The 96 experience

18 October 2010

Written by: Meghan Lodwick

Boiled eggs, sourdough toast, roast pumpkin and a sprinkle of fetta, a nice combination, especially when paired with a well made latte. I am green with envy thinking about the Weetbix I forced down my throat 30 minutes ago.

It’s Saturday morning and I am standing on the corner of Blyth and Nicholson Street in East Brunswick, at the first stop on the 96 tramline. If only this café existed when I used to catch this tram every day, those freezing mornings in skirts and tights would have been a lot more bearable with a warm drink to wrap my fingers around.

There is no timetable at the end of this line, which is one of my pet peeves about catching public transport, because you don’t know how long you are going to have to wait. Luckily it’s only a few minutes before I can hear the ‘ding-ding’ alerting me that the tram is pulling in.

Joyce, a lady I start chatting to on the tram, is going to West Side Story with her granddaughter Caitlin. Before we even started talking I could have guessed they were going to the theatre. That’s just the thing I used to do with my mum, and is probably the most common thing to do with grandparents, which also involves catching the tram.

Caitlin tells me that earlier today she caught the tram by herself for the first time to practice for when she starts high school next year. Caitlin said that it was ‘easy’ and ‘not scary’. She is brave compared to me; I used to think I was going to get kidnapped when I started using public transport by myself.

In no time at all the tram is sailing past my old high school. It looks a bit like a prison with high concrete walls, except it has a beautiful big church and is located smack-bang in the middle of bustling inner Melbourne. I feel grateful that the tramline is working today. One day, when I was in year eight, the whole line was out of service, and I had to walk to school carrying a trombone, which looked abnormally large and awkward compared to my petite self. I should have wagged that day, but I was a teacher’s pet, and walked so quickly I ended up being only an hour late.

Thursday mornings were when we had year level assemblies. On one occasion I remember the coordinator, Mrs Hall, complaining about the lack of respect and disruption the year eights were displaying on public transport. I was red faced and in utter shock when she asked my best friend Livia, and I to stay behind after the assembly. We both burst into tears and explained how sorry we were that we had been singled out as the main culprits. Whenever I see the number 96 tram I think of what a big deal it was for me at the time.  But there were many annoying and loud schoolgirls on the 96 tram before me, and there will be plenty after.

A curly red haired lady with glasses, Kirsty, catches the 96 tram everyday and says, ‘the school kids on this tram are always happy and chatting which is a nice change to the grumpy work people that sit in silence…it reminds me of my younger life.’ Kirsty used to catch the train to work, but switched to the 96 because she says it has a completely different atmosphere. ‘The train seemed to have this bad energy, where everyone was angry that they were going to work,’ she says, ‘it’s a good contrast to get the lively school kids, plus you can look out the window and see the best parts of Melbourne.’

Now that I am no longer a school kid, my experience on the tram is a little different. I think there is something really relaxing about finding the perfect window seat and looking out the window, rocking with the sway of the tram.

More and more people hop on the tram as we make our way into the city. There is a silent code on public transport that says ‘don’t sit near anyone else until the tram is getting full’. I remember last week, some guy came and sat right next to me, with his elbow touching mine. I silently screamed ‘out of all the available seats you choose to sit on top of me! Why?’ You will never realise how important personal space is, until it is invaded on public transport.

Everyone on this tram is going to different places, and doing their own thing. While it may seem like an individual task, your experience is very much dependant on the company of the general public. The thing about public transport is that anyone can use it, the poor, the wealthy and everyone in between. Hopping on a tram in Melbourne is like a lucky dip, you never know who (or what) you are going to be travelling with.

A young man wearing Adidas trackies and a cap steps onto the tram with a bird perched on his finger. He starts to kiss the bird, but before I figure out how I feel about this a lady who is asking everyone, ‘could you spare fifty cents?’ distracts me. Only three people on the whole tram give the woman some change, and the birdman yells out ‘she scabs money to buy heroin, don’t give it to her!’ It amazes me how quickly a pleasant tram ride can become confrontational and a bit strange.  Maybe that’s why the 96 tramline has been listed in the National Geographic top 10 tram rides, from all around the world.

I get off the tram when it reaches Swanson Street and quickly print some digital photos to give to a friend. I jump back on the 96 and start talking to the tram driver, who is a lovely man called Paul. He has been driving trams for six years now, and does it for the money, rather than the love. I ask him what the best thing about being a tram driver is.  He looks down at me, with my note pad and pen, and says, ‘you’re going to need a thicker book than that.’

After a lot of ‘umming’ and ‘ahing’ he decides that the most rewarding aspect of being a tram driver is simple, yet meaningful. ‘I have more than 50 people ask me every day how do I get here and where’s this street? I feel good when I can help people out, and they are grateful for it’ Paul explains, ‘it’s nice when people acknowledge you, because I cop a lot of crap as well.’

He goes on to tell me that he wanted to be a journalist when he was younger. ‘There is something romantic about having a ciggie in one hand, and a beer in the other, typing away,’ says Paul, ‘but my dad sent me to tech school and I ended up here.’

Paul’s shifts are usually nine hours long, and all he is carrying with him today is a thermos of coffee. As I exit the tram I count my lucky stars that I’m fulfilling my dream as a journalist, and head straight to the new café to order a latte with extra froth.

If you have any interesting stories from travelling on public transport leave a  comment below.

Lydia Sawtell is a final year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.