Great cities are weird. That’s why they’re great.

Cities like Ottawa need to cultivate weirdness. Not weed it out!

A story in yesterday’s Ottawa Citizen got the Differ really angry. Angry enough to.. wait for it… start a Facebook page! Seems an Ottawa bus driver named Yves Roy has made himself into a minor cult celebrity around town by singing behind the wheel. And it seems that after years of at worst allowing, and at best praising Roy for his singing, the management at OC Transpo have decided to “play it safe”. We Beg to Differ.

“Boring” is the weed. Weird is the fruit.

When I used to travel the world as a brand evangelist in the software industry, I got a chance to see a lot of cities. And among them, I had to see way too much of the big three Texas cities. Sorry Texas. But Dallas/Forth Worth, Houston, and San Antonio are not my favourite places to visit. At all. They’re big. They’re nice-ish. I met nice people. But they never made me say “wow”. And what’s worse, they never gave me a story to tell.

Which is why it was so refreshing  to find a little weirdo sitting in the middle of all of them: Austin. It’s a city of about 800,000 – roughly the same size as my home town of Ottawa – and like Ottawa, it’s a capital city, so lots of government workers and bureaucentrism. But what’s nice is that the folks in Austin are fiercely proud of its weirdness – even going so far as to brand a movement to “Keep Austin Weird“.

And I’ll tell you, all around the world, the cities that are the most impressive, the most memorable, and the most energetic, are also the weirdest ones. Great cities throw you into weird, quirky, even unsettling situations, but they always give you a story to tell.

Which brings us back to the singing bus driver

Yves Roy.

The bureaucratic smack-down of the singing bus driver came in the same week that OC Transpo is dealing with nasty public reaction to YouTube videos of a bus driver apparently shouting obscenities at a handicapped passenger and talking on a cellphone on the highway.

And yes, there are complaints. Weirdness always causes complaints. And sure, it can be annoying. As David Reevely writes:

I’ve been on Roy’s bus, in a sour mood after a bad day, and I dearly wished he would shutupshutupSHUTUP! so I could have a moment’s peace while I stared out the window and tried not to think about anything. And I’ve been on Roy’s bus in a better frame of mind and loved every bar, and also loving that I lived in a city that could produce this guy. Both attitudes are reasonable: it’s not fair to force passengers to listen to music they don’t want to hear, and yet at the same time Yves Roy is awesome.

He ends his article by concluding that asking him to stop “is definitely the safe thing to do.” Yup. Safe it is. Smart? Not if you want to build a city that people want to tell stories about.

So here’s my suggestion to the mayor

Yes that means you Jim Watson. Turn this into a positive story of city-building weirdness.

  1. Pass a motion in council to create an “Ottawa Super Awesomeness Award” (or whatever you want to call it).
  2. Create a policy with OC Transpo that bus drivers are not permitted to sing unless they have been given the aforementioned award.
  3. Give Yves Roy the award and make a big deal about celebrating Ottawa’s famous (and only) Singing Bus Driver.
  4. Get him to sing the national anthem in Council, and try to arrange having him sing at a Senators game, the National Capital Marathon, or other big events.

Voila. Problem solved. Yves Roy is celebrated as the quirky stand-out he is. OC Transpo gets a policy to make sure not every bus driver with a tin ear decides to do the same.

And Ottawa gets one more weirdo icon to call its own.

Oh, and one more thing Mr. Mayor. Please do “LIKE” the Facebook page while you’re here. Every bit helps.

4 thoughts on “Great cities are weird. That’s why they’re great.”

  1. Thought provoking as always Denis! What I found less than amusing about the treatment of the singing bus driver was how it contrasted with the “circle the wagons” reaction to the abusive bus driver of last week. On the one hand we have a bona fide nice guy that my students love that OC Transpo wants to muzzle and on the other hand we have a bus driver that verbally threatens a passenger who is given the benefit of the doubt. Ottawa is a great place to live and may never be a weird place. But this kind of notoriety — along with recent Ottawa Police brutality cases — will not help our city’s reputation.

    1. @welshjs That point is being made over and over on the Facebook page (almost 6000 Likes and counting). And the flip side, that I dearly hope the CIty wakes up to, is that the people saying “Let Him SIng” are mostly the ones who love Ottawa the most and use and appreciate public transit. Be nice if they saw it the way the rest of us do: as an opportunity to make things better!

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