February 4, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Reviews and more standard editorial blather will follow shortly, but in light of the recent developments in possible TTC service cuts, I’ve pulled out a piece originally written in 2009, and finished it because a personal experience has some slight relevance to the argument of preserving late night bus routes.


News Briefs

On Monday January 10th, local media reported the TTC was considering fare hikes and the reduction of late night bus routes in under-performing areas in light of a cash shortfall. Mayor Rob Ford said he wasn’t happy, as did TTC chair Karen Stintz, and their speeches pointedly repeated the terms “not happy” to make it very, very clear neither was content with upsetting riders still riling over the 2010 fare hikes.

The new increases were to have affected token and Metropass fares, but not cash payments of $3 – poor comfort to the 91% of riders who don’t use cash because the savings lie in buying packets and bundles and passes.

Metropass users, for example, would’ve been slammed with an extra $60 in light of passes going up $5 to a monthly total of $126. (When I was in high school, the Metropass debuted at what was then the crazy cost of $26 per month. Boy, were we being taken to the cleaners back then!)

A day later, Mayor Ford flip-flopped and reversed the hikes, either because the pressure and distaste among the 1 million riders was so pungent, or more than likely it was a litmus test to see how deep lay the rage in users, if not the old P.R. stunt of announcing ‘things are a mess and we have to make drastic choices’ to shock and prep people for the absolute worst, and then follow-up with less severe cuts designed to show a semblance of fairness, rational thinking, and being simpatico with the electorate.

Remaining on the chopping block in January were proposed reductions of 48 bus routes in areas where late night rides were yielding less than 11 passengers per ride.

On Feb. 1, the proposals were modified in that the 48 bus routes would require 10-15 boardings per hour instead of per ride in order to remain active past 1am, with another 19 routes in North York being modified.

This past Wednesday, City Council sifted through the ideas, the complaints, the suggestions and came up with a mellower set of changes, but there are still routes slated to lose part of their late night service come May 1st.

The Leslie 51 bus, which I used when I lived up in North York, was going to be among the affected, but as of Wednesday, the only changes will be a roll-back of sorts to no bus service after 10pm on weekends and holidays.

I no longer live in North York, so any current or future changes no longer affect me, but what follows is a lengthy, detailed, and perhaps windy examination of what a suburban bus line was like before the expansion of service, during its late night expansion (which continues today along Leslie), and the time-wasting subway closures that made the trip home an annoying, chilly winter ordeal.

What follows is also an account of a familiar violent act that occurred to me, and could recur in areas destined to lose their late night bus runs where common thugs tend to worm their way onto the streets after midnight.



In the fall of 2007 I moved from an overpriced home to a basement apartment as part of a consolidating plan. The move was a breeze because it was just a few blocks away, on an eastbound street called Nymark Avenue, which begins at Leslie, at an intersection about two lights north of Sheppard, where the Leslie subway (or stubway, if you prefer) station lies.

My place was close to the Leslie & Nymark intersection. On the north east side lies a busy plaza where I used to gas up my 1991 Honda before the mass of salt the TTC tossed at Finch station corroded her wheel well panels to paper-thin metal.

In late January of 2008, the Honda’s catalytic converter died, and it made no sense to rebuild a rusting car that would only yield another pricey repair, months later. I ultimately sold her for scrap, and started to use my legs again after years of being devoted to The Car.

The only option was the TTC, whose subway I already used to make the night shift, taking the trains either from Finch or Leslie station to get to work downtown.

Because the Leslie 51 bus came at an erratic 15-20-40 mins. intervals in the afternoon, I’d just walk the distance to the subway station. Everyone always moaned the route’s vague arrival times, and cab hailing was actually quite frequent, because it wasn’t unusual to see two northbound buses pass us with not a single southbound in sight.

For myself, work finished at midnight, and with no car to drive home in a blink of an eye (less than a 10 mins. drive home), the alternative was the bus, except in early 2008, the Leslie bus ran until 10:46pm weekdays, and there was no Sunday nor holiday service in spite of that street having its own subway station – which for anyone living downtown, sounds stupid.

Broadview station, for example, is a vital hub to several lines that turn east and west north and south of the city, and it’s an important link for locals who head into the city each day.

Even though the Leslie bus started to run late past 1am in November of 2008, I had gotten used to the boring 15-20 mins. uphill walk from Sheppard to Nymark.

I listened to music I had to review that week and was rewarded by some modest cardio benefits, plus I discovered calf muscles grow if you use them twice daily, so there were decided perks to being Without Car.

Once, on a rainy day, a bus driver slowed down and asked if I wanted a ride, but I declined (“Are you sure?” he carefully asked). I figured it just seemed silly to take the bus for 2 stops. I was asked again not long afterwards during a snowstorm, but again declined because the street looked rather pretty, with white flakes dusting past the streetlamps, like a picture-perfect moment from a movie scene. The walk home was particularly affecting when listening to tomandandy’s opening cut for the film Right at Your Door (2006), a sometimes ethereal electronic score about a bomb blast in Los Angeles.

Not long afterwards, about once a month I started to see a mass of police cars pouring past me, often emanating from the Grado and Adra Villaway townhomes, a public housing complex probably built in the seventies. I think the record count one time was 7 police cruisers, which was pretty startling.

Then one night in January of 2009 – a year after the car had died – I was walking home along the same lonely stretch I’d been using for a year, listening to Atli Örvarsson’s Babylon A.D. album (a classic case of a score transcending the mediocrity of a film) and thinking of a faraway friend when I heard shuffling sounds from behind me, and two figures dressed in pitch black winter gear grabbed my arm and started shouting “No! No! No!” followed by “Give me the laptop! Give me the laptop!”

I’ll skip the emotional reaction and stick to the basics at this point.

The lead punk grabbed my left arm and kept insisting I hand over the computer, while the second punk hovered around in case I bolted. The first punk kept motioning his free arm in a cutting motion to my face. I thought it was a knife, but after a few closer glances it looked like the muzzle of a pea-shooter. It might have been a real gun or some old metal toy kids like me played with in the seventies, because there was some frayed paint on the tip.

Or maybe it was real?

I waved to an approaching car, but the driver kept on cruising. There’s little doubt he saw and knew what was happening, unless he was some twit yapping on his phone, or texting to someone an important message, like maybe ‘They were out of #&$% milk! Got skim instead. Satisfied???’

The lead punk was getting nervous about potential oncoming traffic, so when he shook harder I gave him the wallet from which he took out $10-15 cash, dumped the rest of the contents onto the snow, and took the heavy bag which also had my vintage Rio MP3 player.

I yelled as they ran across the street and disappeared into the black alleys of the townhouses – a pristine black hole where they completely vanished.

For a few minutes I hoped one of those police cars would pass. At the Nymark & Leslie bus stop, a TTC driver asked if I was alright. I shouted I’d just been mugged, and then bolted home to call the police.

Perhaps 10-15 mins. later I was riding back to the scene of the crime with an officer, and found about 5 police cars packed against the curb, and one officer bringing out a dog. I showed them where the incident occurred, and they made note of the boot prints, and to where the punks fled.

The police attempted to cut off likely / known exit routes, called up known names and visited a few homes, but found nothing resembling my bag nor its contents.

After an hour it was clear they had little chance of catching the punks, and the lead officer was getting pissed off, undoubtedly aggravated by the fact the faces of the two muggers were covered, and I wouldn’t be able to identify them.

As a suspect, I was useless, but I figured calling the police and getting the offence on record was important, and if they managed to catch the two, all the better.

While I was sitting in the cruiser, I was surprised that my memory of the event was getting fuzzy from the stress, the angst, and the worry of what to do tomorrow night on the trip home. When I asked the officer about walking home again, he advised against that, and suggested the bus or taxi.

According to the officer, between Sheppard and Nymark, in addition to parts of Nymark, about once a day someone is mugged. Usually at night, usually an immigrant, often Asian because of the stereotype of carrying cash and electronic toys, and the assumption that deep shame will ensure no one will admit what happened to the police.

The officer referred to the muggers as young punks; I prefer scum, because they have no societal value, and managed to acquire things using intimidation, violence, and an almost fool-proof system that’s frustrated police for a while, and up until January of 2008, hadn’t led to a solid conviction.

Now, the punks didn’t say ‘Or else’ or threaten to kill me, and besides some shoving and holding my arm, there was no other violence, although you wonder what would’ve happened if I attempted some kind movie reflex.

The muggers succeeded because of victim fear and the element of surprise, and the environment also yielded some advantages.

From the front, the townhomes look small, modest, and extend a short distance, but they actually penetrate quite deep to the edge of a ravine that is littered with the cast-off goods by muggers.

I would’ve liked to have retrieved my bag – some story and article notes I’ve been compiling were inside – but it seemed risky; neither myself nor the punks would’ve likely recognized each other, but maybe I would’ve resembled a potential thief, snooping around private homes.

In the daytime, the area is a neatly manicured area with kids, busy backyards, and a verdant ravine that eventually expands south of Adra Villaway, with a large hill and huge trees sloping down to the water’s edge, while a narrow paved trail snakes to the bottom.

If you stand at the north west corner of Leslie and Sheppard, certainly in the summer, it looks gorgeous. The intersection sits over the ravine, and the street level is almost level with the tree tops.

In summer, the area is smothered with green leaves from a variety of trees (some with apples) and shrubs, and it’s heavily packed with birds – a great nesting place because of the tall trees and obvious food in and around the ravine.

Diagonally across from that intersection and at the top of the hill sits Leslie subway station, where there’s a car park, and across the lot is where the IKEA van picks up patrons.

A pair of Canada geese often claimed a patch of the TTC garden by the parked cars as their own, and the last summer I lived there, the honking water fowl decided to nest atop the nearby chiropractic clinic for more security.

Prior to the mugging (circa 2008), I had walked home, through all four seasons, and never experienced anything, even when passing the odd walker with a slice of pizza, or one particular nitwit who talked to his shrink about a paranoid episode.

At night, I strode fast because I knew northbound Leslie Street bisected two income areas: the public section on the west, and the middle-to upper tier on the east, with their deep backyards flanking the sidewalk.

As is typical of suburban developments, streets are dotted with orange-coloured street lamps and tall backyard fences. Large mature trees also dot the sidewalks, but they also block the lighting on the east side in the summer.

On the west, one only sees the dimly illuminated sides of townhomes, and between Marrowyne Drive – the last street on the east – and Nymark Avenue, the east side of Leslie is one long stretch of sidewalk, with pits of blackness.

Back in the eighties, the south west corner of Finch & Leslie was known by some of my classmates as an easy place to get drugs. My landlord’s cousin added that while he was waiting for his girlfriend at the north east corner plaza in 2008, a guy rapped on his car window asking if he wanted drugs, and was puzzled when his business offer was refused.

Once in a while you’d hear someone got shot at the little plaza, where the restaurant Jerusalem used to be before the owners perhaps got fed up, and moved to Nymark Plaza.

Just as weird for the area was one night in the summer, months before the mugging, when some woman on a cycle kept following me and said something like this:

‘Scuse me sir, but my friend’s been in a terrible accident, and he’s been taken to a hospital and I need cash. I left my wallet in the ambulance with him, and if you could help me with cab fare, I can give you my Master Card, and I’ll pay you back.’

To a pre-teen, this sounds like steaming, acrid bullshit, so when I expressed my disinterest in her scam, she rode off ahead, looking for another sucker for the dumbest scheme I’ve ever heard.


Moving On

The day after the mugging, I made a point of walking to Leslie station because I wanted to see the area in daylight where the punks disappeared.

Late that night, I rode the Yonge train homewards to Sheppard station, took the ‘stubway’ to Leslie, and then sat in the station. Two guys were periodically checking me out. One talked on his phone, while other seemed to keep looking at me, and while I was reading a Metro newspaper, I kept thinking, ‘Is it them? Could they be the ones?’

When the bus came roughly 35 min. later, the driver glanced at the two strangers, and said to me, ‘I bet those two were making you nervous.’ (I’ll explain in a moment why the driver and I shared a high degree of candor.)

During rush hour, Leslie station is busy, but dead quiet in the evening. At 12am, few people get off; those that do often walk home because the bus comes every 20-30 mins. There is no one manning the street-level entrance, nor the upper level automatic entrance. One night a kid rode his bike off the subway, sat on his bike as the escalator carried him to the top level, and he rode to the turnstile and pass-backed his Metropass to another kid he’d been talking to on the phone.

When I used to drive home from Leslie around 12:25am, a few TTC workers would be in the process of finishing off a night shift, and the stench of cigarettes would waft into the station, passing the ‘no smoking’ placards on the walls. Regardless of what the rules state in red and black ink, smoking is allowed on TTC property, as long as it’s out of sight.

The bus driver whom I saw virtually every night from January to around March was a veteran, and he was the same fellow who offered me a lift on that rainy night – not due to the bad weather at the time, but the punks down the street that were known to pick off night shift walkers now and then.

He said he’d been shot at, and had also seen the police cruisers now and then, leaving the townhouse complex dejectedly in a caravan when their efforts to catch a mugger(s) didn’t succeed.

According to the driver, the area Leslie bisects is known for muggings, and some of the thieving scum used to aggravate the Peace Lady who lived in the ravine behind the townhomes, flanking part of a green belt that helps horny raccoons migrate and copulate on summer nights. (Incidentally, the sounds of Raccoon Sex are akin to a shrill pair of cats being beaten to death with a baseball bat. It’s the ugliest thing you’ll ever hear in your life. Worse than ABBA and Celine Dion.)

Over the few months I took the bus home, I saw a few regulars, including a quiet guy who sat a few rows back, and a young girl working temporary night shifts.

I was known as ‘the guy recently mugged’ and the event served to promote a bit of related and time-passing chatter until the bus stopped at Nymark. There never was a problem walking home from Nymark to my apartment (less than 5 mins.), but the driver once refused a lady’s request to ride the bus around the northern tip of the route, citing prior suspicious activities.

By February, a TTC cleaner started working Leslie station, so that added some comfort and chatting activities, because my trip home became longer when the TTC found it wise to shut down the north-of-Bloor Yonge line at 12:30am.

Actually, 12:30am was utter bullshit, because even though you may have hopped on a train at Bloor and pulled into Lawrence station at 12:22am, the managers were under orders to kick patrons off the trains. Many muttered complaints to the waiting staff – “It’s NOT 12:30 yet!” – but all the managers could do was refer them to the TTC’s complaints line.

My routine to get home usually went like this:

  1. kicked off the train
  2. run like hell up the escalators and stairs to the bus bay to be first in line for the buses
  3. when the bus pulled into Sheppard, run like hell down the crumbling steps, shut off escalator, and up a ramp to the north platform in the hope of making a waiting train because they came far less after 12:30am.

When the TTC were still trying to implement the shuttle bus system, the odd ‘last train’ that made it as far as Sheppard station didn’t guarantee a faster travel time home, either.

You’d run up the stairs (an activity specifically frowned upon by management), and sometimes the train would be on the south platform, sometimes it would arrive but be out of service, sometimes a train would unexpectedly arrive on the north platform, and you’d have to run a marathon down stairs, down the platform, up the stairs, up the ramp and into the train because the tunnel going over the tracks was already blocked off. Pro-active pre-planning at its finest.

Once I was dependent on the bus due to the mugging, I’d have to wait at Leslie station, whose upper bus platform reaches below zero temperatures because of the louvers above the windows and broken automatic doors.

Sitting on one of those two-seater steel benches in Leslie’s drafty bus terminal for 35 mins. was awful, but at least I could sit. Most riders along the Sheppard line are aware there are 2-3 steel benches per platform, offering 4-6 seats, which apparently reflects an operating philosophy wherein no more than 4-6 people are ever in need of a seat among 30,000 peak period riders.

Even better, though, was the night a bus almost didn’t come. I waited from 12:25am to 1:20am, checking the time stamp on the transfer dispenser, and there was no announcement or anything. I just had to sit and wait in the cold, empty station hoping a bus would come instead of trying to hail a cab in snowy weather in deepest darkest North York. One did eventually pull in, and the driver explained someone had called in sick, and the replacement never showed up.

When the Yonge trains were shut off “at 12:30am” and we had to take shuttle buses from Eglington instead of Lawrence, the whole process of getting home went like this:

  1. subway from Bloor to Eglington
  2. shuttle bus from Eglington to Sheppard
  3. subway from Sheppard to Leslie
  4. bus from Leslie to home

Total travel time pre-mugging, pre-subway closures: about 50 mins. After all that crap, about 70-75 mins., and this is to a house on a main street connected to a subway station bearing its name.

When I had the car, I was home within 30-35 mins. That’s what The Car gives you, and why people like it: it saves them time.



When used to drive home from Finch station, I remember passing the odd figure on Finch Avenue, walking home alone along the bottom of the valley between Bayview and Leslie, and I’d remark to my Honda (whom I nicknamed Sweetheart), ‘Promise me you’ll never break down, because I don’t want to be that guy, walking a long isolated stretch in -25 degrees.’

Funnily, there was an incident that now feels like karmic payback. One night I though I saw two guys in dark winter clothing roughing up someone on the sidewalk in that valley. I drove on, hoping it wasn’t a mugging, and just thinking about getting home, seeing how I neither knew the exact specifics of that odd behaviour, nor had a cell phone to call for help. Not long after that, I was the guy waving to a passing car.

Someone once told me of a trip home to Sherbourne and Bloor one night. He found himself suddenly surrounded by punks who demanded his money, and no one bothered to help, even though passersby heard his pleas. Shit happens all the time, just like the old man robbed in the subway by two scumbags, and no one pressed the help line. during the assault.

Now, the Leslie 51 bus takes a patchwork of routes which few of the bus drivers care for, because once they hit Leslie at Eglington, the start to enter the long, dark sections of North York.

The regular driver certainly felt ‘looney lefty’ Mayor Miller was wasting taxpayers’ money for bus routes taken by less than 4 or 5 people, but those people used the service because it was the only alternative to a cab ride on top of a TTC fare. I figure one month’s worth of night rides home via cab would’ve added an extra $100+ to my Metropass. At $200-225/month, I’d be better off driving a car again.

I no longer live in North York, but that bus route was a lifeline when I was doing long commutes for late night shifts. There are riders aggravated by the subway closures (with a seemingly murky end date), and in spite of the reprieve of sorts for the Leslie route, there are others facing the reduction of service riders depend on for time, for money, and for safety.

I was lucky in never being robbed during the year I walked home, but after the mugging I depended on that lone bus ride for safety, and each time I stepped on and off the bus, I respectively greeted and genuinely thanked the driver – for working a shitty route for the benefit of myself and the handful of people. Each driver knew the passengers were better off inside than on the sidewalk.

You could call that dependency on a ride as living in fear, but try this for size: every day you have to take that long walk home at night. To the west are the dark alleys of townhomes where predatory scum watch the patterns of pedestrians, traffic, and police patrols, and to the east are he high-fenced backyards of large upscale homes with mature trees dimming street lamp illumination.

No one can see you, no one will hear you, and even if you outrun them, there’s tomorrow, and next Tuesday, and next Friday – working nights that will have you walking down that same isolated stretch, and passing through the same sweet spot for mugging, where the distance to the next major streets north and south is identical, and long.

The police are fighting crime in similar areas, and I’m sure my muggers’ brethren will be particularly happy that Miller’s bucket of sloshing gravy will no longer run so freely in May of 2011, now that Team Ford is on patrol.

Regardless of where you live, if your bus link to getting home safely is set to be cut, you have to voice your concerns to the TTC, its chair, and the Mayor. Even an allowance for one bus per hour until 1am provides a small measure of meaningful security.

The Leslie 51 may have been left largely untouched because the density is changing due to several condos being built near the station, close to IKEA, and the venerable Canadian Tire store. It’s either a case of maintaining transportation infrastructure for an increasing in density over the next 5 years, or servicing the middle class.

In May of 2009, Shawn Micallef wrote a fair piece in Eye Weekly regarding the development, the obvious natural beauty of the ravine, and the public housing complex that’s been denigrated over the years because of a few rotten punks that perpetuate violence and give the area a bad rap.

Mine is a banal little crime story and means nothing, except it’s an indication of what I would still face if I lived in that location and service times were knocked down. Those bus routes were extended in the fall of 2008 because they run through some seriously underserviced areas, and I bet most are worth fighting to retain.

As for the residual emotional impact from the smooth heist managed by those two punks, on the one hand, the joke was on them: they didn’t get a laptop, but a bag leadened with Zip-loc food containers and a stainless steel Thermos for tea. Their take-home pay was $15-10 bucks cash.

My physical losses were a few papers, and a vintage Rio MP3 player that I had to replace via eBay for $130.00.

Emotionally, the nightmares went on for a few months – the usual waking up in shock, the brain replaying the worst aspects of the event as well as tormenting you with what you could and should have done had you possessed any guts – and there were colleagues who though ‘You should’ve fought back.’ Whatever. I did what I could in the moment, and no one got hurt, but there are lasting effects that influence where and when I walk, how fast, and the possible virtues of my new steel Thermos.

Maybe the muggers reformed themselves or occasionally laugh about the good scares they gave without actually killing or maiming anyone, but I don’t care. I don’t forgive, and being a writer, whether the creative offshoot of the experience emerges in prose or in film form, their fates won’t be so neat and clean.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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