Looking for Perpetua


So, I went into Toronto today, taking the early GO Train. Now that we've just switched over to Daylight Saving Time, the train's 5:49 a.m. departure feels like 4:49, so it became a long and tiring day, but a productive one.

I was working on The Night Girl. Since I decided to rewrite the story from scratch, it's been slow going, mostly because other projects have had to take priority. However, I feel good about how things are going. I still feel in tune with the character of Perpetua, and the changes I've made to Fergus seem interesting. Soon, I'll be reintroducing myself to T.P. Earthenhouse, and then we'll see what we'll see.

But another reason why I've held off on writing more until today was because I felt the need to do some writing within Toronto's PATH network itself. For those who don't know, Toronto's PATH Network is the official name of what some people term as Toronto's Underground City (the Underground City is not, unfortunately, the official name of this place, and I've been corrected for calling it thus, but I do have a document from the 1980s with a map of the network entitled -- ta, da! -- Toronto's Underground City). It's a network of underground tunnels that connect many of the buildings of downtown Toronto to five subway stations and Union Station. It started as a means of getting workers from the subway to work in comfort, but as the foot traffic increased, the skyscrapers rented out space for stores, and the thing sort of snowballed. The Guinness Book of World Records already recognizes the network as the largest underground shopping complex in the world (4 million square feet of retail space, 27 km of corridors -- only Montreal cuts it close), and the city continues to add to it.

Ever since Erin first inspired the story ten years ago when talking about how Torontonians dug too deep, bringing goblins and trolls to the surface, I've felt that the rabbit warren of shopping concourses and tunnels that stretches beneath much of Toronto's financial district, is a key component of the story. I've always had a soft spot for the place. It's a contradiction. As an urbanist, the idea of building all of these private spaces to compete with the street life on the surface should be offensive. Fortunately, Toronto's downtown just has so much foot traffic to go around, these tunnels are necessary in order to keep the sidewalks from clogging up. And it was a fun challenge to learn the routes, and be able to navigate the maze. Many people consider this network to be a maze, and the signage is poor and confusing, so I do take some pride in being able to find my way around -- though I can't get cocky. Just today, I was walking the corridors, looking for a particular building, and ended up missing my turn and coming out somewhere else entirely.

And speaking of contraditions, here's another: the foot traffic within the Underground City varies wildly. When GO Transit brings in trains from the suburbs -- each carrying as many as 2000 passengers, and as many as 30 arriving per hour -- foot traffic through the corridors can be intense. You can literally feel like a fish struggling upstream if you try to walk against it. But it's a very business-oriented crowd. Get off of rush hour, and things get quiet. The corridors remain open during the weekends (some places do lock their doors during the evenings -- something which gave Erin and I trouble when we parked our car in one of the parkades and had to figure out a roundabout way to get into the garage after we came back late from an event), and some shops stay open, but it can feel quite lonely. The corridors are opulent, but your footsteps echo. You wonder where the people are. There is atmosphere to be mined here. This is the part of Perpetua's experience that I most want to share.

Amazingly, I found a portion of the Underground City that was nearly deserted during the height of rush hour, where I took this picture above. This is Perpetua's world -- or, rather, the world she discovers, beneath our feet, after the busienss crowd has gone home.

The trip went well. I wrote about 1,500 words today, and took the new Night Girl beyond 8,000 words today.

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