I like to take public transport whenever I can. Not only is it better for the environment, but I find that my day is uplifted when I engage with strangers.
Over the years, I have caught ferries, trains and buses with a litany of characters, all of whom taught me a great deal.
There was Dawn, resplendant with her toothless grin, colourful dress sense and fascinators. She befriended me when my daughter was a baby, and was my companion on many a bus adventure. She would borrow money, and return it to my letterbox as soon as she could. I remember one time at the bus stop, she proudly showed me what she had gotten on sale from the chemist shop. There was makeup, but also a tube of Vagisil. When she pulled it out of its container, the man next to us on the seat was noticeably alarmed, and more so when this older lady went into great detail about she and her husband’s sex life! “My poor old vag!” she shrieked, then roared with laughter. I was taken aback when I saw a parcel in my letterbox, wrapped in a bag from the chemist’s. I prayed that she wasn’t sharing her tube of Vagisil with me, and was greatly relieved when it turned out to be a bottle of perfume! It was around this time that she invited me to a party at her place for her birthday. I was touched by her invitation, and dutifully arrived at kick-off. I rapped on her door, and her husband gruffly called out to “come in!” I did as he asked, only to find him sitting on the toilet with the door open, his trousers around his ankles! I asked after Dawn, and he said he didn’t know anything about a party, and that she was down the street, drinking beer and playing the polkies. I made a hasty exit, I can assure you! She passed away a few years ago, and many folk she’d met on the bus came to pay their respects.
There was another lady, Jean, whom I met during an hour-long ride to our local hospital. She was in her 80’s and volunteered there, taking the trip a few times a week. It kept her active and agile, she said. After her shift, she would walk for kilometres to keep her bones healthy and her mind sharp.
I met a woman in her 90’s, who’d been a dancer at the Trocadero in Sydney, over seventy years ago. She was quite well known back then, she assured me. She still had the composure and essence of a showgirl.
I met men who were widowers, and wrote instructions as to how to prepare easy and nutritious meals for themselves. I learned about their partner’s, and about their life together. Unforgettable stories of love conquering all. Even death itself couldn’t destroy the legacy of the life they’d shared.
I’ve chatted to teenagers, and taken notes (or should have), as to what music and fashion is in, and what their thoughts are on certain issues. It is always enlightening.
Today I met a dear lady, Madeline, who was waiting at the stop to get home. Radiant in a purple dress and glasses, she held an electric-blue walking stick. She is on the public system’s waiting list for further surgery, and in a lot of pain. This little Italian women told me of her family, and her place out at Orangeville, where she grows all her own vegetables and fruit. I could almost taste the tomatoes, as she described serving them with balsamic vinegar and basil leaves for lunch.
I have met performers, who entertained a carriage full of weary train travellers. There is nothing a performer likes better than a captive audience. My daughter practiced crying on queu in crowded trains for her drama class. It’s a great training ground for a career in the arts! I have been captivated by a songstress singing opera, and young men singing spiritual’s.
Last weekend, I travelled with two mothers on the train. One mum brings her daughter to a class in Sydney each Saturday from Bathurst, and the other brings her teen from the Central coast! Huge dedication from these mums, and quite inspiring. They would do anything to fulfil their child’s passion. As a parent, there is nothing quite like the joy of your child finding something that feeds their soul. Lunches and snacks are packed, as are books. They told me that it’s a luxury to be able to daydream whilst looking out the window, or have a nap after a busy week at work. It is indeed a gift, to be able to slow down for those precious hours and connect with their child. To just be, instead of do.
I have sat with new (and exhausted) parents and their babies, frail travellers, heartbroken lovers, the homeless and those in business suits. I have made eye contact with a reluctant girl who just wanted to disappear, and also those whom have wanted to be seen. At the end of the day, I guess we all want to be visible. To have courtesy extended to us, and have our stories heard. We all crave a smile and kind word. Public transport allows us the opportunity to have an impact on a stranger’s life. We may turn their day around with our actions. Every where I go, I look for the Dawn’s; those with raucous laughs and fabulous tales. I also search for the recalcitrant, the lonely and sad. People are complex… People are amazing. Life is hard at times. We need each other. A community can come into being on a train carriage or bus. Community can be brought to life on a ferry. Every journey is an opportunity for connection.