Broken Bay Writers – Stories of NSW Central Coast and beyond

Scribbles on life, the universe and everything… Woy Woy, Ettalong, Umina and teh Central Coast that is!

Save the strain, take the train!


Monday morning, 6:30 am:

Prowling through an alien environment full of strange folk. I am feeling apprehensive, there is an intense quiet. There appears to be rules, a well understood order of things. The only seat left is next to a middle aged woman. Her shoulder bag is on the seat next to her and she seems to be asleep.

I stop and clear my throat. She does not flinch. I feel, somewhat strangely, she is aware of my presence. I say “excuse me”, my voice timid, not really wanting to wake a sleeping person. No reaction. I stand awkwardly as the train departs. It is over an hour to my destination and I really don’t want to stand all the way. Another passenger is sitting on the stairs at one end, perhaps I should sit on the stairs at the other end.

Suddenly a sense of injustice rises in me and I speak louder “EXCUSE ME”. She glares straight at me! Her reaction was not what I expected for someone wrenched from sleep. “I wonder if might move your bag so I can have the last seat in the carriage”. She snatches her bag and wraps her arms around it on her lap. Welcome to the world of commuters!

On the three main arterial train lines into Sydney, people travel up to two and a half hours, each way, every work day. When you think about it, up to five hours of their 16 waking hour day is spent in that seat. More than 30% of their day, 62.5% of the amount of time they will work that day (71.4% if they work in a 35 hour week job). We are not talking about a seat on a train for these curios creatures, this is a world that is not home and not work. This is the Twilight Zone!

The commuter is a creature of habit. They catch the same train, in the same carriage and the same seat every day. Occasionally their daily routine is busted by some ignorant interloper that has blundered unwittingly into the Twilight Zone. The routine starts from the time they leave home. They park in the same place or catch the same bus to the station. Commuters line the platform, standing on the same mark every morning.

The tricky part for the new commuter or innocent day tripper is to understand the rules of the Twilight Zone. Once encapsulated in that time machine, thrusting towards the city at speed, the game is on. Space and noise dictate the rules.

The foibles of commuters to reserve their “patch” would be considered rude in any other community situation. The space conscious commuter uses several ruses to maintain an empty seat next to them. All techniques use a common tool, the “death stare”. This is the commuter’s form of intimidation.

The “Aisle sitter”. They sit in the aisle seat. Most people will look for the easy line so they avoid having to ask to step over the aisle sitter. Typically an aisle sitter will move to the coveted window seat when it is obvious someone is gunning for “their” empty seat.

There is the “bag people”. They leave their bag on the spare seat, thus requiring the day tripper to ask them to move the bag. Some bag people use the environmental shopping bags with spare cardigans etc just to make it look harder to relocate their stuff. Variations on the theme include the use of coats and notebook computers.

The advanced commuter couples these techniques with the appearance of being asleep. We are all conditioned to be careful of waking a sleeping person. It may be that they are asleep as many commuters catch up on “shut eye” on the train. This makes the ruse more effective as they may really be asleep. You can usually tell when you wake them. The look on their face is much more akin to the look on your partner’s face when you wake them in the night. When you disturb the commuter who is “faking it”, they seem very alert and usually accompany their next few movements with liberal amounts of “hurrrumpppp” noises.

Noise is a major issue for commuters. Snoring, electronics and conversations will bring the wrath of the commuters down on you like a ton of bricks!

Occasionally, a group of people who do not regularly commute will have a loud conversation. This will be met with severe disdain, and stares that will bore holes in the back of the perpetrator’s heads. Commuters know that they really cannot stop these people so intimidation is used with mild effect. Sometimes the invader gets the hint but typically these people chat and laugh with impunity for the entire journey. This will send the average commuter to work with a headache and a very grumpy mood. You will notice that seasoned commuters rarely chat, if so it is very brief and very quiet.

Noisy electronics is an misdemeanor that will bring on the full wrath of the commuter. There are two distinct situations; the tinny “tish, tish tish” of “ear bud” earphones and noisy mobile phones. Commuters will make their displeasure known in no uncertain terms. This reaction often amazes of the uninitiated perpetrator of the noise crime.

The snorer presents a curious circumstance to the commuter. Snorers may be regular commuters. Thus, one of them. A seasoned commuter would never break the noise rules of chatting or electronic gadgets. However, being a snorer is usually something you just can’t change. If they are infrequent or quiet snorers, they will be a bit of a joke but accepted. The loud snorer will not be tolerated. I have experience in this exact matter.

I was traveling from Blackheath to Sydney as a commuter years ago. I have sleep apnea and snore very loudly. It was early in the morning and I was exhausted. I could not stay awake. I was awoken by something lightly hitting my chest. I awoke to find a paper airplane on my lap. I looked about the carriage, the commuters were all staring straight ahead, books and papers held up. Nobody was making eye contact. It was obvious everyone in the carriage was aware of the airplane landing on my lap. The note said” Please stay awake, you snore like a chainsaw”… I was somewhat surprised by the politeness of this missive.

Perhaps commuting requires some creative thinking by the railways people.I have often though that a Gym carriage would be a good thing. With at least 1 hour each way used sitting on the train, a workout could be good use of time. I do wonder about the habitual nature of the commuter, how would the line ups for equipment go? At least there would be no snoring going on in that carriage.

Sleeper bunks could also be useful. Perhaps carriages could have a cone of silence for talkative travelers. An afternoon bar seems to be a useful idea for the weary commuter. I remember many years ago when the “smokers” carriage was a part of the commuting scene. A cell, thick with an acrid London fog was the party place on the train. A non-smoker had to choose between the prudish non-smoking carriage, or choke to death in a carcinogenic atmosphere where the hedonistic “fun crowd” hung out. I don’t understand why there were no “fun crowds” in the non-smoking carriages, albeit without the dreaded smoke.

Shuffling up the exit ramp of Woy Woy station of an evening, I look at the hundreds of people around me, drawn to the exit barriers like cows to the milking shed. I am now one of them. I understand the rules and play by them. My mind wanders across the beautiful waters and wooded foreshore of Woy Woy Bay and wonder if it can possibly be different. Walking to my home, the light is fading over Broken Bay. Once again, I have returned from the Twilight Zone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: