Tagged commuting

Living the life

We had just finished a long meeting when the chairperson David invited us all to lunch. The seven of us went to a pub, ordered some drinks and got to know each other.

‘How’s inner city life?’ David asked.

‘Really good,’ I said. ‘I’m really enjoying being able to ride the Melbourne Bikes to work.’ I explained to the others on the table, ‘We moved into our new flat a few months ago.’

‘Does your husband ride to work as well?’ Theo asked.

‘Yes. He has his own bike and goes in the opposite direction.’

Theo held his hand up to stop me. ‘Do either of you have a car?’

‘No. No, we don’t have a car.’ I said.

‘Wait, wait… You don’t have a car? You walk and ride everywhere?’

‘Yes…’ I wasn’t sure where he was going. Theo looked a bit shocked.

‘You’re doing it!’ Theo said. ‘You’re doing that thing we all talk about but don’t actually believe! Living the life! Not having a car. Working near home!’

‘I don’t have a car either,’ Andrew piped in. ‘We sold it last month. I ride to work from Northcote. It’s faster than the car and public transport.’

Theo looked at us both in awe.

Slow cyclist

I had a great time on Ride to Work day. It was really easy to get a blue Melbourne bike — in fact, it turned out to be free on Ride to Work day. As I was riding, people along Bourke Street called out to me.

‘Hello cyclist! Do you want free breakfast?’ They pointed to a neat pile of brown paper bags in front of their cafe.

‘Hello! No thank you. I’m going to my company’s free breakfast,’ I said as I slowly wheeled by (it’s uphill coming up to Parliament House).

Free breakfast is one of the rewards of Ride to Work Day.

Now I’ve signed up for a one year subscription. It’s $50 and I get to ride the bikes for free for the first 45 minutes of each trip, which is longer than the standard 30 minutes. I have a blue stick that I put in the bike stand, then I can get whatever bike I want.

I rode to work today. The trickiest bit is Swanston Street. I had thought that Swanston Street would be the easiest — it has lots of cyclists and is closed to private cars during the day. However, this morning I found myself trying to squeeze between a parked truck, a street sweeper and a tram. The other cyclists seemed to be able to do it but I was too scared. Luckily, whenever I feel unsure about something, I can just hop off and wheel my bike on the wide pavements of Melbourne.

Here I am with the official Melbourne bike helmet. There were a whole row of bikes with helments attached so I took one of them.

Preparing to ride to work

Preparing to ride to work

As you can see, I don’t need to wear any special riding gear, just my work clothes. My commute takes 15-20 minutes for around three kilometres. I am a very slow cyclist. Every bike overtakes me. But that’s okay. I am obviously a baby bikist, with my clunky public blue bike, upright sitting position and impractical clothing. I don’t feel embarrassed about slowing the cycle lane down.

And look what I spotted! This is the second time that I’ve seen this mysterious yellow bike. I wonder why it’s yellow?

Mystery yellow Melbourne bike

Mystery yellow Melbourne bike

Stair Climber: Update

Two years ago, I wrote about being a stair climber.

I believe I’m still a stair climber of escalators in the Underground. However, I can’t provide the evidence. I now walk to work so there is no Tube behaviour to cite.

I wrote in my last stair climbing post:

‘I’ve finally bitten the bullet and resolved to take the stairs to the fifth floor, where my desk is at work. I did it every day last week. I hope I can keep it up…

‘I’ve avoided taking the stairs because (I know this sounds weird) I felt embarrassed walking past the crowd waiting for the lift. I felt especially embarrassed if someone in that crowd knows I work on the fifth floor because they, too, work on the fifth floor. In that context, being a shown to be a stair climber seems self-righteous and snobbish.’

Since that post, I relapsed and started taking the lift again. I couldn’t get over my embarrassment.

However, there has been a development. For the past 6+ months, I have climbed the stairs to the fifth floor every day. I have discovered a set stairs at the back of the building, hidden away so that I can do my shameful stair climbing in peace.

There are 90 steps all together, enough compensation for a third of a square of dark chocolate.

Taking more than your fair share

There are many things I can talk about under this blog post title of ‘Taking more than your fair share’. Ecological footprint is the obvious example for me.

However, I’ve had commuting and the Tube on my mind for the past few posts and I saw something that really irritated me. I sat opposite a man slouched on the other Tube seat. At the next stop, a lady got on and gingerly positioned herself on the nominally vacant spot next to slouched man. Any decent person would pull in their limbs to occupy only their fair share of the seat. But this man, who otherwise looked respectable in a business suit, didn’t budge and stared into space while listening to whatever was on his MP3 player.

If he was a large man, I would understand. But he was average sized! I couldn’t understand it at all! He was so rude!

Litter or gift?

Here’s something I’ve thought about in relation to free newspapers. Some people get annoyed when they see free newspapers left on the train and the platform. I used to disapprove of littering of this kind too.

However, I once heard someone on the train complaining about the selfish people who took their newspapers away with them. ‘Why don’t they leave them behind so that others can read them too?’ they grumped.

Now that I’ve taken the train after rush hour and have felt the disappointment of not finding any newspapers, I too appreciate the amenity of ‘littered’ newspapers.

I wonder if people leave their papers because they’re lazy or out of thoughtfulness? I suspect it’s laziness in most cases.

Stair climber

I am an escalator climber. Ninety-nine per cent of the time*, I will take the climbing lane (which in London is the left lane, odd because on the roads they overtake on the right).

When I get off my Tube train, there is usually two train-fulls of commuters shuffling to get on the escalator. I immediately migrate to the left of the crowd to get into the climbing lane. This is an imaginary lane — it’s not until you get to the escalator that the climbing and standing lanes are defined.

It can be a teeny bit frustrating when I stand behind someone who turns out to be an escalator stander. It means either I haven’t moved far enough to the left or some stander has cheated by illegally using the faster climbing lane to get into prime position.

So every morning I play a game where I try to stand behind people who look like climbers. It’s trickier than it should be. Sometimes, perfectly healthy looking men in suits and flat shoes turn out to be lazy standers. Then you have women with dangerously high heels who turn out to be climbers. One trend that is clear, though, is the fatter the person, the more likely that they are standers.

This makes me think of positive (self-reinforcing) feedback loops.

In related news, I’ve finally bitten the bullet and resolved to take the stairs to the fifth floor, where my desk is at work. I did it every day last week. I hope I can keep it up.

Five floors is not a lot. It takes me about two minutes, which is about the same time as it takes to wait for a lift and stop at all the floors in between (which is what happens at rush hour). I’ve avoided taking the stairs because (I know this sounds weird) I felt embarrassed walking past the crowd waiting for the lift. I felt especially embarrassed if someone in that crowd knows I work on the fifth floor because they, too, work on the fifth floor. In that context, being a shown to be a stair climber seems self-righteous and snobbish.

So now I breeze past the lift crowd, (a) avoiding eye contact with anyone I might know, and (b) pretending I only need to go to the first floor.

(If someone gets in the lift on the ground floor and gets off on the first floor, I have nothing but ridicule for them. Unless they have a disability, like a limp.)

The main reason I climb stairs and escalators is to build up my chocolate consumption credit. Also, as someone told Damjan, who told me, there will come a time in my life when I physically don’t have the option to climb stairs (and, of course, climbing stairs now can delay that future deterioration of my body).

*I stand on escalators when I’m with someone else and I want to continue a conversation and in case they don’t want to climb.

Absent army

Stepping out of the Tube train onto the platform of my usual station, I was surprised to see a clear plastic garbage bag taped to the wall. It was filled with free newspapers, the most common detritus of the Underground. I saw another taped bag ten metres along the corridor.

One of the quirks of the Underground is that there are no bins — not a single one. I found this out early on in my Tube career when, suffering severe sniffles, I couldn’t find a bin to dispose my mass of used tissues.

It’s because of terrorism. Even before 9/11 and 7/7, since the 1970s the Underground has been under attack from groups like the IRA. Bins are potentially handy places to hide bombs, I guess.

Even without bins, you’d be surprised at how clean Underground stations are. I don’t remember any litter in stations, except for occasional newspapers. Each station is patrolled by an army of cleaning staff, picking up papers and bottles, mopping up pavement pizza

As I climbed up the escalators, an announcement on the PA system explained the taped up rubbish bags.

‘Attention! There are no cleaning staff at the station today. Please take all your litter with you, including free newspapers.’

I expect that by the end of the day, the station looked like a landfill.

Extreme eye-contact

There are rules. In the Underground, it is not proper to make eye contact with people you don’t know. I use my ‘staring into space’ skills, honed after a few years of using Melbourne public transport.

Imagine my perturbation when one Monday night, while going down the stairs to my Tube platform, the man walking beside me turned around and made eye contact.

Eye contact is sometimes accidental. Despite our best efforts, accidents do happen. When they do, the correct response is to dart your eyes away. On this night, though, my fellow commuter held my gaze. I think he even smiled! I was forced to blink and gaze past him, then look the other way (a la ‘I was looking in your direction but not focusing on you specifically and now I’m going to naturally and without any concern swing my head to look elsewhere’).

When we reached the platform, I think he tried to re-engage eye contact. I shuffled quickly down the platform and lost him in the crowd.

Follow that bus!

Last week, while going for a walk, I pondered the question, ‘Of all my things, which one would I be most upset at losing?’

Immediately I thought: ‘My gloves.’ I had lost one of them for a morning last year and I was miserable until a stranger found it on the footpath outside the Cambridge Judge Business School and handed it in to reception. This is the email I sent to my classmates.

Dear all,

I have lost a black leather glove for my right hand. If you find it,
could you please let me know? I am very sad it’s gone. It fit my hand
like a glove.


When I wear my gloves, I feel indestructible. I like putting my hands into the fleece inside. I like going on buses and grabbing the rails without thinking about germs. I like that the gloves are tough and waterproof, but also flexible and soft.

This evening, I was dozing on the bus going home when I woke with a start and saw that I had missed my bus stop. I bounded downstairs to the lower level and got off at the next stop. As door shut behind me, I knew something was wrong. My hands were cold.

‘My gloves!’

Frozen, eyes wide, I tried to memorise the number plate of the bus as it disappeared down the street. I got four out of the seven numbers.

I scrabbled through my bag, hoping that I had slipped the gloves in absent-mindedly, but they were not there.

‘Oh no…’

Confused, I took a few steps towards home. I needed to call the bus company. I tottered back to the bus stop. The phone number must be on the bus stop sign.

As I started keying in the number into my mobile phone, another bus pulled up. It was the same route number as the one I had just gotten off.

I jumped in and gabbled, ‘I left my gloves on the last bus!’


‘My gloves are on the bus that just went by!’

‘What number was the bus?’

‘The same as this one! It was the same!’

The bus driver understood. ‘Sit down,’ he said. ‘I will take you to the depot. We will catch up with the bus there and then I can take you back.’

‘Thank you!’

I sat down in the nearest seat, reserved for disabled people. Two women sitting nearby looked worriedly at me.

‘Don’t worry, love,’ one said. ‘We’ll get them at the depot.’

‘Thank you,’ I murmured.

The bus pulled away from the stop and drove along for two minutes. The bus driver was driving fast.

‘There it is!’ the friendly woman said, pointing to a bus stopped in front of us at the traffic light.

Within a minute, both buses were at the next stop. I went up to the bus driver, who told me, ‘There are two of them now!’

Indeed, there were now three buses, including ours, with the same route number.

‘Which one is yours?’ the bus driver asked.

‘I don’t know!’ I said. I remembered, ‘It was a lady bus driver!’

‘That’s the one further ahead, then,’ he said. ‘We can’t catch it here. We will go to the depot. Don’t worry, I’ll take you.’

‘Thank you,’ I said, grateful that he made my decision, and sat back down.

The lady sitting nearby said, ‘Better to go to the depot, I think. Then you can check both buses. Otherwise, you’ll never know, right?’

‘That’s right,’ I nodded. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

We drove some more and I watched the bus with my gloves come in and out of my vision. I worried about someone spotting them and picking them up.

‘Look, it stopped,’ said the woman. ‘Go and get it now!’

I jumped up and my bus driver opened the door to let me out. The bus in front started taking off but then stopped when the lady driver saw me running at full speed. The door whooshed open.

‘I left my gloves upstairs!’ I cried to the driver. ‘Can I get them?’


I pounded upstairs and found my empty seat. But there were no gloves. I looked under the seat. No gloves. Then I looked at the startled man sitting on the seat behind.

‘Have you seen some gloves?’ I asked. He shook his head.

I had one last desperate look around but they were gone. Conscious that I was holding up a bus-full of commuters, I scurried back down.

‘I’m sorry, they weren’t there,’ I told the lady driver.

‘Oh, that’s too bad! When did you get off?’

‘It was just after the main bus station, a few minutes ago.’

The driver sighed. ‘Isn’t that terrible? People taking a pair of gloves! They take everything!’

‘Yeah… Thanks so much.’ I stepped out and let the bus go.

Forlorn, I began trudging home. It wasn’t worth catching a bus back. I kind of wanted to walk for fifteen minutes by myself. I stuck my hands deep into my jacket, looking for warmth in the pockets.

I thought about my gloves, the way they fit my little fingers. I thought about two Sundays ago when I went shopping with Bettina. She had been looking for leather gloves. We couldn’t find anything good. I remember feeling happy that I had such nice gloves already.

I thought about calling my mum, who had given me the gloves. I had already lost the first pair she had given me, a red suede pair. They had been nice too.

I thought about calling Damjan, so that I could cry to him.

Every now and then, I whimpered aloud.

I checked my bag a few more times.

‘Maybe I should have gone to the depot,’ I thought. ‘Maybe it had been in the other bus that we overtook.’

Three-quarters of the way home, a bus with the same route number went past me. I looked at the licence plate and it seemed the same as the one which I had tried to memorise. I realised that I had forgotten it except that it started with ‘L’.

Almost home, I remembered that before I had nodded off in the bus, I had a tissue in my hand. I had used it to wipe my eye liner off. Where was it? Had I dropped it with my gloves?

I knew where I would normally put the tissue — in a little pocket of my bag. I stuck my hand there and felt… leather.

Disbelieving, I pulled out my gloves, which had been squished into a tiny ball. They uncrumpled into their black leather full fleeced glory.

‘Oh! Oh! Oh!’ I cried. ‘Thank God!’

I shoved my hands into them and flexed my fingers. I balled my hands into a fist and held them to my mouth. Mmm, leather smell.

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’ I couldn’t believe they were real.

My gloves are here on my desk. I am very happy now.

Red bus

My bus home was going thankfully quick at the tail end of peak hour. Then luck ran out — we hit a traffic plug five minutes from home. Another red double decker bus (with the same route number as my bus, in fact) had stopped diagonally across the road and was choking traffic.

I went back to my newspaper but was then disturbed by passengers leaning over me to look out my window. I looked up at them, then followed their eyes out the window too. There, lying in the middle of the road was a cyclist and a bike. His fluorescent yellow jacket was splattered with blood.

As we inched past the unmoving man and the cops, I saw that there were still people on the immobile double decker. They, too, were gaping out their windows onto the road.