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Train Travel For The Out-Of-Practice

Train for illustrative purposes only. Not a Tangara.

Train for illustrative purposes only. Not a Tangara.

When my train pulled into the station this morning, I thought ‘Ooh, fancy: a Tangara.’ Crossing the Harbour Bridge we passed several more trains. They were Tangaras too. I’m beginning to suspect that these days all Sydney trains might be Tangaras. And that maybe we don’t even call them that any more. That’s when I realised it has been a while since I was last a regular train commuter in Sydney.

Before I went on maternity leave in the late seventeenth century, I worked in the back of beyond, where there was plenty of parking and spiders, a long walk to the train station and an increasingly large baby sharing my body, so I drove to work. Before that I lived within walking distance of my office for seven years. Before that I was at university, and things seem to have changed a bit since then.

I began taking the train to school when I was eleven. For six years I was on the train for a bit over an hour most weekdays. I can still remember how daunting I found it to start with: exactly as daunting as it was this morning, actually. Back then my fears were as follows, in order of most to least worrying:

  1. I might fall asleep and not wake up until Emu Plains.

  2. I might try to change carriages and get trapped in between them.

  3. I might forget my train pass and get busted by the transport cops.

  4. A dirty old man might expose his genitals to me.

Only the fourth ever happened during my school days.

Today I wasn’t that worried about any of my old fears. I was briefly concerned that Senator Frank Underwood might push me in front of the oncoming train, but since I haven’t crossed him lately I seemed to be safe. Mostly this morning I was quite focused on the very strange feeling of being alone. I had no one to talk to or prevent from leaping onto the tracks or getting squished in the barriers. No one asked me anything. The railway tracks were already built. The train wasn’t called Thomas or Percy. It didn’t have a face.

For the first time in a long, long time, I was just one person. It felt like I had gone out without something very important like my wallet or my pants. Some people describe going out without their children as feeling like they are missing an arm or a leg. For me it was the opposite. I felt positively blessed with spare limbs. I felt like Ganesh. There was no one holding my hands or begging to be carried. My hands were free to clutch my train ticket, high-five passers by or click my fingers to the imaginary soundtrack in my head, which if forced I would describe as a cross between the themes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and My Three Sons.

It was probably nothing to do with the clicking and high-fiving, but I got a seat to myself on the train. I had a fine time reading the text messages of the woman in front of me over her shoulder, until she got off at Town Hall, which was quite inconsiderate.

People didn’t have iPhones back when I commuted on public transport regularly. At that time, mobile phones were at their tiniest, and there was no way you could surreptitiously read a text message on someone else’s phone. You could barely read them on your own phone. The phones did have cameras, but there wasn’t anything you could do with the pictures. iPods were just beginning to appear, so there was some fun to be had judging people’s musical taste from what you could see they were listening to, but iPhones have really taken iPerving to a new level.

But left only with my own phone to look at, I fell into doing what I always do when I am finally granted a desperately sought break from my offspring: I spent the rest of the journey looking at pictures of them and nearly missed my station.

I hope I get better at this being-an-unaccompanied-adult-out-in-the-world thing, or people are going to realise it is actually May Blossom and Garnet who are required to supervise me; that they are my two little tugboats, gently shoving me to the right place at the right time.

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