Commuting wouldn’t feature in many people’s top 10 list of most-enjoyable-things-to-do. Getting to and from work, especially in cities, is surely a big component of the grumpiness summed up as the daily grind.
Whether we’re drumming the steering wheel impatiently in a traffic jam or squeezed uncomfortably against a stranger on the bus/train/tram, few of us look forward to commuting.
[A typical Metro Bus in Hobart: pic courtesy MetroTas]
So it may seem strange for me to say, after 24 years of the same work-a-day travel routine, that I will miss my commuting. Perhaps it’s partly owed to the blessing of living in a small, human-scale city. It may also derive from the city-ward half of my commute being always on foot, with part of that along a pleasant track away from traffic and close to bush. But it’s also that I will miss the people I commuted with, now that I have retired from full-time work; now that my commute will be the short climb into my writer’s loft.
Each leg of my commute had its pluses and its minuses. I love walking, so the city-ward trip was a pleasure in itself. I long ago decided, perhaps inspired by a brief student-years career as a postie, that “neither rain nor hail nor sleet nor snow” would prevent me from walking. At times it could become an epic five and half kilometre walk, and a good test of all the waterproof gear I could throw at the conditions. But there’s a perverse joy in pushing through gales and storms.
The walk could also yield joys of a different kind, as I’ve described elsewhere, http://www.naturescribe.com/2014/03/the-urban-platypus.html. Wallabies, birds, even the odd platypus or snake have made surprise appearances along the track. But there were also the regular walkers who I met and chatted with. The foremost, and most deliberate of these was my wife Lynne. She always joined me on her non-work days, and we invariably walked first through our back bush rather than down the road. We found that walking together, side by side, was a very fruitful way for us to discuss any and everything. And sometimes nothing at all. When we'd meandered through the bush back to our road, she would turn left for home. And I would turn right and take the Rivulet Track towards the city.
[Along the Rivulet Track, South Hobart]
Further down the track, a popular dog walking space, I often seemed to share doggy tales with strangers and acquaintances. At other times I might discuss wildlife, or walking, or politics with other walkers. And just occasionally we’d get personal, and death, grief, love or faith would tread the track beside us.
Of course the down side of the walk was that I was going to work. As good as that work could be, it was still work. And most work has elements of drudgery or conflict or stress alongside its rewards. Given the choice I’d rather have been walking in the opposite direction, towards the mountain.
[The allure of kunanyi/Mt Wellington]
My usual homeward commute was on the Number 47 bus, and the people on that bus became (literal) fellow travellers – and sometimes friends – on the larger journey of life. Through long exposure and a degree of pushing beyond polite chit-chat, we managed to have some amazing conversations. For us this was never a head-in-my-newspaper type of commute. Births, deaths, marriages, illness, politics, retirements: none of these seemed off limits. And because the No. 47 bus heads towards what some have dubbed “Greenie Acres”, we inevitably talked about environmental issues. It wasn’t that we all agreed on these, but it was something most of us were passionate about.
Soon after I first started catching the No. 47, I remember one commuter growing rounder and rounder as she reached the advanced stages of pregnancy. When her baby joined her on the bus a few months later, he became “the bus’s baby”. That he has now started university is both a surprise and a signal. Perhaps I’ve been catching this bus long enough. Perhaps it’s time to let the next generation make what they will of this ordinary but amazing mode of transport.
As for me, I will keep my “Green Card” bus pass, and will still catch the No. 47 bus from time to time. And the walking will definitely still happen. I even hope to keep in touch with some of the other Rivulet Track walkers, and their dogs. But no-one should be surprised if, every so often, I turn left instead of right, and head up that mountain.
[What awaits on the mountain!]