Today I took public transport alone, into the city, after almost a whole year of travelling by car. It had been a long time. I thought I remembered what it was like to sit among strangers on a crowded carriage, but I was wrong.
Melbourne is full of strange and ordinary people. In fact, you will never find people stranger than the ordinary folk that populate a city. The people that press close to you on the tram, that cough a phlegmy cough into your hair, that fill the confined space with their stale, orangey smells. The mad fellow that stumbles purposefully up and down the aisle, muttering into the crook of his arm. The swearing schoolkids. You haven’t taken the Metro until you’ve experienced all of these.
I’m not sure what’s changed in the past year but I found myself noticing all these little things that used to slip my attention. The seat scattered with spilt raisins, which I avoided. Unpleasant sticky stains on the floor. And the incessant symphony of smells: old coat and day-old sandwich, unwashed hair, funky breath.
In the past I’ve always enjoyed being in public places to observe people passing by–strangers with fascinating, hidden other lives. But today there was something claustrophobic, almost threatening, about the experience of taking public transport. Maybe it’s only because I’ve been away for so long.
When you’re in the same place every day, and around the same sort of people every day, you can miss out on the diversity of the very city in which you live. If you spend more time watching TV than out and about, you can forget that real people are often unattractive, unusual to behold, unfashionable, foreign, and difficult to understand. It’s nice to have a reminder that the world revolves around 7 billion other people, too.