The silent partner: How a memory of a quiet GO commuter still brings a smile

As GO and UP Express customers continue to return to trains and buses, we’ve seen many share stories on social media – of new ways of travelling on familiar routes. Connections are being recreated and remade amid new safety measures and habits. But in this guest column by customer Joshua Terry, which he recently penned for his LinkedIn page, the communications manager for Ontario’s Heart and Stroke Foundation recalls commutes past – including with one mysterious traveller.

The summer of 2010 was an exciting time in my life. I had just completed the in-class sections of my Public Relations diploma, and was beginning the last semester: a 12-week internship in the communications department at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Living outside of the city meant quite a hike to get to placement; in order to be at the office by 9 a.m., I was up at 6 a.m. (a real challenge for a non-morning person) so that I was ready to drive to the Oshawa GO Station and be on the 7:53 a.m. express train to Union Station.

Image shows Joshua Terry.
Commuter Joshua Terry. (Photo courtesy of Joshua Terry)

The real joy of the commute was the trip home. If you are not familiar with the GO Train, each car has pods of chairs for four people to sit in; and what I quickly came to learn as a new commuter was that every little group has its own pod and the unspoken rule is that nobody else takes your pod. There was a mutual respect for who had which pod, and heaven help someone new who would sit down in your spot with your podmates before you arrived.

My pod consisted of myself, two classmates who were also doing their internships in Toronto and another woman, whom the three of us had a silent arrangement with: our only conversations were to say hello to each other each evening, and then while myself and my classmates would have (quiet) conversation together, our fourth podmate was the silent partner. She sat with us, she was one of us, but she didn’t join the conversation. She read her commuter paper (T.O. Night, which I’ll get to later) and just listened to our nonsense chatter.

Image shows customers on a train.
Customers travel on a GO train – some looking at devices while others create human connections. (Metrolinx photo)

As the summer wore on, our commute continued and as the end of August approached, the conversations with my classmates started to be about what was coming next. Finishing our placements meant graduation was imminent and our lives were truly about to begin. Me, I was going to Barbados after the placement ended for a trip with my friends as we all were celebrating the end of our studies.

One of my classmates was heading to Bermuda, and the third (if I remember correctly) had her internship extended into a short-term contract that meant her commute was going to continue for a few more months. There was a lot of excitement in our conversations to the end of August. The whole world was ahead of us, and while I’m sure we likely sounded a little annoying and silly, our silent commuter partner just smiled and exchanged the occasional knowing glance with us.

Did she share our excitement? We never knew. I like to think that she did, though.

The commuter paper I mentioned, T.O. Night, was a glossy, 20-25 page paper that was published in the early afternoon in Toronto during that time. They had people inside Union Station with reams of the paper, handing them out for free to all the commuters passing through to get their trains home. One of the biggest traditions my classmates and I had was to read the “Shoutouts” section. Think of this like the Craigslist Missed Connections section.

Travellers leave GO trains at Union Station.
Travellers leave GO trains at Union Station. (Metrolinx photo)

Sometimes, the shoutouts would be odes to someone that someone else saw on their commute, trying to set up a romantic connection. Other times, they were birthday shoutouts to friends (or podmates!) who were celebrating during the week.

As our last week of the internships approached, my classmates and I hatched one final plan: while we didn’t know her name, we were going to give our silent partner a shoutout in T.O. Night for our last Friday commute together. We cobbled together our piece by email, and sent it in to the paper’s email address, hoping for the best.

This was our last chance to say goodbye to our silent friend. The day arrived, and the three of us arrived at Union and met up, each grabbing copies of the paper and quickly turning to the last page to see if we made it. Success! There was our short blurb, published for our dear silent partner. We got to the platform, sat in our pod and waited for her to arrive.

Within a few minutes, she was on the train, we exchanged our nods of hello and she settled in to read the paper. We all watched as she moved through the paper, hoping that she would get to the Shoutout section soon.

As we got closer and closer to Oshawa, it happened: she got to the last page, and began to read. And then, after a few minutes, we got one final knowing glance, a smile and that was it. We arrived in Oshawa, the doors to the train opened, and our silent partner spoke, wishing the three of us good luck and to enjoy our respective trips. That was it. She headed for the doors, departed the train and our pod was dissolved.

I learned a lot that summer, but the biggest takeaway, perhaps, was that some of the most interesting friendships you can make are the friendships that are unconventional. I don’t know what the silent woman is up to these days, I hope she’s well. And if I could give her a shoutout again in the now defunct T.O. Night, I would love nothing more than to do just that.

Story by Joshua Terry, communications manager at (Ontario) Heart and Stroke.