On an unusually warm afternoon last November, I got onto the number 80 bus heading south from the corner of Avenue de Parc and Saint Viateur in Mile End. I walked down the centre aisle and sat near the back, facing a row of people. Two teenage girls giggled their way through a magazine and a middle-aged, professional-looking woman sat cross-legged, listening to her iPod. A balding, heavy-set man wearing a track suit stared into the distance. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a crazy-looking guy licking his palms and running his moist fingers through his filthy, yellowing hair.
But in the midst of it all, I saw a vision-the most breathtakingly beautiful guy I had ever encountered. He had piercing blue eyes, a strong, square jaw and full, luscious lips... By Fairmount, I was in love.
As I sat there, my eyes transfixed by his beauty, I analyzed every visible detail that could give me insight into his personality. He was unshaven, which meant that he was outdoorsy and rugged. He wore a beige toque, a turtleneck sweater and faded jeans-a guy's guy; not badly dressed, but no real sense of style. "That's OK," I thought, "I have enough fashion sense for the both of us." His shoes are what gave him away-they were old and ratty. My final verdict was that he was poor; either an artist or a student (or a combination of both).
Let's call it "bus love;" the fourteen-minute crush that can wash over us like a wave of commuters filing off the city's blue-and-white STM vehicles. Should such fleeting fondness be acted upon? Could our city's buses and metro cars potentially be a public meet market?
By the time the crazy guy got off at Parc and Villeneuve, I had started to imagine our perfect life together-but then something unexpected happened. He looked right at me! As our eyes met, I snapped back into reality. In a moment of sheer panic, I abruptly and shamefully looked away. I felt like a shoplifter who's been caught stealing lipstick from the cosmetics counter. To make my sudden move look as nonchalant as possible, I stared out the window.
My experience is far from unique. Our society is full of "missed connections," where people fleetingly fall in love with a stranger, miss their chance to talk to them and then spend countless hours (years even) asking themselves, "What if..."
Along with its job board and apartment rentals, craigslist has a "Missed Connections" section for each one of its listed cities. According to Natalie Pompilio at philly.com, this function was added to the craigslist site in 2000 and since then the number of postings has grown from one hundred to the tens of thousands.
Here's a sample of some "Missed Connections" postings from the New York public transit system message board:
Number One Train 11-Amish (redhead)
hello you were the very cute redhead i was across from you you kinda smiled at me at times or maybe you were just laughing about something i dont know anyway i would love to hear from you i had the red sweater with black trench coat i was reading the paper i would love to hear from you... you got off on 86st too...
Girl on the 6- 23rd Street
Girl on downtown 6 train. I rode with you from 23rd to bleeker where you walked to the street. You are tall, thin long wavy brown hair, light freckles and incredible plump lips. We smiled at each other a few times. My heart jumped and my throat siezed...I would love to at least know your name and shower you with praises. Here is hoping...
To the dude with the beard on the F train
You looked in my eyes, I looked in your eyes.
My heart raced.
I got off at 4th and union.
You kept on going.
My heart hasn't raced since.
Don't think Montrealers are immune to this phenomenon. I pulled this off Montreal's very own craigslist "Missed Connections" bulletin board:Metro musing
Another Thursday morning on the green line, big winter jackets everywhere riding the Metro wishing it was Friday. I saw you sitting in the metro car some time between Lionel-Groulx and McGill station. I was the 5'11'' guy with blond hair fumbling a courier bag. You were the smiling brown hair girl next to the window in the black/blue coat. Were you smiling because you noticed me looking at you or were you just thinking about something funny? I would like to know. Parlez-vous Français?"
The professions of love and the bad poetry go on and on. Craigslist, along with other websites and newspaper personals, may be a safe haven for these poor tortured souls, but I can't help but feel that in most public transit scenarios, unrequited love is actually better than the reality. Reality is awkward and messy-people never respond the way you want them to. Taking that leap and talking to a stranger is an unpredictable and murky affair that can end in the horror of all horrors-embarrassment.
Fantasy can be perfect. Let's face it, most people intend to never talk to a cute stranger on the bus-but imagining an illicit romance is a nice distraction from the reality of our everyday lives. Some people, however, choose to live in reality. Take my friend Lisa, for example. She is notorious for flirting with complete strangers on the metro-something about trains racing through tunnels turns her on. She's met quite a few guys by going up to them and coyly asking for directions. Sadly, though, her high-speed love affairs don't last much longer than the metro ride. Once they step into the real world, outside forces (such as seeing each other in the light of day) usually conspire against the would-be lovers and they uncomfortably go their separate ways.
By the time the bus reached Sherbrooke and Parc, my time was running out. It was now or never. I decided that today was going to be different-today I was going to make a bold move and talk to Mr. Perfect. But what would I say? Was "I don't know you but I love you" saying too much? Maybe a bit. How about "Nice day today?" Too lame. I decided to stick to "Do you have the time?" It seemed to be my safest bet-a good solid question that he could respond to-a question that says, "I'm a busy person but not too busy to talk to a cute fellow passenger." I psyched myself up.
I got up, but before I knew it, a wave of people had rushed me off the bus at the Place des Arts station-or maybe I let myself be shuffled out aggressively into the cold hard street. In retrospect, I think they saved me from myself. I looked back longingly at the object of my affection, but he was gone. Had I only been a bit bolder earlier on, I might have started talking to him. Instead, I chose to stick to my fantasy.
I still look for him once in a while. I promise myself that next time I will gather up the courage to let shyness be damned and just strike up a conversation. Or maybe I'll just write a poem about him and post it on craigslist.
Daisy Goldstein shares her quirky insights on life in the city. Her column appears every two weeks. Read more columns by Daisy Goldstein.