she is, she would regularly take the earlier and more expensive VIA train in to get an early start). Shortly after that, I ended up sitting in the same seat area with Norm (on the GO train there are seat groupings of four seats together), and was introduced to Heather.

Over the years, there have been a wonderful cast of characters joining us in this four person sitting area (and you better believe that Norm isn’t the only one who is emotionally attached to his seat - Heather often displays that same inclination, and I’ve witnessed other regulars whom I don’t usually “hang” with on the train, displaying that same behaviour. I’m surprised actually, that I haven’t yet seen anyone urinate on a seat just to ensure they properly marked their territory). Some of the characters are Angie, Norm’s daughter, Lou, an ex-daily commuter who now works from home and only goes into the office on Thursdays, Jannette, a co-worker of Heather’s, Krys, a buddy of mine from work, David, the husband of a colleague from Fran’s work who only lasted six months in what he deemed was commuting hell) Yet, despite all the fun and interesting folks I share my morning commute with, Norm and Heather have been the central part of our little posse.

It’s hard to imagine the morning commute without Heather. It’s like seeing a Cheers episode with only Norm and no Cliff. I’ll miss Heather - Heather, the multilingual, kind hearted person. Heather, the hard-working employee, always doing extra work on her laptop. Heather, the observant. Heather, the thoughtful. Heather, with the penchant for baking scrumptious goodies, Heather, with the friendly smile and the light-hearted back and forth teasing that has made the morning commute brighter these past several years.

And soon enough, too soon, I’ll be staring at that empty seat which was Heather’s (which won’t stay empty for long -- like a long-running sitcom with revolving cast members, our Shelley Long will be replaced with a Kirstie Alley, our Coach will be replaced with a Woody) and thinking about the fun mornings with Heather. I can only imagine how much Norm will miss her.

And maybe one day in the future, Norm and I will get off the train at Mimico Station and tip back a beer at the Blue Goose Tavern (a bar we've all admired in passing for years), and offer a toast to Heather.

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