11.28.2010 12:37 AM

Bus tale (updated)

About a year ago, a Toronto Transit worker was photographed asleep.  If you lived in Toronto, you couldn’t have avoided the photo, or the many stories about the incident.  It even was a subject of debate in the municipal election campaign.

Now this story has appeared, occupying far less space – and being given far less prominence – than the original “napping TTC worker” demi-scandal.

Today, we learn that the man in photo is dead.  He was sick, and apparently sick at the time of the photo, too.  He left the job he loved, ashamed of what had happened, ashamed that he had hurt the reputation of his colleagues.  He had worked for nearly three decades with an unblemished record.

Why am I drawing attention to this?  Because it isn’t the exception; it’s the rule, now.  Because it should make some people – a lot of people, actually – feel ashamed for how this story ended.  Because, when our collective memory is determined by a Google search, and nothing is worth saying if it isn’t expressed in 140 characters, and the “news cycle” is shorter than a sound bite, and analysis is thinner than piss on a rock, this how things are going to be, from now on: someone’s life, captured in a completely unrepresentative moment, is completely destroyed.  And no one gives a shit.

I’m as guilty of this techno-mob rule as anybody – maybe more so.  As I know too well, as I’ve experienced many times, it takes a few seconds to put something out there in the Internet ether – but, as I told a U of T class this week, you can’t take it back.  And it’ll be there forever.  It’ll be there after you’re dead.

I feel sorry for what happened to this man.  He deserves an apology.

But apologies are the only things that are slow in coming, these days.

UPDATE, FROM LOUISE: “I am  proud to say I was related to George and had the privilege to know him and call him “friend”. We always looked forward to seeing him. He was just fun to be around and a kind and decent man. He was a true hero in his everyday life as he always put others first – he showed himself in everyday small kindnesses, not just one or two incidents of which the public has come to know. He was tremendously loved by our family and by his many friends. George was always happy and cheerful, with an open hand and heart. I’ll never forget his laugh and his bright blue twinkling eyes. I never heard George say a bad word about anyone. Wasn’t in his nature. He was a good friend, loving, kind, easy to be with and tremendously funny. A bright light has gone from our lives. He will be missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.”

24 Comments

  1. mississaugapeter says:

    Sorry WK, my empathetic heart feels you could have cited a better example.

    The guy got a union job, was paid well for 30 years. He got caught not doing his job – no one knows how long he was doing this. Was fortunate to have a union to support him so he didn’t have to go to work but was still paid. Died of a stroke.

    He got his 15 minutes of fame, even more now, while many, many others word for a lot less, with poorer job security, no fanfare, and don’t get a headline “TTC mourns death”.

    I think you have to avoid sitting so close to Peggy Nash.

    • James Bow says:

      I can’t say that I agree with you, Peter. All evidence suggests that in all other ways, the guy had an exemplary record. He’s even been cited as saving a customer’s life while working for Wheel Trans. The fact that he was having medical problems during the time of the photograph might be a convenient excuse to you, but it does illustrate the fact that we all judged him, on the basis of one mistake (and the mistakes of others who happened to work in his profession). We didn’t really know him, but we suddenly felt that we knew enough about him that we could condemn him indiscriminately. I don’t think that speaks well of us.

      It also highlights the fact that, in our strongly interconnected world, personal privacy is about to to bye-bye (if it hasn’t gone already). Now every youthful indiscretion is just a Google search away from lousing up people’s job applications, even your credit and insurance applications.

      Internet justice is swift and brutal, and it is immensely satisfying when it’s delivered on somebody who richly deserves it (see the Cooks Source Magazine debacle where a magazine published people’s works off the Internet without permission, claiming that the Internet was “public domain”. So, apparently, was their address, their phone numbers and their list of sponsors), but what’s happening more and more is that this world is demanding that we be perfect. Can you honestly say that you’ve never done something silly, or something that you regretted at some point in your life? Something that wasn’t representative of your life as a whole? How would you feel if that embarrassing incident was suddenly given much wider play?

      There’s no easy solution, here. We may be entering a world where the concept of privacy is something quaint. We can’t control that. But what we can control is how we treat other people now that their indiscretions are out in the open. Everybody, in my opinion, deserves a second chance, because at their core, they are in general no better or no worse than you are. We should live more by the golden rule, and we should give people more of a chance to prove their general trustworthiness to us, regardless of mistakes they made in the past. It seems reasonable. It’s entirely possible that you or I may be asking for that same second chance in the future.

      And, incidentally, having jealousy over a man’s union job is a pretty sucky reason for not paying respect for a dead man.

      • mississaugapeter says:

        We all deserve second chances and we all make mistakes – I definitely make more mistakes than the average Joe or Joan – but I try to apologize for them.

        Was he ever contrite for his actions? And why was he not on medical leave before the incident rather than after?

        An incident a decade earlier does not make him a saint. Just as the TTC incident does not make him Belzebub’s apostle.

        NO “jealousy over a man’s union job” – I make more money than any union job and since I am the boss I don’t need a union to defend me.

        My mother-in-law died a year ago yesterday, she raised a great daughter and was a wonderful grandmother. You James, and others including the TTC union, have not paid her any respect to her or respect to any of the other millions of unsung heros who have passed away.

        BTW I agree the internet can be very nasty, and thus, I stand behind my initial statement: “Sorry WK, my empathetic heart feels you could have cited a better example.”

        • mississaugapeter says:

          Sorry, I forgot to publicly acknowledge in paragraph 4, that as a result of the existence of unions past and present and future, everyone’s salary (including those of folks who don’t belong to unions) is higher than if no unions existed.

          WK, you really need an edit/delete function on replys. You can do it on your posts, but we can’t on replys.

          • Red Rocket says:

            I cannot help but be disappointed by your words. I tend to think of all of this as at least evening out what happened back in January. In the end this post isn’t about me, you, or your mother in law (and my condolences to be clear), it isn’t about relatives and friends I’ve lost to various diseases and the like, it isn’t about unions and workplaces either. It’s about the this TTC worker who maybe should have gotten a better shake FROM THE PUBLIC than he got.

            Many of us don’t get dragged through the mud this badly. Regarding the rest of the story is the least we can do now that this has happened.

          • scanner says:

            @mississaugapeter: the moving hand writes and having written moves on, (revealing our true thoughts)

        • James Bow says:

          Was he ever contrite? Yes. He apologized publicly to the public and also to his coworkers for making him look bad. I don’t know if he was a saint or not, but he seems a decent human being who was harshly treated for one mistake.

          I’m sorry about your mother-in-law and all. I will point out that my wife’s grandmother passes away a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t expect you to honour her publicly, either. However, given how publicly Mr Robitille was metaphorically flogged, this is why we’re speaking of him. Had the incident not happened, his passing would not have been so publicly acknowledged. The fact that it was, speaks to how the cameras are on all of us, these days and how the world seems to be demanding perfection. I’m not sure that is a good thing.

    • Ginger says:

      No coffee yet this morning? Definitely, keep missing the bigger message, that also helps discourse.

      • Ginger says:

        Ha! I post a one line mildly snarky comment towards MP and at the same time JB posts an articulate, well thought out, well written response. I mean what JB wrote.

  2. Cath says:

    You have the power of the pen and a column at your disposal Warren. If you feel strongly about this issue you can do something about it that few others can.

  3. bc says:

    You’re post is thoughtful and accurate – but your example is poor.

    The TTC uproar last year wasn’t because of one man sleeping on the job. Rather, that one dozzy employee became a symbol over the overall poor service, high costs, and bloated union management that has plagued the TTC for years.

  4. Dave says:

    From time to time I have lived in small towns and villages. The teenagers and young in such communities often complain about he ‘fishbowl’ feeling in small communities where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Many feel stifled by this.
    But maybe another way to look at it is that in a small community, everybody knows everybody else’s strengths,weaknesses, foibles, idiocies, and so on. But still, they work together at foul suppers, curl on the same ice, know and care for each other’s kids, tell stories about the adventures and scandals of the old crowd. There is a kind of comfort in living where people know lots about a person, yet still get on with day to day living.
    And when a people live together over time, the edges kindof mellow.
    Right now, ‘internet justice’ in our global electronic village is kind of new. Perhaps that adds to the shock of the revelations. It could be that in time this electronic wonder of a world we are in will take on some aspects of the village I mention in the first paragraph here. Over time, the shock of internet revelations might soften a tad.
    For me, I am constantly amazed by the different attitude the young people who grew up with the internet (the way that I grew up with telegrams and phonographs) about privacy, and the private info that they feel comfortable with online.

    (On this particular bus driver story, I wonder if there was,and is, a generation difference in reactions to the online picture.)

  5. Louise says:

    I am an proud to say I was related to George and had the privilege to know him and call him “friend”. We always looked forward to seeing him. He was just fun to be around and a kind and decent man. He was a true hero in his everyday life as he always put others first – he showed himself in everyday small kindnesses, not just one or two incidents of which the public has come to know. He was tremendously loved by our family and by his many friends. George was always happy and cheerful, with an open hand and heart. I’ll never forget his laugh and his bright blue twinkling eyes. I never heard George say a bad word about anyone. Wasn’t in his nature. He was a good friend, loving, kind, easy to be with and tremendously funny. A bright light has gone from our lives. He will be missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.

  6. Riley says:

    If you’re in unskilled work and not in a union you’re a sucker. I’m getting tired of the thinly veiled jealousy expressed in the anti-union comments I read online. If you hate your sheit job work to unionize. In some countries such as Austria over 70 percent of the labour force is unionized or workers have legislated positions on the board of publicly traded companies. Were suckers Herr in the Angloshpere.

    • MCBellecourt says:

      The trouble with trying to unionize a workplace, especially in my province, you stand an extremely high chance of getting severely burned. You need unanimous support for the idea from your co-workers and labour laws with teeth. I had neither to work with and knew I was already defeated without having to make a single overture.

      Been there. Done that. Paid a heavy, heavy price for it.

      Never again. People are just too selfish here.

  7. John says:

    Riley is right…we are suckers here. The problem is that the immigrants that come over here are willing to work for peanuts…that lowers the wages or the rate at which it will go up. Also their own people exploit them as well when they come over here….Unions let the employers know that we “the people” are worth more than minimum wage and a means to their greedy profits.

    • Namesake says:

      well, I’m reluctant to jump into what’s now a dead thread about to drop off the page, but can’t help myself.

      Sure, that’s partly true, but it’d be wrong to blame dropping wages & the waning influence of unions on immigrants — who are, after all, accepting what to them is a living wage.

      We should also acknowledge & criticize the various levels of government’s complicity in this union-busting & race to the bottom when they cooperate with these bad employers when they restructure & rebuild their old worn-out plants & bargain with the gov’ts by threatening to close plants permanently… and end up getting big subidizies and access to a large influx of new immigrants to come work at a fraction of the old wages. (Which is couched as creating or preserving jobs.) That’s happened in the meat-packing & bakery industries that I know of…. probably lots more.

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