As students make their way from the University LRT Station to class during the cold, dark hours of winter mornings, they often find themselves passing a rather colourful character.
Pushing his massive floor scrubber and donning his trademark headphones, Ray Dagg is a familiar sight for LRT commuters as they walk through the echoing halls of the University LRT station. The custodian with the vibrant hairdo admits his job isn’t the most mentally stimulating, but enjoys being immersed in a sea of young commuters who aren’t afraid to say “good morning” or stop for a quick chat.
To spice things up a little and embrace his creative side, Dagg likes to change his hair colour every three to four weeks.
“It’s something to do!” Dagg said of his currently electric blue and purple buzz cut. “For my hair colour, whatever I feel like. Sometimes I have a plan. Sometimes I don’t.”
To keep entertained and isolate himself from the constant whirring of his scrubber, Dagg takes pleasure in listening to Melissa Etheridge (his favourite) alongside ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s rock and roll, country, blues and folk music. Occasionally, he gets caught up in the beat and sings along.
“I have a bad habit of getting carried away,” Dagg said, as he described his mindset when immersing himself in his tunes. “I don’t care anymore, I’m always wearing (the headphones). Song comes on, I start singing along … I know I don’t have a great voice, but who cares.”
Dagg is also renowned for revamping the typically drab, Zamboni-like floor scrubber. His decorations for Halloween, which consisted of fake, dangling body parts, and festive garland for Christmas last year, add a little variety for Dagg and the thousands of commuters who pass by him every day.
“I get a good reaction. The positive reinforcement is always something good.” Dagg said of embracing the holiday spirit with his decorations. “Why not make a little bit of effort, spend a little bit of money. Everybody seems to enjoy it. It makes people a little bit happier for a few minutes.”
Colourful hair and lively decorations aren’t all of Dagg’s particularities, as he started a Santa’s Anonymous collection before the holiday after a stranger gifted him a teddy bear and apron.
“I’ve got this teddy bear, what am I going to do with a teddy bear?” Dagg said, recalling the stranger’s gift. “It gave me the idea: if I set up a donation box… I collected about four and a half bags of toys.”
Born in Westlock, AB, Dagg spent his early years living the small town life in the hamlet of Flatbush, 165 kilometers northwest of Edmonton. Dagg and his family ventured to the Okanagan when he was 16, giving up the isolation and cold of a far-northern community for the beauty and warmth of Kelowna. Though Dagg appreciated the locale, he returned to Alberta in his twenties to seek out work.
Dagg eventually found himself working as a pipefitter. Though the money was substantial, Dagg wasn’t satisfied.
“I didn’t enjoy the work, and finally it just got to a point where I was just like ‘forget it, it’s just not worth it.’ The money’s nice, but what the hell good is money unless you’re enjoying yourself?” Dagg said. “Paychecks weren’t worth it.”
Working seven hours a day, six days a week has given Dagg the opportunity to pursue some creative interests. He enjoys making intricate and colourful wall hangings, tending to his flower garden in the summer, and as of this past Christmas, keeping a variety of tropical fish.
Dagg encourages students halfway through their school year to pause and seek out a little bit of wonder in their lives.
“Live wonder-filled,” Dagg said. “If you watch kids, small kids, I mean they’re fascinated. Everything’s new to ‘em, they’ll come up and pushing the elevator button is something exciting to ‘em.
“And as you get older and older, everything becomes routine everything becomes boring, and if you can find a little bit of wonder, then it always makes things more interesting.”
Dagg has been cleaning University Station for about five years, and said it is by far the most enjoyable after working at other LRT stations.
“One of the main things I like, especially at this station, is it’s just, with the students and so on, it’s nice because most of them are friendly,” he said. “They’ll smile, and then as they’re walking by, say ‘good morning.’”