This afternoon I made it to the train station in adequate time to fill up my go card and catch my Gold Coast train home. I lined up with the other commuters behind the green boxes to fill up my go card. What is designed to be an efficient process was not so efficient on this particular occasion. The people ahead of me in the queue struggled to even tap their cards on the machine. I glanced nervously over my shoulder at the little box with the blocks of colour denoting each destination, noting my train would arrive in two minutes. One minute and a few inept people later and it was my turn at the box. I filled up my card and turned towards the gates aware that the train was probably already at platform one. Everyone around me were dawdling through the gates as if totally unaware of my race against time. I pushed through the crowd and sprinted in the direction of platform one. In a dramatic show I threw myself down the stairs only to hear the chug of the wheels and watch, defeated, as my train rolled from a stand still and began on its journey. Without me.
I looked around to see how many people had noticed my great leap of failure. A little bit embarrassed and red faced, I straightened my hair and wiped the sweat from my brow.
‘Gold Coast 19 minutes’ read the little yellow box above me. So I sat and did what any normal curious person would do – people watch. There were business men and women with black bags, school students with backpacks, a mum with a bunch of little kids hanging off her and uni students with bags and books in hand.
10 minutes before the train was to arrive and people were already lining up along the yellow arrows hoping to be the first to get on the train. Everyone was eyeing each other off like we were all competitors in a race. ‘Gold Coast train arriving on platform one in two minutes’. The crowd shuffled a little closer together.
The train rolled into the station on cue. There was a push, a shove and a jumble to get a seat and not just any seat – the best seat. Over the past year and a half of my train commuting experience I have observed commuters are very strategic when it comes to seating choice. There’s the four-seater, which is great if you are in the company of friends. There’s the rows of single seats facing each other, which is is ideal if you’re by yourself and don’t want to communicate beyond your personal bubble. There’s the endless rows of two-seater’s, where you have to sit in very close proximity to a fellow commuter. Then there’s the yellow bag racks, which is seating for those who must think they are a bag.
As the seats fill up everyone checks out the poor miserable souls who begin to congregate in the standing area. Those with a seat gaze at the people standing as if they missed out on a ‘prize’, with a stare that says ‘ha, I’m not giving my seat up for anyone’ The doors close and the commuters pull out their laptops, newspapers, books, iPods, iPads, iPhones, plug their earphones in and zone out.
Station to station we roll along. Every time the doors slide open everyone glances up and looks at the new comers. The train reaches Beenleigh, which marks the halfway point, the commuters begin to slowly disperse and everyone can finally breathe.
As the train steadily approaches my station I look to myself sitting in my seat with my earphones in and my iPhone out. My iPad is in my hands and I’m glancing around at the other people, observing and taking notes on how they act. I too am a part of this behaviour which I have so particularly analysed.
A bunch of strangers all tightly boxed into a fast moving cart. Each keeps to their own, zoning out into their own worlds without uttering a single word to each other. The daily commute is indeed quite a strange phenomenon.