I seldom sit at the front of the bus or streetcar. Part of it may still stem from a rebellious youth where the cool kids all gravitated to the back of the bus, although it’s likely more from an innate politeness, since the front seats are generally meant to be reserved or given up to elderly or infirm passengers.

So it was an atypical decision the other day when I got on the streetcar and took the seat two spots behind the driver. I looked down and there was sand all over the floor.

While Torontonians are devoted to their Red Rocket, the things are not particularly modern in design. To create extra traction for the brakes, each vehicle distributes sand onto the tracks as it drives along. The sand is located in a large box underneath the seat directly behind the driver. It is kept in large storage boxes at the turning loops at the ends of the line, where the driver scoops up a bucket of sand, then brings it onboard and lifts up the seat to dump it into the holder. The driver has a lever that will open the sand container from the bottom, allowing them to distribute the sand in small quantities, not dump huge mountains of it in the middle of the road.

I knew all of this, of course, and had even once witnessed the driver load the onboard container from a shiny silver bucket. Old skool. But I’d never been up close to the TTC sand. It’s pristinely white and clean with the occasional fleck of black.

As the sun burst from behind some clouds and filled the streetcar with light, the tiny bits of finely ground shell and rock sparkled. I reached down and grabbed a pinch between my fingers, rolling it back and forth until the grains fell away onto my lap.

It made me long for the gorgeous white sand beaches of my childhood in the worst way.