Small acts

One of my regulars had clearly come off her bicycle.  She was covered in dust and had a huge spike shaped red gash on her arm. With the train 2 minutes away she didn’t want me to do anything for her, but I insisted on getting her some damp paper towel to clean the still bleeding gash.  Then as the train rolled in a complete stranger stepped up and offered the lady one of those big band-aids in plastic for her gash!

Thank you, stranger. Another person who understands if you think someone should help someone, perhaps you’d better be the one to do it.

I’m a firm believer in taking responsibility for making the world a better place through small daily acts.  I’m getting more and more involved in Climate Change activism through a group called Climate for Change. http://www.climateforchange.org.au/ They encourage people to have everyday conversations about Climate Change concerns in order to encourage a ground swell of support for government action. The more of us pestering companies and M.P.’s the better. So now at when someone at the station says we’re having strange weather, I take my opportunity and say “This is what 1% climate change looks like.” I get some strange looks but also a lot of nods.  Scarey to think what 2% will look like.

The Man-kini

 

D is studiedly bogan. He shakes my hand with an iron grip, tells me he’s from Gippsland and that in his depressed country town every third street has an ice-lab. Shades of “Winters Bone”. He describes getting drunk and driving down the main drag yelling at the shards (ice addicts.) Then he tells me he’s joined the local medieval re-enactment society and how much he likes fighting with the rattan canes. (thus exploding the whole bogan persona in my eyes.)

A pleasant young man. I’m not sure why he’s in Melbourne, but I haven’t pressed him in case he’s here with the Mental Health Service or the Juvenile Detention Service both of which have flats in the area. He may just be here to go to University. What I’d really like to know is his relationship with the two different young women he took the zoo the week before Christmas both of whom he seemed to be on arms-around-waist relations with. (Watch out for your station staff. They notice things.)
Today he looks a bit rough. Apparently, he drank too much on New Year’s Eve.
“I don’t remember much but my mates say I was wandering round Elizabeth Street in a man-kini singing and playing the guitar.

“Did people tuck money into your man-kini?” I ask.
“No,” he says, “But I do remember getting smacked on the arse a lot.”

Train Surfers

train-surfers-image-from-the-hun

The 3.04 stopped and the driver got out and took a walk down the platform.“I think there’s kids riding on the rear coupling,” he said as he went past. Sure enough as he got further down the train, three youths jumped off the end of the train. Giggling they leapt off the furthest end of the platform and ran into the bushes beyond.

The driver came back and the train left.

A couple of minutes later I heard yelling from the nearby tram stop. Two youths were hanging onto the back of a departing tram while a third ran alongside trying to get onto the running board. How on earth did these guys survive? But they must have because no ambulance came. They also showed an impressive turn of speed in running that kilometer between the far end of our platform and the tram stop.
I’ve started checking the back of all the trains more assiduously because kids ride on the couplings regularly (a couple of times a month I see them) I recently caught one trying to get on a coupling on the opposite platform and was able to drive him off with a shout and a glare. (he was clearly too young to ignore me, about 15)
Once a group of them inside the rear carriage saw me checking and started waving and blowing me kisses. Hard not to be softened by their cheekiness.
I understand the appeal of riding on the rear coupling, I really do, but if you fall off it’s a long way down and fast and the trains have to stop while some poor para-medic scrapes you off the tracks.

Interview with actor and playwright Nick Backstrom

On Thursday night I went the see to see Train Man and the Rail Way – a quick-witted, hilarious look at the joys of customer service, trains and KNOBBIS by co-worker, Nick Backstrom .  Not only did it speak to me and the rest of the railway folks in the audience but the rest of the audience were chortling too.  Check it out if you can, it’s on at the Meat Market as part of the Melbourne Fringe, tonight (Saturday) at 8.00 and tomorrow night at 7.00 only $20.00 a ticket. A fun way to spend an evening.  (and there’s a bar and a Mac and Cheese Truck!)

 

 

I managed to have a quick chat with Backstrom.

Please tell us about Train Man and the Rail Way.  

The play is a comic lecture on how to be a better customer – based on my experiences doing customer service on the metropolitan railways.

 Does any particular incident stick out as an inspiration for the play?

The plays based on an accumulation of events, which fit a broad pattern. It’s when you give people correct information and they don’t believe you – that’s the most annoying.

What do you do for the railways?  Did you work there long?

I worked as a station officer for 6 years.  We sold tickets, topped up MYKI cards and provided information.

beware-of-trains

Tell us a little about yourself.  Born and bred where?  When did you decide to become an actor?  A playwright? Which do you like best?

I’m from Brisbane.  The decision to become an actor grew slowly while doing plays at school and uni and amateur shows.  I went back to uni to study drama at 26.  I enjoy both acting and playwriting. They each have different appeals.

What other things have you performed in?  Written?

I’ve appeared in over forty stage productions since graduating from USQ. I’ve done French farce in Western Queensland and ancient Greek drama in Cyprus. I was last on stage in JYM’s production of Merrily We Roll Along, but I’ve also appeared in Romeo and Juliet, and Henry IV 1, and Shakespeare’s Best Bits for the Australian Shakespeare company. Other highlights include The Importance of Being Earnest (Citizen Theatre) Playing Rock Hudson (Left Bauer) Sight unseen (Exhibit A- Theatre) and Yarrabah the musical (Opera Australia). I’ve played the Emperor in Amadeus, Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing, Bottom in A Midsummer night’s dream, Stephano in The Tempest (4MBS Classical Productions), Petruchio in The Taming of the shrew, Edmund in The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe, Hale in The Crucible, Antonio in Twelfth Night and the lead role in Charlie’s Aunt (Harvest Rain), roles in QTC’s A Streetcar named Desire and The Cherry Orchard.  I’ve also done film (Any questions for Ben) and television (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries).
As a playwright, I’ve written and appeared in Who You Are, (La Mama),  On the riverbank, and Coffee in the park. My play A room with no view was performed in the 2010 UK Brighton Fringe Festival.

Do you write regularly or just when the spirit moves you?

I try to write regularly but it doesn’t always work out.

What’s your favourite afternoon snack from the Railway Station Kiosk?

White chocolate and raspberry muffins.

 

nick-backstrom

Three mobile phones

IMG_0254

One skill I’ve developed over the years of working on the railways is the ability not to scream the words “Are you insane?!!!” the minute they come into my head.  This was useful this week, when I saw someone walking down the cutting beside the tracks.  There’s not a lot of space in there and while not actually deadly, it’s certainly not “minimizing the risk” as the Occ. Health and Safety folks say.  Also it upsets the drivers who are inclined to be jumpy over people walking beside the tracks.

I was surprised to discover the trespasser was a young woman.  They usually have too strong a sense of self-preservation for such hi jinks.

“Hang on,” she replied, absent-mindedly poking around in the bushes when I went down and yelled “Hey get off the tracks it’s not safe.”

At length she came up and handed me three mobile phones to hold while she climbed up onto the platform.

“What are you looking for?” I asked, thinking I could help.

“A Pokemon!” said she.

Hence the jaw-dropping moment when I discovered the Pokemon-Go craze.  Apparently my station is a Pokemon-Go point of interest.

Oh Joy!

Pokemon Go players looking for Pokemon

Best wishes to all you Pokemon-Go players.  Glad to see you around.  But stay safe.

A large wheelie suitcase

Due to a sloppy head cold, nasty wet weather with a chilly wind playing off the snowfields and an upsurge in customers, last week was a tough one for yours truly.  I’ve had to break out my woolly vests for the first time in 3 years.

The increased visitors were the result of the school holidays, but there were also a large number of extra customers who had lost their gruntle due to buses at the nearby stop.  Trams are slow but buses in city traffic are slooooow.

“Very poor service!” snapped one entitled young woman in crisp, upper-class tones. “I’m going to miss my country train because of you.”

Her posh accent (Melbourne Grammar at least) made my hackles rise but I resisted temptation and refrained from pointing out that she’d cut her connection too fine if it was that important.  That never goes anywhere good.

But the toughest thing about last week was seeing M and C who once again find themselves homeless.

They showed up with a large suitcase having had to put their new-born baby into care with the Salvos.  So at least he is warm and dry.  Apparently they are able to visit him every day too.

Lately when M has showed up scrounging money “for milk for the baby” I’ve wondered if this unseen child actually exists, but their distress last week was palpable.

“It was awful leaving him.  Little M cried and then M cried and then I couldn’t help crying,” said C.

M tells me he was in care from the time he was six. I suspect he fears for his son as well.  Bad luck and small mistakes make a critical mass of difficulties that are difficult to get over.  There but for the grace of God …

Preconceptions

Noisy miner in the waiting room

Noisy miner in the waiting room

When working at the railway station or even just with the public, its important to keep an open mind. Last week I was giving the stink eye to a tough looking group of young men in hoodies and tattoos on platform 2 because I thought they were hanging around waiting to do a drug deal. I mean it’s the Zoo station!  There are children here!

I considered it particularly low that one of them had bought a baby capsule with him – clearly to hide his stash.  So I felt kind of mean when the train came in bringing a newcomer and one of them started showing the newcomer how the capsule worked.  I am so middle class!!  The capsule owner showed up later with his partner and toddler-in-pram and confirmed that yes, they had all been hanging around to pass the capsule on “to my cousin whose fiancée has just fallen pregnant.”  Just because someone is close to twenty and has tattoos doesn’t mean he can’t be a responsible family man, Jane.

On the other hand earlier this year a zoo-visiting Buddhist monk surprised me, by indicating I should use my broom to chase out the birds roving round the waiting room. I had expected him to be all “animals are my friends – all life is one” not “get that grubby bird out of the indoor space.” Another preconception bites the dust. Maybe I’m better off without either of them.

Trial of an Ex-Metro Employee

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-01/nicholas-archer-pleads-guilty-to-train-derailment-sabotage/7467344

Bad luck for Metro and the CFA! Glad they finally caught this guy.

Metro has around 3500 employees and in that number there are sure to be a few bad eggs that make you look suspiciously at the rest of the carton.  Most of my workmates are lovely highly decent people.

HOWEVER …

My first week at my first station a man rang and asked for X.  I’d never heard of X so I asked my station master who took the call.  After he hung up he told me that X was no longer working for us.  He was in jail having held up 8 service stations!

“Startling” news when you are just fresh out of working in libraries, where assigning the wrong Dewey number is the worst offence you get from other staff.

But I stand by my assertion that my workmates are mostly lovely decent people.  2 in 13 years among 3500 is pretty good odds.

Clench!

One of my regulars, a lady in her early 60’s, is always telling me about her exercise regime.  Apparently these exercises, relayed to her father by a Chinese doctor, have cured her of leukemia.  Her skin has the yellowish tone of someone who’s very ill.

Her exercise regime is to do two thousand arm swings every day.  They’re exactly like the hundred arms exercise in Pilates only standing up.
I don’t blame her for being obsessed with something she thinks saved her life, but sometimes when I see her outside the station swinging her arms I suddenly think of something I have to do in the office. I’ve known her to miss trains because she hasn’t reached two thousand yet.

Being so ill must be a lonely business.  So today I’m listening and so are a couple of social workers up from the hospital who are curious about this possibly lifesaving exercise.

“Clench your bottom,” cries the lady. “And tuck in your belly.  Clench your bottom and swing your arms.”

Such is the authority in her voice that I see the social workers beginning to swing their arms and, I suspect, clench their bottoms.  Oh no!  I’m doing it too.  As the train rolls in there are the four of us swinging our arms in the autumn sun while the lady yells “clench your bottom.”

I see less of M and C now but this is a good thing. An NGO has found them a place to live.  http://www.hanover.org.au/

C is pregnant and I had terrible visions of them being homeless with a newborn. I suspect they did too though they made tough noises about it. M is delighted with his new backpack and wears it everywhere.  A profound thank you to the people who offered them.

 

Difficult lives

Melbourne Street Art by Kranky. It doesn't have anything to do with the story, but it looks like those dolls are having a difficult time.

Melbourne Street Art by Kranky. It doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but it looks like those dolls are having a difficult time.

Looking back over my blog posts, I’ve noticed the station stories are much darker these days.  In the old days it used to be about getting cakes from men in wheelchairs.

This Thursday when I got to the junction they were running all the trains through Platform 4 until the ambulance came for the man who had passed out right on the edge of Platform 2.  The police arrived and recognized him as someone they’d just booked for assault, which made the ambo’s a bit jumpy.  But when he woke up he went away quietly enough, though with a police escort in the ambulance. The trains switched back to Platform 2

The saga of M and C continues.  C has disappeared again and M has reported her missing to the police.  He used my phone to call her father who denied knowledge of her whereabouts but said he’d look. M worries that she has gone back to her violent ex.  I worry full stop. Who knows what goes on between a couple?

I like them both especially M who is outgoing and personable in a kind of larrikin way. He seems to have a tremendous urge to take care of people which is sad because I see in him a nurse or elderly care person wasted.  I’m not sure how he comes to be living on the street and can’t find out without seeming to pry.  Perhaps it’s the lunchtime bourbon and cokes.  Certainly from the stories he tells me it seems that when he has had choices to make, he’s always made the wrong one.

Still this is a judgement free zone so I give him change for the phone and store his spare iced coffee in my fridge (the kind of thing lots of station staff do) At the moment I’m asking around to see if I can get him a new backpack because the straps on the old one which holds all his worldlies is broken.  I have a strong sense that you should be the change you want to see, as the saying goes, but if I was a truly good person I’d invite him to live in my spare room.  I want to be helpful but at the same time I’m worried – about not crossing boundaries and about whether I’m being a fool to trust M as much as I do.  My bosses would certainly not be pleased if he set up house in my waiting room.