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Published on September 22nd, 2006 | by Hans Fruck

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Tram Jaunt Goes Awry for Melbourne Commuter

 

A few weeks back, I took a tram ride into the Melbourne CBD. Little was I to know that this ride – in true movie-voice-over fashion – would become a journey of the spirit, an epic confrontation between urban planning and humankind, circumstance and will, public transport and Hans Sebastian Fruck.

It all started mundanely enough.

I was waiting at the Mt Erica tramstop on High St, in Prahran, when the tram pulled up 35m short of the actual stop. Not being a habitual tram user, I was a bit baffled as to whether I should diagonally cross the near lane and walk to the tram, or whether I should wait for the lights to change and for the tram to pull up at the stop. It struck me at the time that waiting for the tram to travel that extra 35m, and then stop again, would just delay the traffic piled up behind, and that it would be better if I just crossed to where the tram was, just short of the stop. On the other hand, I wondered, perhaps that sort of thing was frowned upon? Not to mention the fact that if the lights changed I didn’t want to get mowed down by motorists trying to drag off the tram before they were blocked in by parked cars on the other side of the intersection.

So I teetered on the edge of the kerb, momentarily flummoxed by one of those things that flummoxes me momentarily. I believe that my indecision was apparent to a goodly portion of the commuters already on the tram, who were idly watching my next move, as were all the motorists who were contemplating using the left lane to pull up parallel to the stopped tram. Feeling myself the object of much beady-eyed scrutiny, I became a bit flustered, dancing a little jig of indecision.

I’ve always fancied myself to be cut from the Indiana Jones cloth when negotiating peak-hour traffic. Decisive. No nancying around. A devil-may-care, merge-and-be-damned type of traveller. So with nothing less than my own self-image at stake, I decided to make a dash over the 35 perilous metres between me and the tram, hoping that the lights didn’t change before I got there, and that if they did, motorists would stop to let me pass rather than smear me all over their bullbars.

My mind, however, was a bit more agile than my feet. As bored commuters watched, I took two hasty steps toward the tram, turned my ankle on the kerb, and lurched sideways. One hand was holding my backpack, and my other hand was in my jacket pocket. This meant that I had no means of halting my sideways plunge headfirst into a little shrub, conveniently positioned on the footpath outside the Mt Erica pub.

The shrub in question was an attractive specimen, all green and glossy, and cropped into afro-like contours. It certainly looked harmless, and no doubt in most circumstances it was. However, plunging headfirst into it aren’t ‘most circumstances’. Once my head was embedded in the shrub, I found it’s branches were scratchy and quite painful. Fortunately, cobra-like reflexes saved me from scratching my eyeball, even if they saved me from nothing else. Still, sporting multiple tiny, but painful, abrasions, I extracted my head and right shoulder from the shrub.

The trunk of the shrub, you see, was encased in a fancy-schmancy wrought-iron enclosure.

It’s fair to say that those commuters who had witnessed my tangle with the High St greenery were quite amused. In this sort of situation, I’ve always felt that ferocious swearing is the best policy. It deters people from laughing at you too openly – just in case you should take umbrage and beat the shit out of them. Anyway, I refused to make eye contact, and after a brief spasm of salty talk, regrouped and made for the tram again.

But even the best-laid plans can sometimes come unstuck: I’d taken no more than one-and-a-half strides toward the tram, when I practically had my right shoulder torn off, and staggered backwards into the shrub again.

The trunk of the shrub, you see, was encased in a fancy-schmancy wrought-iron enclosure. I can only assume this was designed to protect the shrub should a motorist make an ill-conceived decision to mount the kerb and drive down the High St footpath. Or perhaps, less dramatically, it was meant to deter people from digging up the shrub and relocating its afro-splendidness to their back garden. Whatever the case, the shoulder-strap of my backpack had looped over one of the enclosure’s protruding wrought-iron prongs, nearly pulling me off my feet when I made my second ill-fated sprint for the tram.

Anyone who wasn’t chortling at me the first time was now definitely laughing up a storm. Even a rather genteel-looking elderly lady making her way along the footpath, who I would normally expect to offer some grandmotherly concern, just covered her mouth to hide her laughter. And in the column of traffic behind the tram, some wag tooted his or her horn a couple of times.

In retrospect, things had, in a few short seconds, descended into such absurdity that I should have just played it for laughs. Maybe I should have made a courtly bow or two to all the observers and had a good chuckle. However, at the time, I struggled to locate the humour in my repeated public humiliation, tending instead towards Vesuvian levels of rage – I was one degree off chewing my way through the wrought-iron casing and tearing the motherfucking shrub into a million pieces with my bare motherfucking hands, motherfucker.

But I resisted the urge, and probably just as well. It was already 2-0 shrub. Best to quit while I was behind.

Anyway, with exaggerated, pissed-off care, I unlooped my shoulder-strap from the wrought iron, and then – leaving a trail of shrub leaves behind me – for the third time attempted to cross High St to the tram, whose passengers were, by now, awaiting my arrival with bated breath. As I did so, a youngish, trendily dressed guy looked at me with utter contempt as he sauntered across the road and into the tram, consciously demonstrating to me – and to the 80 or so people watching – that this was how it was done, and only a fucking moron couldn’t work it out. In normal circumstances, I would have been affronted by a polo-shirted dude with that much gel in his hair looking at me like I was some previously undiscovered species of Wrong. But not wanting to make a bad situation worse, I just ignored him.

I peeked at the tram driver as I climbed the steps onto the tram. He was looking at me and shaking his head slightly. It’s hard to explain his exact expression: it was kind of bemused and disdainful, but also suggested that long experience had so resigned him to the shitness of people like me that he could no longer muster a full-blown headshake. I ignored him, too, and manoeuvred my way through the tram. In the process I inadvertently hit a seated woman in the face with my backpack. I turned to apologise, when the tram abruptly jerked into motion, sending me reeling backwards into the passenger standing behind me.

Having observed my tangle with the shrub, and then my pinball-like progress through the tram, other passengers – probably assuming I was off-my-tits drunk – were quick to give me an unimpeded path to the ticket machine. The whole ticket-purchasing process went pretty much according to plan, except for the 20-cent piece I dropped, which rolled noisily all over the tram before, judging by the clatter it made, coming to rest somewhere near one of those crosshatched metal floorplates.

Ticket in hand, I made my way to a validating machine, but (I promise this isn’t a metaphor, it really happened) I couldn’t get it to validate. I’m there, redfaced and sweating, squinting at the diagram on the validating machine, trying to make sense of the fucker. I’m pretty sure I’m putting the card in the right way, but it won’t accept it. Then I figure I’m inserting the card on the wrong angle, so I try again, and again. And again… until the Asian dude sitting next to the machine snatches the ticket out of my fingers, reverses it, and inserts it into the machine, which beeps happily. Wordlessly, the dude plucks the ticket out of the machine and gives it to me. I thank him and promptly flee the scene of my invalidation, hunting out a seat in the furthest corner of the tram, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.

The rest of my tram journey was uneventful. I managed to complete it without further molesting or tackling either shrubs or passengers, or otherwise inciting scorn from my fellow human beings – something for which I was exceedingly grateful.

But now, after the event, I’m tempted to spout wise, to extrapolate, to philosophise, to excavate for greater meaning, to get all Wonder Years for the benefit of you lot, the slack-jawed pieces of shit who read this site. So what lesson can I discern in all this? Well, mangs, pull up your chairs, unlid your pens, and open your minds…

Many people – weaker-willed specimens than me – would have abandoned the whole tram-journey idea, and beaten a hasty retreat homeward, where they could recover from their mortification in private. I did not do this. It takes more than a shrub – even a trendy, wrought-iron-encased one – to stop me jumping on a tram if that’s what I want to do.

It’s hard to explain (maybe you had to be there), but in a few short seconds, it became about more than just the tram, the shrub, or me. The whole scenario transcended the banality of its origins. Became a symbol, if you will. I was a mang trying to negotiate the tortuous twists and pitfalls of an indifferent urban jungle. And whether it’s greenery, the vagaries of public transport, or the shitness of urban planning, it will all bend before my will.

Brute inanimacy, blind circumstance, and heedless functionality may impede me, frustrate me, and humiliate me. But. But in the end…

In. The. End.

In.

The.

End.

In the end, by god, I will prevail.


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