I love trams and trains, not so keen on buses and I’m an avid people watcher, especially these days with passengers’ social media habits. Who hasn’t enjoyed listening to someone’s mobile phone conversation delivered at the top of their voice, detailing how they have just been dumped by/dumped some %^$&hole who ^&(*&^% them? Or how they fucked over their boss? Classic. Or enjoyed seeing some jerk walk into a closed door or miss their stop because they were too busy checking the stalk book status of some person they met somewhere sometime and about whom they don’t give a rat’s clacker, but – MUST CHECK NOW.
Given where I live, hearing such a variety of languages, on occasion even another language which I know enough to understand. And simply the general weirdness of social interactions in a culture where private and public boundaries have dissolved and people interact and speak as though in their living rooms or bed rooms and not in a public space surrounded by strangers. Mind you, most are too immersed in their own social media bubble to notice whereas, being a relic from an earlier age, I do notice as I read my book (or pretend to) and daydream and look.
And sometimes check my phone, I confess it. MUST BE CONNECTED.
But I digress. How do I attract them, the strangers who are happy to share their intimacies with me? Okay, I am not sitting in a private bubble of music and/or text and I am genuinely interested in people’s stories [writers are ruthless collectors, aren’t we?]. Also if I see someone ‘weird’ ambling along, I do not automatically lower my eyes; only if they look weird and dangerous. Maybe they can see my own secrets etched in the lines of my face?
Sometimes I leave the tram or train and reflect. Yes, I reflect how lucky I am to have survived what life has thrown at me, but more than that.
Like a few months ago, last tram home from Saint Kilda, the tram of the drunks and the loners and a few couples absorbed in each other. A clearly mentally distressed and aggressive guy sat across from me and a space cleared around him in an instant. He barked and yelled and glared at me and I looked and said nothing and as he staggered off, he looked me in the eyes and said with utmost clarity ‘You’re cool, man.’
Did he see? Could he tell? I have seen much worse.
And I become the receiver of stories of exes (none of them any good, surprise, surprise), drugs, mental illness, crap relationships, how they’re ‘doing much better now’ or rants about *#^+$# politicians. The last is fair enough: political discourse in Oz is the pits. I will not listen to racist or sexist rants or political rants. All else, let it rip! They come to me like seagulls to a chip – how grateful are the other passengers as they see the weirdos’ radar lock onto me as soon as they step aboard and shuffle their way towards me.
What brought on my musing today? Coming home on my Brunswick tram a couple, both heavily tattooed, she anorexic skinny and twitchy, he all muscle shirt and bravado, told me (she articulately, he with grunted agreements) how God had saved them from drugs and prison and how he/she could save me too (good luck with that, mate) and how the guy hoped one day to get access again to his son. She told how she was learning to cook and how she was getting him to ‘stop eating shit’. It was fascinating to see how the skinny woman was the dominant personality and muscles followed along. Sad stories. All true? Maybe. It is their version of reality and for now it serves them well.
How many of our own stories are true? Don’t we all continually re-invent our past? Don’t you? Talking to strangers, safe in the knowledge we will never see them again?
How do you react to strangers on a train? Avoid them? Or listen and reflect? What stories have you heard and what stories have you told them?
I’m glad they chose me and I’m glad I listened.