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Lasting Encounters

The following transcript is from KPLN 97.4’s evening talk radio show hosted by Richard Torpa; original air date, September 13, 2018. “Lasting Encounters,” which invited couples to discuss the circumstances under which they first met, went off the air in 2020.

Richard Torpa: Good evening, ladies and gentleman. We have an interesting encounter for you tonight from the suburb of Scarborough in Ontario, Canada. Mark Hughes and Stacey Hughes have been married for almost twenty years. Why don’t you both say hello to our audience out there tonight.

Stacey Hughes: Hello.

Mark Hughes: Hey out there.

RT: So tell me, when did your lasting encounter take place?

MH: (laughter) It was a long time ago, Richard.

RT: Call me Rick.

MH: Rick, okay. What was it sweetie, 1994?

SH: It was the summer of 1995. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

RT: Aw, isn’t that something, folks? She’ll always remember the summer they first met. So it says here you met on a TTC Bus. Now, I’m not going to lie to our audience. I’ve skimmed through this thing and what it says here is pretty strange. I’m going to try and guide you both through this for our listeners, so bare with me if I stop you. Why don’t we begin with the bus. At what point would you say you actually met for the first time?

SH: (pause) God. I thought I’d be okay with this, but now that we’re here in the booth and everything I just don’t know if I can go through with it. On live radio like this.

MH: It’ll be fine, sweetie. We have a special story to tell. How many couples can say they met like us? What did I always used to say? “It could’ve happened to anyone, but it happened to us.”

SH: “It could’ve happened to anyone, but it happened to us.”

RT: Ladies and gentlemen, Mark and Stacey are holding hands here in the studio.

MH: Let me start it off, Rick. I was living up around Newmarket at that time. We live down Kingston way now—out by the bluffs, Bluffer’s Park area, you know? But back then I was a North Scarborough screw-up, a real hood delinquent. I was 17 or 18, living with my parents in a mid-income housing project just behind Bridlewood Mall. Warden Avenue between Finch and Steeles area. I used to take that Warden bus as part of my daily routine. I had my own business going back then.

SH: (laughter) Your own business? Please. He was a drug dealing thief and sometimes fence for all kinds of dirty muck that came through that area. Richard, let me say—

RT: Please, call me Rick.

SH: Alright… First of all, in my defense, I was not associated in any way with the dark world of crime and mischief he was into back then. I was raised a good girl over in North York. If I hadn’t been house-sitting for Dr. Hainsley, I would never have been on that bus.

RT: And Dr. Hainsley. He lived where exactly?

SH: He lived in the Heathwood development between Birchmount and Kennedy, close to Warden, but quite a different development than the one Mark lived in. But the Warden bus was faster, see, so it was worth walking over. The Birchmount bus, you could be waiting sometimes upwards of half an hour.

RT: So the basic story here is that you met on the bus, but there are a couple different stories going on here.

MH: Technically, we didn’t meet on the bus.

RT: Okay.

SH: We rode the bus together, but we didn’t meet until we both got off at the same stop.

RT: Did you get on at the same stop?

MH: Um, yeah. I think we—

SH: No. He was already on the bus when I got on. I was alone at the stop I was waiting at. I remember that. I walked up to a less crowded bus stop to wait.

RT: So you walked all the way from Dr. Whathisname?—Hainsley’s house near Kennedy Road to the bus stop on Warden Avenue. What is that, like a half hour walk?

SH: More like twenty minutes. This was back when we used to walk a lot more. It was worth it, though. The Warden bus was like a main artery through Scarborough. You could take it, and it would turn and take you to Fairview Mall. Otherwise you’d have to transfer and wait again at Sheppard—look, but I wasn’t going to the mall that day. I was going—

RT: Wait, wait, wait. Over to you, Mark. Where were you heading?

MH: Probably to the Walmart. Around that time I was trying to make money returning stolen goods to department stores. I had just figured out a way to scam the Walmart returns counter. I was going there two, maybe three times a week to make money. This was back when they first opened in all those old Woolco locations. Anyway, you could pick up small items, like vitamins—those were the best because they were expensive, and small—and you’d take them up to the returns counter and tell them you bought the wrong ones and lost the receipt. They’d hand you back your cash. You didn’t even have to really steal them from the store.

SH: You see what I mean? He used to really do this kind of stuff.

MH: Walmart, if you’re listening. I’m deeply sorry.

RT: (laughter) Alright. And kids, don’t listen to Mr. Hughes here. He’s learned from his mistakes and is repentant.

SH: (laughter)

RT: Alright, so. Our couple has fatefully wandered onto the path of “Lasting Encounters.” What will happen next? We’ll be right back…

 * * *

: “Hi there. I’m calling from Scarborough, Ontario, Wexford area. I just have to say I think it’s great you two have found each other. I used to take that Warden bus and always wondered if I’d meet my match one day, just sitting there. (sigh) Anyway. (click)”

: “Hi. Mr. Hughes? This is Joey. That Walmart scam is still sweet. (click)”

: “Hi. Stacey? You hooked up with a guy on the bus? Are you nuts, girl? (click)”

 * * *

RT: Okay, we’re back with more of Mark and Stacey Hughes’ on “Lasting Encounters.” Now, folks, this wasn’t love at first sight for Mark and Stacey. There were some other notions floating around the bus that day. Let’s get this out of the way, Stacey. You had a suitcase with you, am I right?

SH: Yes, that’s right.

RT: And you carried it all the way from Kennedy to the Warden bus stop?

SH: Well, technically I dragged it, Rick. It had wheels, but they were pretty old.

RT: And you didn’t wait at the Birchmount stop?

SH: God, I might have. I don’t know. That part’s a little fuzzy for me. I was a little mixed up then. I might have waited and then decided to keep walking over to Warden.

RT: Ah, the strange mechanics of fate. Over to you, Mark. You’re on the bus. It stops in front of Stacey and she gets on. What are you thinking?

MH: Rick, I remember sitting in the back. I had just got on a few stops beforehand, so I was still looking around at the other passengers to see if I recognized anyone. Anyway, I see this pretty girl come on dragging this beat up old suitcase behind her. It’s the bus though, you know? So I’m not exactly smiling at anyone.

SH: No, I remember you smiling at me, or looking at me anyway. The seats were all taken up front, so I went to the back. And when I looked, you were looking at me.

MH: I was thinking, What’s a pretty thing like that doing getting dragged behind that strange girl?

RT: What’s that? Oh, the case!—Oh (laughter).

MH: No, but seriously, Rick. I had no idea about the thing. She had that damsel in distress thing about her, and I was kind of drawn to that. People in my neighbourhood didn’t just walk around with suitcases like that, you know.

RT: Really?

SH: People in his neighbourhood were a bunch of dirty thieves.

MH: Now, let me be clear, here. I was a mixed up kid. I had been into drugs and stealing from a young age. That’s all past me now, but at the time I was thinking, What’s she got in that case? I mean, I had my business set up. I could fence anything back then.

RT: Okay, so we know what Mark was thinking. Stacey, what were you thinking when you saw Mark?

SH: Ah…He looked cute. I was thinking he looked good, but I was still kind of freaked out because I could smell the—

RT: I’m going to stop you right there, Stacey. Let me think for a second.

SH: What? I could smell it.

RT: Could you smell the, uh, the case, Mark?

MH: At that time I could not smell it. Maybe I had the window open, or—

SH: I had my window open.

MH: People sometimes have that smell on them because they live with dogs, you know? It follows them around.

RT: But…

MH: But I don’t remember it.

RT: Okay, forget the smell for a minute. What happened on the bus?

SH: I couldn’t help but sort of look over at him from time to time. He was a handsome young man, a real bad boy, you know? He stood out. I remember this other guy on that bus scratching off his zits and eating them. That guy was gross, but Mark was sitting there, relaxing, looking calmly ahead. And he looked over at me a couple times.

MH: She was a hottie, Rick. I know you don’t think so sweetie, but you looked fine as wine. When I looked over at her at first, though, I was really looking at the case.

SH: God, you really were twisted back then.

MH: I was scoping the case, Rick.

RT: So you had done this kind of thing before?

MH: Yeah, you know. I’m not proud of it. I had done similar stuff before. Maybe not suitcases, but bags and stuff.

RT: For our audience, if you’re not sure at home, Mark is talking about stealing bags from strangers.

SH: (laughter) Oh, that sounds so pathetic. I mean, it was pathetic. It is—and it’s funny now, really funny, but stealing people’s bags?

MH: I know, I know, and you know I’m a changed man now, sweets. But I had my own moral code back then. I thought differently about things like that.

RT: Folks at home, so you know. Mark here stole his sweetheart’s suitcase on the day they first met.

MH: (laughter) I confess. I confess.

RT: So you just picked up the case on your way off the bus?

MH: No. It wasn’t like that. I didn’t want some do-gooder to jump off the bus and chase me down. I waited her out. I figured she’d ring the bell and get off, and I’d get off at the same stop, like it was a coincidence. Then I’d follow her a bit till she was on her own. Then I’d grab the case.

RT: That’s cold, Mark. Stacey? Is that how it happened?

SH: Pretty much, yeah. I got off the bus at Warden and Ellesmere, and Mark got off behind me. I was walking West toward the, (pause) the Ellesmere Animal Clinic that used to be there, and I, (pause) I—

MH: I came up running from behind her and grabbed the case out of her hand as I ran past. And I don’t remember if you chased me or not. Did you, sweetie?

SH: No, I didn’t. I was shocked at what happened.

MH: That’s how you’re meant to be. That’s why it works like that.

RT: And Stacey, you just stood there?

SH: For a minute, yeah. Then I walked back toward Warden.

RT: No doubt confused. We’re going to go to break right now, but don’t go away. Mark and Stacey, thank you for being here tonight. Ladies and Gentleman, take it easy on Mark. Sitting here in front of me, it’s hard to imagine he would ever steal a poor girl’s suitcase. There’s a lot more to the story of Mark and Stacey Hughes’ “Lasting Encounter” coming right up after this.

 * * *

: “Hi, Mark? You’re an evil bastard and I think you should, like, see a psychiatrist, or something. (click)”

: “Stacey Hughes, what is wrong with you? That man doesn’t deserve your love, honey. And Rick, do me a favour and slap that boy Mark upside his head! (click)”

: “Hi there, this is Kimberley from the Galloway projects. I just want to say your guys’s story is so Scarborough. I mean for a woman to fall in love with, and then marry the man who stole her bag from her on a bus? (laughter). (click)”

 * * *

RT: Thanks for staying with us. We’re back with more of the story of Mark and Stacey Hughes and their “Lasting Encounter.” When we left off, Mark was telling us how he stole Stacey’s suitcase on the day they first met. So, Mark, you have the suitcase now. Stacey, what went through your head when Mark, that cute guy from the bus, ran past you and stole your case?

SH: Okay, here we go. So, after the initial shock of it subsided, I actually felt this great wave of relief come over me.

MH: (laughter)

SH: That suitcase, it had this real weight to it, you know? Like it was heavy, but—can I explain what was in it now?

RT: I think you’d better explain to our audience what your future husband just stole from his future wife.

SH: Alright. Whew, I’m nervous. Okay. The Hainsley family, the family I was house sitting for at that time, the reason I was in Mark’s “hood.” They had gone away to the Dominican Republic. There was, like a sale on then. Travel between Canada and the Dominican was really cheap for some reason. Anyway, they had gone on vacation for about a month. Well, they had left their dog, Zoe, behind. And Zoe —this old dog. It wasn’t neglect, or anything. She died of natural causes. I found her that morning in their kitchen, lying on her side. I went to her, and she was stiff all over, Her eyes weren’t moving. I got this terrible fear, like a sickness inside me. I had never had a pet die before. (sniff) Ugh…sorry. I got an old suitcase from Dr. Hainsley’s basement and put Zoe inside. I was going to take her to that place on Ellesmere Road, the Animal Clinic that used to be there. I thought, They must know how to deal with dead animals. I figured they had, like a cemetery nearby.

RT: (pause) Oh boy. Did you try to call Dr. Hainsley at all?

SH: I tried. I really tried, Rick. I tried a few numbers they had left on their fridge. I tried their hotel. I tried friends of theirs. They all just rang and rang.

RT: Where were your parents?

SH: My mom was at work, and we didn’t live with my dad. I couldn’t call him.

RT: So you figured you’d take Zoe on the bus. Why not call a cab?

SH: Rick, I was fifteen years old. The bus was the safest, most anonymous, fastest form of transportation I knew at the time. I have been in cabs since then, and they are intimate and awkward. The driver gets out and helps you with your bags, and you have to tell him where you want to go. On the bus, you bring your own bag on, the driver barely notices you, and nobody else cares who you are or where you’re going.

MH: I think it was the best decision, Rick. Given the circumstances.

RT: No, I agree. Well of course you agree, Mark. It brought you two together. It had to have been the best decision (laughter). But now, back on the side of Ellesmere Road, Stacey, you’re standing in a state of shock, and Mark, you’re running off with a suitcase full of dead dog. Mark. What?—When?—How did you realize what you had just ripped from the clutch of a defenseless girl was not in fact riches beyond your wildest dreams?

MH: I looked back and realised she wasn’t chasing me, so I took the suitcase up a hill to where the train tracks run through there. It’s funny, though, because I felt something move in there, and I thought for a minute something inside was alive. I put the case down by the tracks—standing up lengthwise, you know?—and unzipped it. I peeked in, and nothing moved. At first I thought there were furs inside. I was opening the case and thinking, These are expensive looking furs. But then the thing inside sort of tumbled out a bit, because the suitcase was standing up, you know? I was worried the furs would get stained on the tracks, so I lunged down and tried to grab them up in my arms. Of course, then I seen the teeth, and I get a whiff of what had been cooped up in there all morning.

RT: Jesus, that sounds awful. It must have been horrific. But you got a valuable lesson out of it.

MH: Yeah. (pause) I just sort of backed away from the whole scene. I turned and ran back the way I came. And I was thinking to myself, That poor girl. She was going to bury her dog. That poor, poor girl. I ran back toward the Warden bus, and I seen her there waiting for the bus back North. Rick, I don’t know. Something came over me. I walked straight up to her and apologized in the most truthful, sincere way I could.

SH: He really did, Rick. I really felt like he was sorry for what he’d done. I was feeling guilty myself for not screaming after him that Zoe was in the suitcase.

RT: So he apologizes, and that’s it?

SH: No. Then he started to cry, and he took my hand and led me back to where the opened case was by the train tracks, and Zoe was sort of half out of the case. We watched the sun pass a little bit, then we buried her there by the train tracks. It took the rest of the afternoon, but we worked together. He wasn’t such a bad guy.

MH: That incident really changed me a lot.

SH: He even made a little marker for her grave.

RT: You bury the dog, and then exchange numbers.

SH: It was a big moment in both of our lives. I think it drew us together. We exchanged phone numbers, yes. And we saw each other often. He wasn’t in school, but he’d come by my high school, and we’d go for coffees. Things just moved from there.

MH: I proposed to her right there by Zoe’s grave.

SH: He did.

RT: And they lived happily ever after. How strange, and yet how special. That is truly one of the odder stories of lasting encounters we’ve had on our show. No doubt it’ll be tough to top. I’d like to thank Mark and Stacey Hughes, Linda Watts, our producer, and all the listeners out there. Here’s hoping your encounters are lasting ones. I’m Rick Torpa. Goodnight.

 * * *

: “That’s **cked up, guys. You guys are **cked up. I wish you both the best, though. But that’s just wrong. (click)”