Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Like many South Africans, I'm still finding reliable public transport somewhat of a novelty. I'm not a regular train commuter, but just recently have begun catching the train to and from work once a week.

In Perth, residents are fortunate - the trains and buses run on time, are generally clean, and are mostly quite safe. We have one car, and to make it easier for me to do the Kid Run, SuperHero Husband generally catches the train. I have recently started working one full day a week, when he takes the car and does the Kid Run and I take the train.

People must find me very odd on the train. I can't help it - I ogle and stare and grin quietly to myself. Its the other commuters. I find them very interesting to to watch!

In the mornings, you can tell who was running late. The ones who made it on time are neatly dressed, perfectly coiffed and make-up is carefully applied. There are no wrinkled suits and ties are neatly done up. (Except for the school/uni students - they have rules of their own).

You can also spot the hangovers. They have dark glasses, move carefully, and hang on tightly to the nearest pole or strap. They are clearly in desperate need of coffee/more sleep/painkillers.

In the evenings, things are a little different. Those who have had a bad day have shoulders slumped, exhausted looks and the perfectly done make-up may just be sliding off weary faces.

What is consistent is how people distract themselves. Firstly, unless you are a student travelling with mates or colleagues commuting together, conversation is a no-no. You have a few choices:

Stand (or sit if you get on early enough) and look vaguely ahead. Do not make eye contact.

Read a book or magazine. There should actually be a Train Readers List. It would be an interesting mix. You get the blokes in black with little goatees intently reading David Eddings. Or the Mature Lady with a historical romance. You may also get a Jodi Picault or Patricia Cornwell. You seldom see Westerns. And you will always see at least one Harry Potter.

Listen to your Ipod. This is an upgrade to the Stand & Stare option. You can now stand and stare to your own personal soundtrack. I like to try and figure out what they are listening to. Sometimes I can see them flick through their choices and others I will hear the vague tinny shadow from their earphones. On Australian trains, you will be guaranteed that someone (probably from Gen X or the Baby Boomer era) will be listening to either AC/DC, John Farnham or Jimmy Barnes. It's a national obsession.

Play with your phone. Texting is good. Playing games is good. Talking is not so good. If it is in the morning, it will be an early morning business call from someone "over East" who has forgotten that Perth is two hours behind the rest of Australia. In the evenings, it will be the young, child-free folk making arrangements for drinks or a party. The parents just ask what's for dinner and who's cooking.

I enjoy my train journeys. It gets me out of peak hour traffic, is quick and easy, and provides plenty of opportunities to people watch.