Feeling rather small and ashamed today. A member of the track cleaning crew dropped by and told me that while the trains were stopped for maintenance last night they’d taken the opportunity to clear up the couches in the cutting. Ever since I saw those young men carrying couches up the cutting back in May I’ve been agitating to have them cleared away. That’s because I was assuming this was a cubby house for young thugs or what we in the railways call a “shag garden”. So I was horrified to discover that when the track crew went down there at 1.00 in the morning they found instead people sleeping in a homeless camp. Now I hate myself for being just another authority figure persecuting the homeless who have enough problems as it is.
The Track Man told me that the homeless would probably come back. It’s a really good place to camp if you want to be out of the wind and away from casual intruders. I promised him I would never report those couches again at which he looked very relieved. They hate doing that kind of job and seem to have as much pity for the homeless as I do. They’ve obviously seen way too much of it as has everyone in this time of rocketing rents.
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People are perplexing. One of my regulars drives a motorized wheelchair. He’s a pleasant looking young chap perhaps in his early thirties, neatly dress. He probably has cerebral palsy because he stammers badly and when he gets off his chair, he walks crookedly and with difficulty.
We’ve had some nice chats since he moved into the area. I thought he was down here in respite care while his parents were away on a cruise, but he seemed to be here for ages and ages – always longing to get home to his own place. Then one day he was very excited because he was off to his hearing. That was when he revealed that he was actually living in the area on a court order. An AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) had been issued against him because he’d been stalking a local girl. Maybe he only told me because he was certain the AVO would be lifted. But it wasn’t and still hasn’t been after 6 months.
I realized that I had assumed that a guy in a wheelchair was harmless. So I’m confronted with my own “ableism”. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous or criminal as the next person.
Also as a good paid up member of the feminist sisterhood, should I be chatting pleasantly to someone who has stalked another woman? Isn’t that just normalizing such behaviour? And yet this is a situation that I know nothing about. Who am I to judge without knowing all the facts? Is it indulging in mob behavior to suddenly start snubbing him?
He has told me he’s sorry for the whole situation and that he just wants to go home. I don’t know. I guess in the end you just treat people as you would like them to treat you. I have a very strong belief in hating the sin, not the sinner. Or maybe I just don’t like confrontation.
Pooh and Piglet
Creative Commons image
The International AFL Cup is being played in the park nearby and footballers from countries such as PNG, Fiji and Croatia as catching trains at my station.
While the French team wait, one of the players pulls a Winnie the Pooh book out of my children’s book box and starts reading it to the others who “oooh” and”‘ahh” at all the sentimental bits about the importance of friendship.
Outside freezing rain is streaming down, but inside I am being treated to the sound a Frenchman saying the word “Heffalump” Ooh la la! So cosy!
When people come into the station, I try to greet them with a “Hello, your city train will be here in … minutes”. This usually takes the worried look of their faces and they mostly say thank you.
The other day when I said “Hello your train will be here in 6 minutes” to the man frowning at the ticket machine, he didn’t react at all so I figured he hadn’t heard me.
He was still frowning when he came out onto the platform so thinking he was worried, I repeated my greeting.
To which he replied, “I heard you before. I just didn’t want to talk to you.”
This startling piece of rudeness put me in my place and no doubt relieved whatever tension he was feeling.
But be aware, any rudeness I experience from customers, I assume is directed at my uniform. So I don’t take it personally. Instead I store it up to giggle over with my work mates later., Which is what we did that day.
It’s after midnight on a Sunday night and I’m standing on a freezing station platform wishing the last train would hurry up and come in. I’ve been rostered on to help with the Occupation, but the thrill of earning overtime has well and truly worn off.
This Occupation has nothing to do with the German Army or the Occupy Wall Street movement. Instead the tracks are being “occupied” by construction workers, beginning the long slow process of lowering the train track under a road ahead so that the level crossings can be removed. I suspect in this instance the term “occupation” may spring from the tribalism of the railway workers of yesteryear who regarded construction workers as “outsiders” in their territory.
My part in this great task is to make sure everyone gets off the train and onto the buses that service the stations further up the line. I even get to make announcements through a microphone. As the evening chills and the trains get further and further apart my work mate and I take to walking 7 minutes round to the station house to get warm and eat too many biscuits and 7 minutes back before the train comes in. This trek really helps pass the time. A suburban railway station on a Sunday night is NOT an exciting place.
We are abused by a South American lady who has missed her train by several minutes because there are no signs up. (There are signs everywhere but somehow it’s never enough) But I am also given a little KitKat by a young woman in a veil after I help her locate the husband she’s mislaid on the train. Swings and Roundabouts.
Between customers we chat to the train/drivers, the casual customer service staff and the flagman whose job it is to stand by the tracks holding a red lantern to prevent the trains accidentally going further and hitting the workers. I had a friend who was a flagman and used to wax lyrical about how romantic and magical the still early morning hours were.
The clear starry night sky with its half lemon of a moon is indeed magical but even the romance of the midnight hour cannot disguise the ugliness of this suburban station with its asphalt platforms, its rubbish strewn gravel car park, and the barbed wire fence hung with shreds of plastic. Twice we see rats scurrying around on the tracks.
At long last, its 12.45. The last train has gone and it’s time to pack up the buses and signs. But the flag man is still there standing by the tracks with his lantern. This is because of “ghost trains” – unscheduled empty trains that are moved about the system in order to be in place for Monday morning’s rush hour. He will be there standing by there until the workers finish at 3 am.
On a freezing day of sheeting rain, a dark-haired young woman without shoes gets off the 1.44 train. Not only are her feet bare but so are her legs. I can’t tell if she’s wearing anything on her bottom half. The shirt and hoodies she’s wearing covers her down to the top of her thighs.
I greet her thinking she might be one of the clients of the youth mental health service nearby and in need of directions.
“I’m hungry,” is all she says.
Figuring she needs it more than me, I give her the chocolate bar I have squirrelled away for my afternoon treat. I can think of a number of reasons why a young woman would be out in cold rain with no pants or shoes on and none of them are good. She eats it and proceeds to wander around outside the station. After a while she comes back with a cigarette butt she’s picked up outside and asks me for a light which I can’t give her. She tells me she is off to another youth health service in the city at which I am much relieved. Hopefully she can get the care she clearly needs there.
If she gets there ok.
The train is late and for a long time she stands on the edge of the platform staring grimly into the pit. She’s calm – not agitated. Stoned? In shock? The Boss is visiting and she starts to get worried. So do a number of the other people on the platform, many of whom have children in tow. Everyone is watching as the Boss approaches the girl asks her to come away from the edge and is told, “Don’t treat me like a Fucking Child!”
At this the Boss goes inside and rings Control. The driver is told to come in slow and on the lookout.
As the train creeps in the young woman leaves the coping and walks away down the platform. I shadow her.
But the train stops without incident and she gets calmly into it. To go where? I wish I knew.
Later that day I ring the place she said she was going, but I only get answering machines. I hope she’s alright. I wish there was more I could have done.
On Friday one of the zoo volunteers told me she’d been working in animal enrichment all day – making popcorn for the elephants. Apparently they’re not allowed any sugar or fat on their popcorn. She left on the train before I could find out more – leaving me with a vision of elephants frolicking through vats and vats of popcorn.
That was the charming thing.
Then I listened with great pleasure to the HooDoo Guru’s tuning up for their evening concert inside the zoo. I remember going to see them when I was in my mid-twenties. They still sounded good. Then someone told me that their current tour is being sponsored by APIA – Australian Pensioners Insurance.
OMG!!! I’m 54!!! How did that happen????