Four buses; many worlds

I had to take four buses to get from my home in Ville St Laurent to McGill University. 25 cents for the whole trip. Payment was made in cash into a simple receptacle, where the driver could see the quarter that you dropped in. The driver would take a look, flip a button, and the quarter would be swallowed up below the receptacle.

The 90 minute voyage started with a short walk to the rue St Louis stop, where I waited for the 116. The bus came once every 20 minutes; there were never many passengers. The driver, in a uniform of the Montreal Transportation Corporation, generally said “bonjour; I always said bonjour. “Two solitudes” meet.

Next to the driver was a sign en francais and English: “Safe Driving Requires Full Attention. Please do not talk to me”. Some drivers & passengers talked; most did not.

The 116 passed Alexis Nihon and weaved its way past Parc Houde (where Fat Guy* cleaned the ice)  and Aubin, until Decarie Boulevard, opposite the Post Office, where I got off and crossed over to wait for the 17, with my crumpled paper transfer in my glove.

Make no mistake, it was often cold. The stop for the 17 (also known as Cartierville) was opposite a Woolworth’s and on the bitterest of days (20 below), I would step inside Woolworth’s, along with other passengers. The ladies of Woolworth’s (in those days, it was ok to say that) had absolutely no problem with that; the adversity of the bitter cold was a common enemy.

For many years, the 17 Cartierville was a street car. The first step up onto the 17 was steep, even for me albeit I have always been very tall. It was especially hard for Lillian, who had had a back operation and was in a cast. We never discussed that, or the fact that she had no mother. Trudy also never had a mother, but she never took the 17. Maxine and Fay also had lost their mother. They were never on line 17 either. Showing my transfer to the driver, I never looked for a seat as it was always standing room only until Garland Terminal; the 17 was packed. French and English speakers; students and lower middle class heading downtown. At Garland, the driver cried out: “terminus, tout le monde descend s’il vous plait”.

Then there was a hot chocolate inside Garland Terminal, and off to the 65. The 65 started at Garland, so I always got a seat. However, it quickly filled up and more often than not; I gave up my seat to a senior citizen, who was probably much younger than I am today. But those were different days.

The 65, also called Cote des Neiges, passed thru Snowdon, turning left on Queen Mary Road and headed downtown. It passed my late grandmother Sadie’s apartment building on Victoria; she has died a few years earlier and my heart was still broken. I often looked her apartment building as the 65 roared by, uphill passing by L’Oratoire St-Joseph/St Joseph Church. Then we passed Pinkerton’s Flower Shop, the graveyard on Mount Royal, and plunged down Cote des Neiges to rue Sherbrooke. There I waited for the 4, also called Sherbrooke, right outside the Medical Arts building where my grandfather Harry had had a gym where he trained boxers, including my Uncle Al.

Sherbrooke at Cote des Neiges was real Montreal: classy, clean, and the wind plus cold smacked me into my then pimpled face. I had real bad acne until I started taking tetracycline during year 2 at McGill. Oh yes, on Sherbrooke was the Academic Bookshop, which had every book under the sun, all in one huge pile, sky high. And the owner, who smoked, did not speak one word of English: just French with a Parisien accent.

It was a short drive to McGill on the 4 and in the summer I walked; as a matter of fact when I wore my Air Canada mechanics coat which Phil (my Dad) got for me from his partner Hank, I also walked to McGill along rue Sherbrooke  in the winter. What a coat!  When I took line 4, it dropped me off at McGill at the Ritz Carlton Stop.

I then threw away my transfer.

4 buses to cross thru three worlds: Ville St Laurent; Montreal; academia.

When I finished McGill at age 19, I took a much longer trip from which I was never to return. 

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9 thoughts on “Four buses; many worlds

  1. Your memory is amazing. I know those streets and those routes but could not describe them so succinctly. I am wondering if my affinity for those memories are sweet because I associate them with my immigrant mother and father, and of my brother who just passed. His passing makes those bus trips and streets more sweet. But as you describe, they are streets of a french Québecois. Not mine anymore either. And also as you said, not thought of very often. What is left is a feeling like a scent.
    Thanks Allon 🙂

  2. The memories are so vivid in your mind. Except I remember a student ticket was 6 cents and it was green or blue. The buses huffed and puffed up those Montreal hills. I was lucky – just the “4” along Sherbrooke to McGill. Unless it was the weekend – then the “4” went all the way to the Botanical Gardens. For 6 cents.

  3. You take me back in time to places long forgotten. You’re a wonderful author.  Thanks for the memories. 

    By the way, the caretaker at Houde Park, who was built like a bowling ball with a head and legs, waddled around with a stern look as he watched us to make sure there were no infractions of the unwritten laws of the park. 

    At night during the winter, the rink lights were left on until late night, as we skated, or in my case, tried and failed to skate and played hockey as best we could.  

    Those winter nights were often very cold, but the scent of the fresh air was sweet. When the night was done, we’d get out of our skates, with  our faces cherry red, and inevitably someone would find fresh gum added to the hard pile underneath the bench. I think that was infraction but to my knowledge nobody was admonished. 

    As we walked home down St. Louis, we still had a lot of energy, but once in bed, our knees still numb from the cold, it wasn’t long before we closed our eyes.  And then we slept.  

    • … And after skating, we’d go across the street to the deli for french fries served in a paper bag with vinegar salt and ketchup!
      Lovely memories, Allon and Howard.

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