(c) Kaitlyn Plyley 2013

Why catching public transport has made me a better person

Posts, Selected Posts

Transports of DelightCatching public transport has made me a better person. Rather than driving a car, rather than careening in my private space down crowded streets, surrounded but kept separate from everyone else – rather than this, I catch public transport, and I am better than I was before.

I don’t have my own personal stereo system anymore. I can’t sing along to the radio at the top of my lungs. I have to sit on seats that have been sat on by many, many other people – some of whom are frequently sweaty – and keep my knees together, my lips closed, my thoughts to myself. I have to think of others. I have to save up my smiles for strangers. I have to thank the driver. I love thanking the driver. A small thank-you and a wave for taking me to the place I want to go, for being a part of my journey, for not shouting at me when I didn’t have the correct change. Thanks for opening the door, thanks for not killing us on Coronation Drive. Just, thanks.

I don’t get to places quickly anymore. I don’t have the luxury of leaving whenever I want. I have to wait for buses. I have to wait. I have to find a spot in the shadow of the bus-stop shelter where the sun doesn’t hit me at full noon but where I can still watch the curve of the road for the oncoming bus. I sit in the shade of an old tree, on the cement border of a garden, on the flat grass next to the bench. I sit and I wait. I watch the road. I check my phone. And if I’m not too busy typing or texting or trying to find a tune that perfectly fits my mood, I look up at the sky. I often look at the clouds, watch them – they’re actually moving. I see them moving. I can watch one cloud shift from the left of the sky to the right, scudding past and changing shape and morphing into something completely different but equally beautiful and I question everything I think about the nature of reality. I ponder god. I ponder life. I stare at the sky until the sun is burned in starbursts onto my vision, and then the bus is heaving into the stop and I’m stumbling up to flag it down.

(c) Kaitlyn Plyley 2013

Taken from a bus stop.

I don’t have my personal space anymore. I can’t pile as many things as I want into my car, carry the heaviest of bags, shift junk from one place to the other without thinking about it, because I have to think about it. I have to think about whether I will be able to get a seat, or whether I’ll be standing, and whether my my bags of junk might swing around and hit some poor older woman sitting near me who was just trying to get down the shops for a cuppa with her daughter visiting from Ipswich. I don’t have the luxury of not caring. I don’t have the ability to shut people out. I have to see them, all of them, the worst and the creepiest and the smelly. I have to breathe in the smell of cigarettes, even though I hate cigarettes. I have to listen to shouted phone conversations and loud school students and brassy ladies on their way out on the town. I am tired and I wish it were quiet, and the girl sitting in front of me stretches forward to press the button for an old man who couldn’t reach it. He twists his burn-scarred face and says, “Thank you”. She smiles, turns in profile; her purple fringe swings into her face. “No worries,” she says.

I don’t have control anymore. I have no say in how fast we go or when we get there or how many red lights we blow. I grip the back of the seat in front of me; I am terrified. I am elated. I want to throw my hands in the air like a roller-coaster rider when the bus driver hurls us down the hills of Kelvin Grove with the brakes completely untouched, hurtling through the suburbs and squealing into stops at the last second. I don’t know if we’ll make that corner. I don’t know if we’ll hit that car. I have lost control, and as a strange result, I am more punctual. I turn up on time, early – so early that I have time to meander down the street and take a breath in the doorway and stop for a drink of water before I arrive. I leave plenty of time to be late; I don’t trust the bus. I shouldn’t have trusted the car, when I had it, but I thought I was in control. I thought I could speed up a little if I was running late. I thought I could plan the journey to the minute. I was wrong, so wrong, and I was a bad friend, a tardy employee, and a flushed and stressed student. I was always running in just on time: “Traffic on the freeway”, “Ergh, no parking anywhere”. Now, I look out the window before I leave the house and think, “Huh, it’s raining. Allow an extra half-hour for the bus.” It’s annoying, but it’s better. I’m better, and when I arrive I’m relaxed and clear-eyed.

I’m looking around instead of looking at the road. I’m people-watching instead of fuming at people. I’m having a chat with the businessman whose briefcase is crammed in next to me, instead of trying to text while I steer with my knees. (Yeah, I used to do that. Another reason why it’s better I catch the bus.) I’m alert, paying attention, and watching my back when I walk home at night. Because I know I’m not safe; I know I’m out in the big, wide world and I am careful. I don’t have a protective bubble of glass and steel around me, tricking me into thinking I am untouchable. I am vulnerable, dependent, trusting that the people around me with treat me with care: the bus driver, the passengers, the other drivers on the road. I trust them. I have to. And it has made me better.

I never could have guessed any of this when I was watching my old Ford Festiva be towed out of the mechanic’s lot. I never could have guessed, while I was waving goodbye to my symbol of independence, my status as a car-owner in an increasingly car-oriented society, that I would eventually be grateful. That I would be kind of glad that I bought a lemon, that my beloved ’96 Festiva (“Jeff” to his friends) would conk out on the side of the Mitchell Freeway and never get going again. Not having a car has limited my life in terms of geography and distance – I can’t drive up the coast on a whim or live a ridiculous distance from work – but it has expanded my life in other ways. My heart, or something. So, bus drivers: seriously, thanks.

We can be heroes

Transports of Delight

Transports of Delight

I remember thinking, I don’t want to sit near them. They stink of cigarettes and stale clothing. I move further up the bus, perching on a seat high up the back. I can see the only other passengers riding with me today: those two down the front (the smokers) and an elderly woman sitting in front of me. I settle in for the bus ride, gazing out the window, no more thought for my fellow commuters.

A lazy fifteen minutes later, my attention is jerked back into the present when someone in the bus starts yelling. At first, I can’t tell who it is; I can only see the backs of heads. Then one of the stinky people – a man in a dirty grey shirt – shifts as he yells, belligerent, moving his chin up and down. I’m not sure who the target of his abuse is … Until I notice the soft whines coming in response to the man’s abuse. They’re coming from the person sitting next to him. I almost didn’t notice her – I think because she wants it that way. She is a big girl but she is hunched right down in her seat, head down, bowed before the the filthy stream of language the man is spewing at her. I catch some of what he’s saying to her:

“You’re a dumb bitch. You’re a dumb bitch. You’re a dumb bitch. It’s women like you – no, it’s women like you – who fark it up for everyone … MAKE THE CALL. MAKE THE CALL … So he raped you, so make the call. You’re so farking stupid. What about my daughter, eh? What about that? You don’t think. Dumb bitch.”

The girl rises in her seat and scuttles away from him, into a seat across the aisle. He meets this show of defiance with sarcastic laughter. “Oh, oh! And where are you going?” She makes another whining sound, which he brays over.

My fingernails are digging into my palms. I feel the flush rising up the back of my neck. This is one of those moments that will pass, and later I’ll think, “I should have done something”. I rise up, out of my seat. Take a couple steps towards the front of the bus. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I get there, but my temper is up and that is such a rarity that I’m curious. What could I do? Could I step in? Maybe we can be heroes … (Okay, I need to stop repeat-listening to Bowie.)

What actually happens when I reach the back of Dirty Grey Shirt’s seat, is that the bus pulls into its final stop. The doors open next to me, and I automatically turn to exit. I don’t know, if we had pulled into the stop a few minutes later, would I have found my voice? Would I have done something heroic? I strode down the busway, thinking, Coward.

Dirty Grey Shirt exits the bus behind me, still bawling out his girlfriend. I walk faster, teeth clenched, and head for the lift. I don’t want to listen to another second of it. But as the lift arrives, I get in and turn around. And there they are: Dirty Grey Shirt and his battered looking girl, shuffling into the lift behind me. I hesitate, aware that I am now trapping myself in a small metal box with them. But something says, this must be faced.

It’s just the three of us in the lift: the girl is cowering in a corner, and Dirty Grey Shirt is eyeing me (well, slightly south of my face). He moves his bulk (beer gut and all) into my space, intimidating. I hold up the flat of my hand and say, “You need to back up right now.” He dances back a little, bulk wobbling, still murmuring in what he evidently believes to be a charming tone.

“You’re not a movie star, are you,” he says to me.

“No,” I grind out.

“Yeah. You don’t look like one.”

I bite back any response. Won’t do to provoke him when we’re in such close quarters. Grey Shirt keeps trying to pull me into a conversation, but I look over at the girl. She meets my eyes from under that mess of black hair and shapeless beanie, and for a moment we just stare at each other. I can’t remember ever seeing such naked despair, so close to me. Not just the misery, but the hopelessness. I have an impulse to put an arm around her shoulder and lead her gently away. But something tells me she wouldn’t accept it.

As the lift doors open, Dirty Grey Shirt grunts a reprimand at me, “Well fark, thanks for being so farking friendly.” And I let my temper snap.

I turn on him. “I don’t appreciate hearing you–” finger jab “calling her horrible names on the bus and speaking to her that way.” Jab, jab. “Treat her a bit better!” I shout that last bit at his back as he shambles away, unperturbed. Other people on the concourse look embarrassed. (My protest looks pretty lame when written down in text, and let’s face it, was probably pretty lame when I said it.) The girl has skittered away in front of Dirty Grey Shirt, clearly wishing to avoid a scene. As if there would be a scene. Even my rage-fueled diatribe was polite and carefully worded. I can’t believe that, in moments of righteous anger, I still lapse into the same patterns of speech I used when working in childcare. Starting with how I feel, using specific examples of inappropriate behaviour, and delivering a positive directive for improvement. Sheesh.

I can tell you, in my head I was using all sorts of foul language on him. In my head, I was giving him the serve of a lifetime. But it occured to me that he’s used to that; swear words have lost currency with him. I’d hoped that a relatively polite dressing-down might get through to him. But it obviously didn’t. The despair that I saw in that girl’s eyes – I don’t know how to touch that. If any of what Grey Shirt was ranting about was true, then she’s going through hell. I wanted to be a hero, but I didn’t know how to save her.

I hope she’s okay.

What Is That Sound?

Posts, Transports of Delight

I discovered something interesting on the weekend. I have a high level of emotional intelligence.

There’s a test you can take to determine this, and my Emotional Intelligence Quotient scored pretty high. I am, in fact, probably more emotionally intelligent than you. I am definitely more emotionally intelligent than my boyfriend (who also took the test) – and I will make sure he never forgets it.

In fact, I am so emotionally intelligent – so very much so – that I knew exactly how to handle an uncomfortable situation on the bus today.

The bus was trundling toward the city, and I was sitting down the front, enjoying my window seat. It was a cold, sunny day in Brisbane today – the type that’s beautiful with a cruel, glittering kind of beauty. It was warm inside the bus, so I was content. As we plunged beneath the city, into the subterranean busway, I started to hear a small noise coming from the back. It was a faint, staccato sound, repeating every few seconds. A small ftss.

Ftss.

Ftss.

I did not turn around. The sound was getting more insistent as we swung past the Queen Street Mall bus stop and up towards daylight. There it was again.

Ftss.

I supposed we had a sufferer of Tourette’s Syndrome on board. No worries – we had someone with Tourette’s in one of my lectures at uni. Once you got past the fact that someone to your left was grunting ‘Hup!’ over every third word the lecturer said, it became nothing more than lecture hall ambience.

Now the sound had gotten out of its seat and was moving towards the front of the bus, becoming more audible.

Ftss. Fksk. FKSK. FUCK’S SAKE!

The sound belonged to a smartly dressed young man with far too much gel in his hair, who evidently wanted to disembark in the city. But this bus didn’t stop in the city – it passed right through on its way to the eastern suburbs. Now Pointy Hair had realised this, and was approaching the bus driver.

As the bus cruised through the last set of traffic lights before the motorway entrance, there was a quiet conversation. It suddenly became loud.

‘I NEED TO GET OUT HERE.’

‘I CAN’T LET YOU OUT ON THE ROAD.’

‘LET ME OUT!’

The bus driver – a tough, middle-aged woman with beefy arms and an operatic voice – yanked the bus vindictively over to the kerb. She leaned on the steering wheel and glared at Pointy Hair.

‘THIS BUS DOES NOT. STOP. IN THE CITY!’

The young man was much calmer now that the bus had stopped. He tried to swipe his Go Card to tag off, but the machine hadn’t registered the stop.

He asked, ‘Could you please turn your machine on?’

‘READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’

Meanwhile, two other passengers stood up, the ones who were also on the wrong bus but had chosen to bear it with dignity. Now they were rushing the doors with relieved looks on their faces.

The bus driver was livid. ‘AW LOOK,’ she thundered at Pointy Hair, ‘NOW EVERYONE’S GETTING OUT!’

‘Could you please turn your machine on.’

The bus driver finally switched on the machine, and Pointy Hair and the others quickly tagged off. They exited the bus followed by the bellows of the bus driver: ‘READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS! READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’

As the shell-shocked survivors of her wrath scattered on the sidewalk, the bus driver threw a foul look into her rear-view mirror – as if daring any of us to ding the bell – then heaved us back onto the road. We rode onto the motorway in a silence that could’ve combusted. I kept waiting for her to shout at us like a pissed-off teacher who’s just sent the naughty kids to the principal, but still needs to vent. I was waiting for, ‘THAT’S WHY YOU ALWAYS READ THE FRONT OF THE BUS!’ But it never came. It was probably saved up for whoever was waiting for her at home, god rest their soul.

Now, because of my heightened emotional intelligence, I was able to handle this situation very well. (Clearly these EIQ tests are extremely accurate.) When presented with a highly charged atmosphere and a conflict situation, I reacted with the grace and style of someone who has aced the emotional intelligence test.

I ducked down in my seat and tried to stop the tears from coming.

Yep. Watery eyes and a trembling bottom lip. Frightened of the bus driver. That’s the mark of an emotionally superior being, right there. Boom. Take notes everyone, ‘cos this is how we do.

 

NY Train Driver

Transports of Delight

I don’t know about you, but I can get really bored at work. You know – it’s a slow day, no one’s around, you’re exhausted from staying up last night to watch an entire season of True Blood … Hey, don’t judge. So, maybe you whip out your smartphone and flip through Facey for a while. These things happen! But – if you’re like me and you’re an Arts graduate with a double-major in English and ‘creative flair’ – your job probably doesn’t affect many lives. I mean, when I’m handing out perfume samples at the Indooroopilly shopping centre, no one’s going to die if I sneakily play Bejewelled behind a counter.

Train drivers, on the other hand … ‘Not looking down’ is a rather vital part of their job description.

Nicole from NMNPHX (a blog I recommend checking out) brought a rather pertinent news story to my attention. A train driver in New York was recently suspended from his job for reading the newspaper at work. A passenger uploaded a video online of him reading the paper – cover to cover! – while he drives the train. In the video, filmed through the window in the driver’s door, you can see the driver occasionally glance up at the track, then go back to reading the paper in his lap. Ouch. That’s pretty irrefutable.

Oh, mister train driver. I know work can be hell. But when your job requires you to look at things in front of the train, maybe you could find an activity that doesn’t make it near-impossible to look at things in front of the train. There’s books on MP3! The radio! You could invent your own freestyle raps. Just don’t read the bloody paper.

This story has made me wonder if train drivers getting trolled by passengers is a common thing. I know I’ve uploaded a photo of a bus driver reading the paper between stops, but I wasn’t trying to get him fired. I just thought it was too amazing not to share. I’d love to know if anyone has heard of similar stories – my comment board is always open.

 

Skaters Gon' Skate

Transports of Delight

Apologies for the quietness lately. I started a new job, which has been taking up much of my time. This job is a bit special, because one of its perks is limitless ice skating. That’s right, ice skating. In the middle of Brisbane, Australia. Ice.

At first I was terrified of setting foot on the slipperyness. I’m not the kind of person who is known for their grace. I trip over thin air. So, I figured I had no chance at all on ice. But, dammit, I was going to give it a shot.

And I did not fall over! Not even once!

Granted, I was leaning heavily on a sled (a sled designed for toddlers who are still learning to walk).

But I kept my balance! And eventually I graduated to skating without any kind of crutch. It was a proud moment. I wish my parents could have seen me.

I actually do wish that, because my folks grew up in America and always had their own ice skates; some of my earliest memories are of family holidays in the States, with my parents trying to convince me to enjoy sliding around in the snow. I was a child of tropical north Queensland – I did NOT like this cold stuff. Wearing all those layers confused me; why couldn’t I walk around in my underwear all the time? We did back home! Cold climes were not for me.

But luckily, people change. Now I quite like the ol’ ice rink. Sure, it still feels unnatural to strap blades to the bottom of your feet and skitter around on them, but I’m learning. Perhaps this will be my new favourite way of getting around.

In some places, ice skating could be a legitimate mode of transport. In Holland, for example, they all seem to be born with their feet on the ice. I was in the Netherlands a few years ago, visiting a friend for a week. I just happened to arrive in the midst of headline-making Dutch weather. The canals had frozen over for the first time in 12 years. For over a decade, no one had seen that much ice. Then, suddenly, EVERYTHING was frozen!

Edam, Holland. 2009.

That’s a lotta frozen.

All the locals in Edam, where my friend lives, were ditching work and grabbing their skates. People were skimming along the narrow waterways that run through the fields, their hands clasped behind their backs. My friend and her family kitted me out with some spare skates and dragged me to the nearest lake.

I was terrified. That thing about me not liking the cold? It was kicking my ass. If my friend hadn’t pulled me bodily along the ice, I would have just crouched in the middle of the frozen lake until it melted. Images of terror-stricken people falling through the ice were tearing through my head. Even the mental vision of Bear Grylls doing naked push-ups to demonstrate how to survive in arctic wilderness wasn’t doing it. And that image usually solves any problem.

After a while, my friend suggested we skate to the riverbank for a rest. (She was probably tired out from pulling my dead weight up and down the lake.) The ice looked much thinner near the shore. I nervously hung back and watched her casually glide to the edge of the frozen part. Under her weight, the sheet of ice we were standing on suddenly plunged downwards, and water whooshed up from underneath, spilling across the ice and the riverbank. I whimpered in fear. My friend merely prodded the dark ice with the tip of her skate blade and said in her charming Dutch accent, “Okay, here is good.”

She walked right off the ice and sat down on the grassy bank. I quivered after her. Other Dutch people were watching me while they unwrapped their lunches. They were smiling slightly, as if I was the weird one. They were picnicking on a snowy riverbank! Meanwhile, children and toddlers skated dreamily past me.

I didn’t understand the Dutch fascination with ice skating. I thought it was a terrifying and needlessly dangerous leisure activity. But now that I’ve had some more practice, I can appreciate how beautiful it is to glide around on an expanse of glittering white.

Now, if Queensland ever experiences some inclement weather and the Brisbane River freezes over, I’ll be ready.

I’ll be ready.

Edam, Holland. 2009.

Standing completely still with no help: An achievement.

ToD gets a Versatile Blogger Award

Transports of Delight

Nicole over at NMNPHX has kindly nominated Transports of Delight for a Versatile Blogger Award! That is this humble transport blog’s first award, huzzah!VBA image, courtesy of NMNPHX.wordpress.com

I would like to say a huge thank you to Nicole for this unexpected compliment. I’ve been following her blog for a while and it’s well worth a read. She’s written a very handy post on the Versatile Blogger Award, if you would like to find out more about it. Here’s the link: http://wp.me/p1B9zn-8C

One of the rules of the VBA, I have been told, is that the nominee must share seven personal facts. So, here are seven facts about myself:

  1. My last car was named Jeff, and I loved him like a brother.
  2. I like to anthropomorphise things.
  3. I have a degree in English and Communication Studies.
  4. Sometimes, while on the bus, I hum to myself. Usually the Bed Intruder song.
  5. I once stood inside a rainbow.
  6. I have a human brother, and he deeply resented my last car.
  7. Transports of Delight was conceived after I performed one of my transport tales in Barefaced Stories, at Perth’s 2012 Fringe World festival. (My performance was featured on ABC’s 7:30 Report for precisely two seconds, in the background, with the sound turned down low. I am immensely proud of this.)