Overheard #2

The rumble of the streetcar and the noise of the heating fans made it hard to hear. A few words drifted my way –   “… easier to get around here … find places … work … yeah …. streets . . people…”  They came from opposite ends of the country, one from Vancouver, the other from the Maritimes. The younger man was dressed in a stylish wool coat, the older man wore an old jacket and a knitted hat with a single dangling pompom. The younger man had money in his pocket, the older man didn’t. By the look of it, the younger man probably had stable housing; the older man probavly didn’t. That didn’t stop them from spending the twenty minute streetcar ride engaged in low-key, comfortable conversation about their common experiences of living in Toronto.

First posted January 26, 2018.  Update, January 28, 2018: I thought this drawing could use some context. It started as an idea for an editorial illustration – about humanity and the oceans.  I was having a hard time communicating what I wanted to say so I moved on to a fresh page in my sketchbook and started something else. 

I filled the last pages of my old sketchbook at the end of the year. Before putting it away, I flipped through it and was surprised to see how many pages had the beginnings of drawings that weren’t finished (including this one).  I decided to take another stab at the things that I’d abandoned and see what comes out.  (This is just to say that every now and then I may be posting seemingly random things as I tackle sketches that stumped me.)


She talked from the minute she got on the streetcar, pushing her way through the  crush of coats and back packs until she found a pole she could hang on to.  Traffic was bumper to bumper and it was a slow commute. So young to have these stories. So early in the morning to already have cried.

To the young woman who was willing to help

I went to Florida in the beginning of January with my parents to visit cousins who lived there. On our second day, we invited the family over to our small rented bungalow for a glass of wine. We had cheese but no crackers to go with the wine so while my parents were having a rest, I decided to run out and grab some.

It was a cold. overcast day and I pulled on my coat from home (the one that helps me get around in sub-zero weather – a bit overdressed, but I was chilled). I let myself out the back door into a grid of residential streets. The area was an interesting mix of tropical gardens, decay, and modest little bungalows adorned with twinkling lights and Christmas decorations. I walked deeper into the neighbourhood and lost track of time.

When I felt a few drops of rain, I remembered I was supposed to be getting crackers.  I hurried to the closest major street to find a store, but there was only a 7-Eleven – and not a saltine to be found – so I started on a brisk walk to a bigger grocery store ‘down the road’.

i crossed wide avenues with empty storefronts, and walked along streets where houses had boarded up windows and yards were surrounded by chain link fences. The distance was greater than I thought and  I realized that if I wanted to get to the supermarket and back by the time family arrived, I had to pick up the pace. I started jogging (probably my least favourite activity and something I rarely do).

I’d been loping along for about half a block when I saw a young woman come out of a house up the street. She turned in my direction and as we came closer, I slowed down to a brisk walk, prepared to gasp out a hello in passing.

She stopped when I was a few feet away, lifted her head phones from her ear and asked if I was all right. Surprised, I looked around. The horizon ahead and behind me was empty.  I turned back and saw that she was assessing me:  I was a woman in an empty, neglected suburb, running along the sidewalk with a flat, unathletic gait, inappropriately dressed for exercise in a heavy winter coat. That picture didn’t quite add up: was I in distress? was I running from something, or someone?

She was calm and alert and seemed ready to act. Had I said, “I’m in trouble”, I’m convinced she would have tried to help me.

I assured her that I was just running late – and tried not to gush in appreciation as I thanked her.  I saw her eyes flick one last time over me – and around the street, as if checking for problems  –  and satisfied that things were as I said, she replaced her headphones and went on her way.

This post will probably never reach her, but I still wanted to put out a thank you to the young woman who had her eyes open, who stopped and checked in when she saw something that didn’t seem quite right. This is what keeps us safe – and more important, it’s what keeps us well – and connected – even as strangers.


I was waiting for the elevator when he walked by. His cologne was thick and sweet – an unexpected intimacy that conjured up morning rituals. I pushed it out of my nose, letting out an accidental snort that echoed in the hallway behind him.


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