We were on the same subway train leaving downtown Toronto. His turned-up moustache and well put-together work casual look caught my attention as he sat down reading. When nearby passengers left the train, I moved to a seat near him to ask if he happened to be getting off at my stop and he explained he was going farther. I told him the reason I was asking and explained my Human Family photo project. He connected the dots and said “Are you saying you want to take my picture?” I explained I was but I would need some natural light. Just as I was considering going a few extra stops if he would participate in my project, he volunteered “I don’t mind getting off at your stop for you to do the photo if it won’t take too long. I could just get on the next train.” How’s that for a friendly stranger? Meet A.J.
A.J. and I chatted and a delay of a few minutes between stations gave us some extra time to get acquainted. I gave A.J. my contact card and told him more about the project. As it turned out, he was returning home from work, having left early because he was feeling under the weather. Knowing that he was not feeling great made me all the more appreciative of his willingness to interrupt his trip home to participate in my photo project.
A.J. is 52 and has two teen-age children. He works for the government dealing with landlord-tenant disputes. When I asked what prepared him for that career he said it was pure chance. He was an actor when younger and got temporary work with the government between acting jobs. His work with the government earned him a good reputation and an offer to go full-time should he desire. “Having children changed things for me as I needed a more reliable income, so I went full-time with the government and it (the work and parenthood) was a great decision.”
A.J.’s parents were teachers and he spent his first few years of life living in Australia. Evidently struck by the travel bug, he traveled rather widely in his youth, travels that included S.E. Asia, Pakistan, and Iran (if I remember correctly). When I commented on his being so well-traveled, he laughed and said “Those were the hippie days when everyone was traveling, but I’ve hardly traveled in recent years.” In addition to his government job, A.J. is back in school, studying to become a paralegal. He sounded like a busy guy.
When we reached my subway station we took two escalators up to the streetcar platform where A.J. was very obliging and followed my minimal suggestions as to where to stand and my request to look directly into the lens of my camera. When I commented on the chance nature of our meeting he said “kids sometimes approach me because I look like Santa Claus.”
A.J.’s message to his younger self was “Don’t be so scared.” We compared notes on how when younger we were both rather self-conscious but one of the advantages of maturity is a greater comfort in one’s own skin. His interest outside of family and studying is woodworking.
A challenge he has faced in life? “I would have to say changes. Changing careers from acting to office work was a big challenge at the time but it has turned out really well in retrospect.” When I asked for a message he would like to share with the project he paused to think, then a smile betrayed the fact that he was trying to decide whether to share his thought with me or not. I encouraged him. He laughed and brought out a small calling-card case which had a message engraved in what looked like Latin. He said it wasn’t proper Latin but the translation was “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” We shared a laugh and the quote clearly opened a door to A.J.’s mischievous side and his nice sense of humor.
We parted with a friendly handshake and me suggesting he take good care of whatever bug he has caught and with him wished me well with my project. He retraced his steps down to the subway platform and I walked home, reflecting on what a nice fellow A.J. turned out to be and how glad I was that I had the moxie to reach out to him.
This is my 864th submission to The Human Family Group on Flickr.
You can view more street portraits and stories by visiting The Human Family.
Posted by jeffcbowen on 2019-11-08 14:41:23
Tagged: , A.J. , stranger , portrait , The Human Family , Toronto , transit , TTC , subway , hat , glasses , beard , moustache , smile , Broadview