My countrymen impressed me, simply, as being, on the whole, the emptiest and most unattractive people in the world. It seemed a great waste of one’s only lifetime to be condemned to their chattering, vicious, pathetic, hysterically dishonest company. There other things to do, other people to see, there was another way to live! I had seen it, after all, and I knew. But I also knew that what I had seen, I had seen from a distance, a distance determined by my history. I was part of these people, no matter how bitterly I judged them. I would never be able to leave this country. I could leave it briefly, like a drowning man coming up for air. I had the choice of perishing with these doomed people, or of fleeing them, denying them, and in that effort perishing. It was a very cunning trap, and a very bitter joke. For these people would not change: the very word caused their eyes to unfocused, their lips to loosen or tighten, and sent them scurrying to their various bomb-shelters.
— James Baldwin in Tell Me How Long the Trains Been Gone

Elysium

    4 February 2016, terribly early in the morning

Elysium was a bit too on the nose. South African director Neill Blomkamp presents another dystopian science fiction future, where the rich live in a giant space station orbiting crap-sack Earth. Earthlings try and sneak onto the space station Elysium so they can use their fancy hospital pods and basically live less crap lives. Matt Damon plays one such person. He ends up in robotic exo-skeleton, and has to fight crazy jacked-up South African mercenaries. That stuff is all pretty cool. Jodie Foster plays a jerk politician with a bizarre vaguely colonial accent. That was also fun. On the whole though, the film seems a bit weak.

Reviews of Elysium on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Kick-Ass 2

   26 January 2016, late afternoon

I watched the sequel to Kick-Ass over the weekend. (I started watching it at 1:00 AM, while eating some toast and nutella, and just never stopped.) The film carries on where the first one left off, but loses a lot of what made the first one amazing. There are only a handful of action sequences, and none of them really live up to the action sequences in the first film. (As such, there is far less excessive violence.) Each of the stories that ran through the movie felt weak. Matthew Vaughn, the director of the first film was simply the producer of this second one, which might explain why the sequel felt like it missed the mark. I’d skip this movie.

Kick-ass 2 on Netflix.

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Books in 2015

   19 January 2016, late afternoon

I stopped listening to podcasts during my commute and started reading again. I used to read far more often, and had wanted to get back into the habit. My goal was to read 24 books before the year was done, which I almost managed to do. If you count graphic novels—and why shouldn’t you?—I did manage to cross 24, having read the trade paperbacks for: The Manhattan Projects volume 5, Prophet volume 4, Saga volumes 4 & 5, and Hawkeye volume 4. (All of these series are amazing, by the way. Hawkeye just finished it’s run and is the best super hero comic i’ve read in ages.)

  1. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  2. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
  3. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
  4. Dune – Frank Herbert
  5. The Stealer of Souls – Michael Moorcock
  6. Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
  7. Authority – Jeff VanderMeer
  8. Acceptance – Jeff VanderMeer
  9. The Dying Earth – Jack Vance
  10. The Eyes of the Overworld – Jack Vance
  11. Cugel’s Saga – Jack Vance
  12. Rhialto the Marvellous – Jack Vance
  13. The Martian – Andy Weir
  14. Flood of Fire – Amitav Ghosh
  15. The Burried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
  16. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  17. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  18. The Crystal Shard – R.A. Salvatore
  19. A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick
  20. Valis – Philip K. Dick
  21. The Divine Invasion – Philip K. Dick
  22. False Readings – Patrick Stuart

The Little Prince was incredible. I have no idea why I waited 35 years to read it. Truly a superlative book. The writing is so great. The story is so lovely. If you also have managed to live your life without reading it you really should.

Both Cormac McCarthy books were hard reads, and felt like mirrors of each other. The Road is about a father and son travelling through a post-apocalyptic world. Blood Meridian takes place in the wild west, and seems to be a story about the sorts of people the protagonists in The Road are constantly fleeing from. They are dark books. The Road in particular is so bleak—especially if you have children.

I made an effort to read more fantasy this year. Jack Vance is really worth reading if you aren’t that big a fan of your typical fantasy novel. The world his Dying Earth novels take place is in bizarre and fantastic in a way that isn’t elves and dwarves and other trappings of Tolkien. The Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel’s Saga are also really funny. His command of the English language is also amazing. The books are so well written.

I enjoyed most everything I read. From the list above the only book I really regret reading was The Crystal Shard, which I clearly should have read when I was 12 years old. It’s cheesy D&D fantasy.

I just finished reading The Grace of Kings. So 2016 is off to a good start.

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Tig

    3 January 2016, late afternoon

Shima and I watched Tig late one night over the break. It’s a documentary about Tig Notaro produced by Netflix. Notaro had some amount of fame and success before being catapulted into some new stratosphere of fame and success after she performed a stand up set about her very recent diagnosis with cancer: which came after she broke up with her girlfriend, her mom dying, and her surviving the abdominal disease c-diff. The film looks at that time in her life, and then how she tries to follow up on such a bizarre way to end up famous. It’s a well done documentary if you want to learn about her and her story. I didn’t think there was a larger or more interesting message to it, though.

Watch Tig on Netflix.

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Mad Men

   31 December 2015, late evening

Shima and I finally finished watching Mad Men tonight. It feels like a good show to end a year with. We watched the last seven episodes over the last couple days. A strange ending, but I didn’t expect a normal one, I suppose. The show ends strong. These last few episodes are filled with so much emotion. My favourite scene in the show is probably still from an early season: Don visiting Peggy in the hospital. If you’ve seen the show, you know what i’m talking about. But Mad Men is a show filled with so many moments like that. If you haven’t watched Mad Men you should. The writing is solid. The acting is solid. Every shot looks like a photograph. Mad Men is certainly one of the best televisions shows made.

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Dredd

   28 December 2015, late evening

Dredd suffers from not being The Raid, but is a fantastic film in its own right. Both films take place in high rises, with a couple cops versus super corrupt gangsters. Both films are very violent. I had thought Dredd was a Hollywood copy of The Raid, but apparently that’s not the case. Dredd was in production before The Raid started filming. Dredd has a solid cast, and Karl Urban is excellent in the title role. I really enjoyed the film.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

   28 December 2015, late evening

I liked the film. I have lots to say, but will wait to say it. You should watch this movie. The new cast of characters are fantastic. It’s amazing how much you can get done in a film when your stars are charming and have great chemistry. The film looks great as well. There is something to be said for practical effects. The contrast between this film and the prequels is so stark. This movie feels like a continuation of the original films, something the prequels never really did. I’m looking forward to the next one.

The official Star Wars: The Force Awakens website.

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Star Wars Battlefront

   17 November 2015, early evening

I bought a PS4. (One of the more decadent purchases I have made in a long time.) I wanted to play this crazy Star Wars game too much. I didn’t realize to play multiplayer Sony now charges you monthly, like Microsoft—break my heart! I suppose I should have seen that coming. For now I’ve been playing the various solo levels they included to basically train you for the online multiplayer game. It is crazy how far video games have come now. This game is unreal. It’s like the movies in video game form. I have died so many times crashing my speeder bike. Time do it some more.

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Master of None

   10 November 2015, early evening

Aziz Ansari’s new show on Netflix, Master of None, is fantastic. There are 10 half hour episodes in total, each focused on a particular topic: from relationships, to immigrant parents, to the portrayal of Indian people in TV and movies. Shima and I watched it over the weekend while Mythilli was asleep: it’s an easy show to binge watch.

The show is sitcom, and there is some amount of continuity from show to show, but really the show feels very much like a vehicle for him to make some very specific points about (his) life. While I found the show quite funny, it also deals with a lot of serious issues. One episode looks at sexism, and the sorts of things women deal with in their day to day lives. One is a look at the blatant racism of film industry in America. I particularly enjoyed the penultimate episode of the show, which was more or less a whirlwind tour through the ups and downs of a relationship. I find television usually does a poor job portraying relationships. (Perhaps Six Feet Under is the only other exception here?) It was weird to see a relationship done so well on a sitcom by Ansari, a pretty goofy comedian.

Ansari is South Indian—in real life and the show—so it was doubly awesome seeing people talking about papadum, mixture, and dropping dope-ass Tamil names like Dr. Ramaswami into conversation. (The fact his character’s name on the show is Dev seems a bit incongruous: that’s not really a Tamil name.) Aziz’s parents on the show are played by his actual parents and they are hilarious. It’s fun watching a show where you can relate to so many of the jokes and situations. (Not introducing girls to your parents! Hells yes. Shima and I were dating for half a year before I told my parents we were. And I would have held out longer, but they asked me straight up!) I guess this is what it’s like to be White and watch television all the time. Ha!

The soundtrack to the show is incredible. I also thought the show was shot wonderfully. The cinematography is on point.

Watch this show: I loved it.

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LAL and Zaki Ibrahim @ Tattoo

    5 November 2015, early evening

I met Fathima to go see a 10:00 show on a Wednesday night. First off: no concert starts on time; second: I’m probably too old to go see late night concerts on a Wednesday night. Dinner at Banu, always a good start to an evening, and we were off to go see LAL and Zaki Ibrahim play.

I’m not sure how Fathima heard about this show. Twitter? It was in Tattoo on Queen. Busy, but not too busy. Normally when I go to a show I am the odd one out amongst a sea of White people. At this show I was so thoroughly pedestrian. It felt like Fathima knew every other person from political activism, social work, or some such thing. There were big posses intersectional people. A refreshing change of pace to the usual concert scene. Everyone seemed really cool, but that’s par for the course now that I’m firmly in my thirties.

LAL still perform together? The last time I saw them was for Wavelength 250 at Cinecycle.. That was over 10 years ago. And they had already been playing together for years by then. LAL have shed some members, down to the singer and the fellow who produces their beats and music. Maybe that was always their group? They performed brand new material. We were the first audience to hear this stuff. It was much more pounding techno than the older stuff I remember. Their set was solid: really good. I’m looking forward to their album.

Zaki Ibrahim was around midnight. She was apparently flying out to Cape Town that night, or in a few hours. The set was varied musically. A bit more R&B than her previous stuff. Also a fair bit more retro sounding. Her backing band were in white suits Don Johnson’d up, with bright white sun visors on. That also probably contributed to the retro vibe. She’s a great singer and performer. Her material was also brand new. It’s fun trying to guess what songs will become singles. I have some good hunches.

We were out by 1:00. The TTC was still running. The weather was nice. What a night.

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Canada Votes 2015

   20 October 2015, early morning

What an election. The Liberal’s swept Atlantic Canada early in the night, and that wave never really let up. Toronto is now 100% Red, something it hasn’t been in a very long time. Lots of shitty Conservative MPs got shown the door. Of course, Toronto lost a lot of good MPs. My riding lost our MP Andrew Cash. Parkdale lost Peggy Nash. The NDP are back to the numbers I grew up with. So it goes.

Harper didn’t announce his resignation during his concession speech. His aides let reporters know. I think that about sums up his time in office.

Trudeau’s victory speech was pretty great. I’m expecting decriminalized weed and electoral reform. The later will be the real first test of his party. It’s always easy to talk about electoral reform when you are on the losing side of first past the post.

By my count this is the third election the NDP has fucked up by trying to chase the mushy middle. Horwath lost the party the election in Ontario, giving up most of the seats in Toronto to the Liberals to capture some seats up North via some pretty lame pandering. Chow lost the mayorship trying to chase voters she was never going to get. Finally we arrive at Mulcair, running the election he was clearly put in charge of the party to run. I like Mulcair a lot, but this is a big loss for him.

The end of 10 years of Harper is bittersweet for myself, but I am quite hopeful for the next few years. Let’s see how it goes: the Liberals are great at disappointing. Trudeau is quite charming, though.

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Ixcanul

   29 September 2015, terribly early in the morning

The last film I saw at TIFF was Ixcanul, a proper art film from Guatemala. The film is about a Mayan girl whose parents work a coffee plantation. It’s a coming of age story, that touches on the conflict and hardship Kaqchikel-speaking people face. The film was also an interesting glimpse into a world I was completely unaware of. The movie is slow going, slowly ratcheting up the tension as some of the choices the protagonist makes come back to haunt her. Ultimately it’s a film about a lack of choices. This is the sort of film I really only watch at TIFF.

Ixcanul at TIFF 2015

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SPL II: A Time for Consequences

   28 September 2015, early evening

SPL II: A Time for Consequences was a proper-ass HK action film. A thematic sequel to Sah Po Lang, the film carries over some of the cast from the original, and some of the themes and mood. Simon Yam once again plays a hard boiled HK detective. I’m always down to see Yam play a hard as nails cop. Wu Jing plays his nephew, a cop in deep cover, who also knows some serious ass martial arts. New to the series, Tony Ja plays a prison guard who also inexplicably can kick ass like a mother fucker. Basically everyone in this film happens to also know how to kick ass like a mother fucker. There are some great action sequences through out the film. Of particular note is the prison riot. There is a lot to like in this film, though it’s punctuated by a lot of melodrama. The original was gritty crime drama, which I’d say I prefer. This film was still quite compelling, and well worth checking out. Again, I wish I saw it at midnight.

SPL II: A Time for Consequences at TIFF 2015

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Much Loved

   28 September 2015, late afternoon

After Southbound we had a quick dinner and headed back to Paramount to watch Much Loved. This film from Morocco by Nabil Ayouch is about sex workers in Marrakesh. Much Loved looks at the lives of four women, earning money from European tourists and rich Saudis and Emiratis. Ayouch interviewed hundreds of women researching the movie. The contents of the film feel so real. Some scenes are tough to watch. There is a lot of sadness, throughout. Some great performances, but Loubna Abidar, the star of the film, was particularly amazing. The film was apparently mired by controversy: it’s depiction of sex, sexism, homosexuality, etc, is probably a bit too frank for much of the Middle East. I was glad to have seen it at TIFF. My only disappoint was the director wasn’t around to do a QA. This is an excellent film. You should try and watch it.

Much Loved at TIFF 2015.

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Southbound

   28 September 2015, mid-afternoon

My friend Mezan picked all the films I watched at TIFF this year, starting with Southbound. The film is a horror movie anthology. There are 4 stories, each thematically linked. They also make some attempt for the various stories to flow into one another, so it’s not so disjoint. The stories are all over the place in terms of their mood and aesthetic. My favourite was the middle story, about the fellow who runs over a girl, but they were all quite enjoyable. The films are all about purgatory, dealing with guilt, etc. The film was part of the Midnight Madness program, and would have been fun to watch at midnight with that crowd. Seeing it after work on a Friday wasn’t quite the same. Still, it’s a fun bit of grind house cinema.

Southbound at the TIFF 2015.

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Ten years Can Pass So Fast It’ll Break Your Heart

   22 July 2015, evening time

I should warn you esp if you haven’t seen me in months that I have lost quite a lot of weight and look rather alarming even to my own eyes – also I’ve given up on the scarf and look like an emaciated Friar Tuck hairwise.

It was a shock to see her. People would visit the hospital and struggle to save their tears till after they had left her room. This was the last email from my cousin, Usha.

A week or so later, in between a series of emails about going out for drinks at Supermarket and a discussion with Shima about her day is an email from Usha’s brother, my cousin Mahi, letting me know about his sister’s health:

Usha will be moving to the Princess Margaret Hospital palliative care hospice today at around 1:30. This was her idea, and we don’t know how long she will be staying there. She can return to her apartment whenever she wants.

Two months prior Usha had written to say she had stopped chemo. I knew what that meant and yet this message felt like it came so quickly.

She can return to her apartment whenever she wants. Could she? I’m sure my cousin knew the answer there. His words reflect a defensiveness with how we are forced to talk about cancer. A person loses their fight with cancer. In this battle what is palliative care but a decision to give up?

But there is nothing to give up. There is no fight, no battle. You have cancer and it will destroy your body or it won’t, but that has nothing to do with what you do whatsoever.

I hate the Run for the Cure. I hate pink ribbons. I hate breast cancer.

One day later:

Usha is extremely weak and not completely lucid, so I was planning on sending an email out asking people not to come by because she needs to save her energy.

But she woke up a little while ago and said that she didn’t know how she would be feeling tomorrow, so it would be great “if people popped their heads in today just to say a brief hello”. She insisted that I make the request.

I would visit each day, watching her body fall apart. People had a week to say hello. When it’s not killing you slowly cancer will cut you down so quickly.

Next year I will be older than my oldest cousin. That’d be 11 years from the day she died, but who talks about the 11th anniversary of anything?

Ten years can pass so fast it’ll break your heart.

Usha was the smartest person I knew. Or, at the very least, she had good PR in this department. There was no aunt or uncle, distant or close, who wouldn’t speak highly of her. She was well read & well traveled. Was there a more cultured brown girl in all of Scarborough? She worked tirelessly to get my brothers and I to do anything other than play video games and watch TV. And she never got to see her success.

Usha is my oldest cousin. The very best of us all. Now and forever.

 

Black Dynamite

    5 June 2015, early morning

I finally watched Black Dynamite. My coworker had the film on Blu-Ray. It’s a parody / homage to blacksploitation films from the 70s. I chuckled here and there, but it wasn’t as laugh out loud funny as I thought it would be. There is still lots to love here, though. The plot is an ever escalating mash up of plot points you’d expect to see in a 70s era blacksploitation flick: Black Dynamite needs to avenge his brother, Black Dynamite needs to get crack off the streets, Black Dynamite needs to fight a villainous Kung Fu super villain. All in all it was an enjoyable film. Michael Jae White is pretty great in the lead role.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

   27 May 2015, mid-morning

At the very last minute I made it into a cinema to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. The latest instalment of Mad Max is easily my favourite, though to be fair I can barely remember the other ones now. The movie seems to distil the essence of Mad Max down to its core. The movie is essentially one long car chase, punctuated by the briefest periods of respite. I can’t recall the last film I saw that was so amped up. (Perhaps the Raid?) Visually the film is stunning. I don’t completely understand how they even filmed this thing. Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy are super cool as the leads in this film. Go watch it!

The official Mad Max: Fury Road website.

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For Grace

    7 May 2015, terribly early in the morning

I watched one film at Hotdocs this year, For Grace, a documentary about the opening of the restaurant For Grace. Chef Curtis Duffy closed down Avenue, a two Michelin star restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago to open up his own place. He thought he could do a better if everything was under his control. This was apparently one of the most hotly anticipated restaurants in the world. I was expecting something like the Opening Soon show on TLC. “Oh no, construction delays!” “Oh man, how did we mess up our schedule!” Apparently this is what the directors themselves thought. The film was originally supposed to be a 15 minute short on the Chicago Tribune website. Once they started filming it became clear there was so much more to this story. This film is much more about Duffy than his restaurant. He is so driven when it comes to his career he has sacrificed everything else in his life to be successful. This seems to be how it goes for most people operating at the upper echelons of the restaurant industry. The movie is a great mix of food, restaurant inside baseball, and the human experience. You should check it out.

The official For Grace website.

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Over the Garden Wall

   24 January 2015, early evening

Over the Garden Wall is a short miniseries created by Patrick McHale which aired on the Cartoon Network in November of last year. He’s a former writer from Adventure Time. The show is feels like a cross between Oh Brother Where Art Thou and a bunch of Grimm’s fairy tales. Two brothers are lost in some mysterious woods, and are trying to find their way back home. The show is thoroughly weird, and funny, and sweet. There are 10 episodes in total, each 11 minutes long, so its quite easy to get through. You’ll recognize many of the voices from the cast. I can’t recommend it enough.

You can read a much more thorough review of the show at the AV Club.

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Glasses: The Sequel

   30 December 2014, mid-afternoon

I lost my last pair of fancy glasses a little over two years ago. That’s a long tale of woe not fit for the Internet. Lucky for me I had a backup pair, the glasses I had ordered from 39dollarglasses.ca. I had dubbed them my hipster glasses. Apparently between 2008 and 2012 thick black framed glasses stopped being quite so ridiculous. I wore those cheap backup glasses without any fanfare for far longer than I expected to. No one seemed to think they were a gag pair of glasses.

I think after a year your backup glasses stop being your backups.

I picked up my new pair of Mykita’s today, from the same shop I bought my first pair. I think I like them more than my old pair. I certainly like them more than my black plastic glasses. They were a reliable pair, anyway.

me in mykita's

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Interstellar

   19 November 2014, early morning

I ducked out of work in the afternoon last Tuesday to watch Interstellar in IMAX. I have been waiting patiently for this film since the first trailer was released. Set in the future, on an Earth where all our crops are dying, Matthew McCaonohay leaves his family behind in search for a new planet to call our home. In many ways it feels like a homage to 2001: A Space Odesy. There are certainly many nods to the film throughout this one. The film is a bit melodramatic, but I think it’s all done well. Like all of Nolan’s films it feels a little bit creepy throughout. One of the themes of the film seems to be about trust and lying, which certainly adds to that creepiness. There are robots and they are great. The film visually stunning. I recommend you also see it in IMAX if possible. I love everything Christopher Nolan puts out. This film was no exception.

The official Interstellar website.

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Citizenfour

   19 November 2014, early morning

Edward Snowden contacted two people to tell his story about the great excesses of the NSA. One of Glen Greenwald, who over the course of many weeks and months has told Snowden’s story in article after article. The other was filmmaker Laura Poitras. She met Snowden at the same time as Greewald, and has been filming him since. Citizenfour is the documentary about this whole story. It’s really quite incredible. There is footage from their first meeting, when Snowden first sees his story coming out, when he is first interviewed, when he tries to leave Hong Kong. Seeing everything play out neatly in a coherent narrative makes this story of mass surrvalience much easier to understand. Snowden really does seem quite principled and selfless in his pursuit of getting this story out. He looks to have been ready to give up everything. I think everyone should watch this film. It’s a great documentary. It’ll make you so paranoid.

The official Citizenfour website.

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My Scarborough Commute

    6 November 2014, early morning

My trip to work yesterday took something like two and a half hours. There was random delay after mechanical failure after medical emergency, and with the TTC regardless of where those events happen the whole network ends up effected. These sorts of epic delays happen every couple months it seems. That the TTC is so slow isn’t frustrating, it’s embarrassing.

Travelling from Scarborough into the city is terrible. The fastest I can get downtown is about an hour and fifteen minutes. People who do transit planning talk about LRTs and people who try to get elected talk about subways, but neither would actually solve the problems many people in Scarborough face trying to get to work. A subway that ran right to my parent’s house in Agincourt would probably shave 15-20 minutes off my commute, never mind that particular subway is never getting built. The LRT lines they had planned for Scarborough wouldn’t help someone like me: I’d have to grab a bus to Shepard and then take that LRT to Don Mills and then take the Shepard subway to Yonge and then take the terrible Yonge line downtown. Scarborough does need LRTs as an alternative to its network of often late and crowded busses, but they aren’t an alternative to a good commuter train network. Oh wait, we sort of have one of those!

Driving to the Agincourt GO station and taking the train from there would probably cut my travel time in half. That’s what I’m talking about! Sadly, I don’t drive. Getting to that GO station isn’t that easy. There’s also the fact i’d have to pay a GO fare and a TTC fare. Have they figured that out yet? I’m actually lucky to live “reasonably” close to a GO station. Huge chunks of Scarborough aren’t particularly close to the Lakeshore East line or the Stoufville line. GO seems more interested in moving people outside the city than it does with moving people inside the city. To be fair, that is supposed to be the TTC’s mandate.

My solution to this problem was to leave Scarborough. I live downtown and my commute is shorter partly because my transit options after better, and partly because i’m physically closer to where I need to end up. This isn’t a real solution to this problem. Toronto needs one.

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