The apparition of these faces in the crowd

Transports of Delight

It’s early morning at the station, and I’m standing with hordes of other commuters waiting for the train. It’s one of those dark, chilly mornings where the mood is bleak; everyone’s heading to work or to school, when they’d clearly rather be tucked up in bed. The train arrives and we silently file into the carriage.

It’s packed inside; full train. I get pushed down to the other side of the carriage, shoved in between some businessmen and school kids. Over near the priority seats, I see a guy I kind of know. Shane, the brother of one of my high school friends. I only met him a couple of times, years ago. Even then I only knew him as my friend’s autistic brother – mainly because every time she mentioned him, she would say, “You know, my brother, who’s autistic?” He sees me, and we wave at each other.

There’s that ‘bing bong’ sound that means the doors will be closing. Just then, we all see a schoolgirl desperately pelting across the train platform, running towards our door. Her rubber-soled shoes are thack-thacking on the pavers. Somebody presses the ‘open doors’ button in a futile gesture, but we know she doesn’t have enough time.

The doors begin closing. The schoolgirl is still a few feet away from the train. Oh, this is going to be heartbreaking – she’s going to hit the doors just as they close, and we’ll all feel sorry for her. But wait, she’s picking up speed, she’s launching herself at the doors – oh lord, there’s only a sliver of door left – but she’s through! The girl dove through the carriage doors just as they closed. That was amazing. Indiana Jones could not have done better. The girl stands panting, just inside the doors, red-faced and very pleased. She grins, like “I did it!” But then her face changes.

I watch her realise that her backpack is stuck outside the train.

The girl made it into the train, but her backpack did not. She’s still wearing it – the pack is still strapped to her back – but the doors have closed over it, trapping it outside. The train starts to glide forwards, and the girl begins to panic. She can’t move, she’s held in place by her enormous backpack. She wriggles and makes squeaky noises. No one in the crowded train moves to help her. Except one man.

It’s Shane, my friend’s autistic brother! He hollers, “KAITLYN! HELP ME!” as he pushes his way through the motionless commuters. His voice is loud against the hush of the crowded carriage. I spring to life and elbow my way forwards. We reach the girl, and Shane begins pulling on her backpack with all his might. I tug at the doors, trying to pry them apart. The girl strains forward on the shoulder straps, and all three of us struggle together. Finally her backpack pops free. Girl, backpack, Shane and me all tumble apart like bowling pins.

The girl whispers a quiet thanks while she adjusts her backpack, embarrassment already spreading over her cheeks. I know she’ll want to pretend that nothing ever happened; that’s what I wanted when I was a teenage girl. Shane and I move back to our respective spots in the carriage, our roles as hero and sidekick now finished.

The train glides along, uninterrupted, in its usual peak-hour austerity. Shane disembarks a couple of stops later, then the girl. I stand, packed in amongst the other sardine-people, keeping my balance as we sway around the bends. It’s a quiet, desperate morning. I try not to grin too much.

Advertisements

CityCycle

Transports of Delight

So Brisbane has this thing called CityCycle. It’s a kind of augmentation to public transit, with rows of identical bikes stationed all around the city. Each bike is locked to a metal post thingy, and can only be released once you type in your passcode on a computer thingy. (I’m getting technical here, don’t get left behind.) This week I gave CityCycle a try, to see if it could be a cheaper and more whimsical alternative to buses. I imagined the wind whipping through my hair as I cycled through Brisbane! The sun on my face! Oh, the nature!

OK, so the wind couldn’t really whip through my hair, because my hair was stuffed under an aerodynamic yellow helmet. But the sun on my face was lovely.

Mostly, CityCycle has been pretty good  For the price of two bus trips, I got a week’s worth of bike riding. And the bicycles themselves are pretty decent, although I don’t know how to adjust the seat height and therefore mostly feel like a large spider trying to use tiny pedals. The catch to the CityCycle thing is that the first 30 minutes of every journey is free, but if you keep it for more than 30 minutes you start paying dearly. The trick is to keep docking the bike at a CityCycle station every 29 minutes, and then re-hiring it. (Take that, system!) But basically, it’s not for long joyrides.

I rode a CityCycle to the shops yesterday, amid the frenzied Saturday crowds. And I became reacquainted with a rather unattractive side of my personality. See, here’s the thing: when I’m driving a car, I hate cyclists. But when I’m on a bike, I freaking hate motorists. It’s a convenient duality because no matter what I’m doing, the other people are wrong.

Cyclists. If you’re going to be on the road, claiming your status as ‘vehicle’, then you must be able to go the speed limit. If a car went ten kilometres an hour on a busy road and backed up all the traffic behind them, they would be arrested. Or at least, they should be. So, if you want to cycle on the road, at least approach the speed limit! Do this!

Motorists. Four wheels doesn’t mean you can be a douche-bag. Check your blind spots. Hi! That’s me there.

Being on a bicycle does tend to put you at a disadvantage on the road. The risk of injury is massively higher. (Which is why I was fear-mongered into wearing the hideous yellow, aerodynamic bike helmet. I tried to not wear it, but I just kept picturing a TV doctor gesturing to my brains smeared all over the bitumen.) Also, if you’re in Brisbane, there doesn’t seem to be any bicycle lane. Oh, there are cute stencils of bicycles all along the shoulders of the main roads, which seem to be indicating that this space is for cyclists. But the space between the parked cars on the left and the moving cars on the right is exactly the width of, oh, say, an open car door. It’s pretty easy to get ‘doored’. And while it looks hilarious in movies when Emily Blunt gets hit by cars, it is probably not that glamourous in real life. Probably. Maybe.

To surmise: I took a bicycle instead of the bus. I got all sweaty. My hair went weird. I yelled into some lady’s car window. And my groceries were knocked out of the basket by the uneven bitumen on the road’s shoulder. But, good lord, I felt alive! When it is an achievement to just make it home in one piece, your food tastes sweeter and the air seems fresher.

But next time I’m going anywhere where people will see my hair, I’m taking the bus.

 

The Forensic Psychiatrist

Transports of Delight

Plugging away at my iPhone on the train, I look up for a moment and catch an intriguing tableau.

A young teenage boy is sitting sandwiched between other passengers: a pair of older gentlemen on one side, and a man in a wifebeater on the other side. The older gentlemen are quietly discussing something, with their heads close together. Wifebeater Man is slouching, knees wide apart (one of the hallmarks of the male Public Person), with long slicked-back hair and a plaid shirt tied around his waist. But this isn’t what catches my eye.

The man in the wifebeater is reaching his arm across the boy, middle finger stuck determinedly in the air. He holds his arm straight out for a good minute, pointing his fist expectantly at the pair of older gents. But the gents don’t notice, so the tableau holds like this for a long pause, while the teenage boy sits awkwardly in the middle.

Finally, Wifebeater Man bellows “OY, LOOK AT THAT,” and when the gents notice him flipping them off, they roll their eyes and ignore him. Wifebeater Man cackles long and hard.

The teenage boy, evidently a very well-mannered teenage boy, assumes (as I do) that the man is friends with the older gents. The boy says to the man, “Sorry, did you want to sit next to them,” offering to trade seats. This is how Wifebeater Man replies:

“NAAAH, NAAAH, YOU’RE ALRIGHT. YOU LISTEN TO ME, SON, YOU MARRY YOUR MISSUS, YOU BECOME A DOCTOR OR SOMETHING, AND THEN ONE DAY, YOU’LL FIND YOU’RE A GRANDDAD!” More cackling. “I’M A FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST!”

The teenage boy looks like he doesn’t know how to respond to this, and smiles politely. (I’ve noticed during many Transports of Delight that Public People tend to latch onto teenagers when looking for targets to talk to, because younger people are generally flattered by the attention and aren’t yet cynical enough to ignore the crazy person.)

Wifebeater Man continues. “YOU GOTTA MISSUS? YOU GOTTA MISSUS IN YOUR LIFE?”

The boy, speaking so quietly that he can’t be heard by the whole train carriage, responds with a negative.

“SHE BROKE UP WITH YOU?”

The boy, a little louder now, says, “Other way round, actually.”

“AARRH, WELL, YOU GOTTA GET A MISSUS. AND YOU MARRY HER. I’M FIFTY YEARS OLD, YOU LISTEN TO ME. YOU’LL DO ALRIGHT. AAARRHAHAH.”

The boy asks, “Do you have a missus?”

Wifebeater Man grins and stretches himself out contentedly, and I know from years of experience that we’re about to be treated to a Tale of Woe.

“I HAD A MISSUS, YEP I HAD A MISSUS. BUT I LOST HER, SHE KICKED ME OUT. I LIVE, I LIVE ON THE STREETS, I’M A HOMELESS PERSON ON THE STREETS.”

I’m starting to feel bad now, not just because it turns out that this guy might be homeless. I mainly feel bad because I have serious doubts that he’s homeless. How much of a cynic have I become? My response to hearing that someone is having life troubles is suspicion? But then I remember that there are different types of homelessness that don’t involve sleeping rough. He’s probably moving from mate’s house to mate’s house, until he finds a place. This makes more sense, because he doesn’t look like he’s been sleeping under bridges.

But I never get to find out what kind of homeless he is, because at that moment we pull into Claremont Station. The teenage boy stands up and farewells Wifebeater Man, who waves him off good-naturedly. The man falls into silence for the rest of the journey. I go back to my iPhone.

Bogans on the Bus

Transports of Delight

I get on the bus, and it’s empty except for three other passengers. One man in very nice shoes is sat right up the front of the bus, looking like he’s trying to practise invisibility. The other two are a couple of clearly drunk middle-aged persons. I tag on and walk past Mr Nice Shoes. He stares straight ahead. I soon learn why.

As I’m about to pass the couple, the bleary-eyed man says “Heeeello” and reaches out a hand to grab at me. I dodge him, say “Hi”, and keep going. This from the Grabber: “F–k you c—t, I was only being polite.”

From my position far, far down the back of the bus, I now notice that the woman with the Grabber is holding a dirty Chux to her forehead. She starts a halting but firm diatribe at the man.

“Who are you … even though I’m with you … who ARE YOU to tell me … to tell me to shut up?”

Man: “Oh, here we go.”

Woman: “Who … are you …”

Man: “Heerre, suck on this.”

Woman: “I’m not sucking on anything! I’m bleeding!”

Man: “Just finish this [evidently meaning drink].”

Woman: “I won’t finish it! … We’ll share it.”

Man: “How will we share it with you … with you bllessshhudinuh?”

 

The woman suddenly shrieks at the bus driver. “SHUDDINAHHHERE? We gone past it?”

The bus driver, to his credit, calmly replies, “Yes, we stop at the train station.”

Woman: “This gaawdutha train station?”

Bus driver: “Yes [sigh], we stop at the train station.”

 

Me? I press the bell and get off at the next stop, no matter where the hell it is. Sorry to the bus driver and Mr Nice Shoes, you’re on your own.