Saturday, 21 May 2011

Buses & The Badass Elbow Brigade

This morning I sat down next to a relatively slender woman on the bus, thinking I'd get an easy ride. As soon as I sat down, she shoved her elbow out and all but winded me, and she stayed in this position for the whole half hour trip.

As much as this annoyed and puzzled me, as I tried to ignore the bony elbow shoved up directly under the right side of my rib cage, it didn't completely surprise me. It's the forth time this week that it's happened. I understand that it's hard to share a bus seat at times, having never owned a car, I've surfed more than my fair share of the public transport wave. However, surely it's not that big a leap of empathy to see the fairness of sharing the other side of the seat with traveller number two?

It makes me wonder what this lacklustre reception to bus seat sharing stems from. It is an increasing wish for personal space or territory, in a city that's growing more and more populated? I hardly think so - look at Asia. From personal experience, when I was in Thailand and Malaysia a few years ago people were crammed into buses and train carriages and didn't much mind sharing their - and my - personal space. So maybe it's a cultural thing? Australia does have more wide open spaces, and an expansive skyline, after all. Perhaps this translates in to expectations of a wider circle of personal space per person in public transport.

I quite like public transport. It's cheaper than a car and I get an extra half to full hour worth of sleep in the morning (if I'm lucky enough to get a seat). Sometimes there are those wonderful moments when you have a connection with another person while waiting for the bus or when someone hops up and gallantly offers their bus seat (there is still romance and chivalry in the world). Even in angry big and scary cities I've seen these moments happen many times.

So I suppose the elbowing phenomenon shouldn't come as a surprise. This isn't my first encounter with the eager elbow brigade either. I've noticed it a few times in the last few weeks, mornings mostly. I tend to fall asleep after about five minutes on the bus and not wake up until my destination (like clockwork). But this morning I was distracted, and awake.

While travelling between France and Spain I spent six hours on a nighttime bus, next to a effervescently cute, but completely hammered Spanish boy. He didn't speak English, I don't speak Spanish but he shared his music and his smile with me. If not for this connection, I would not have known where to leave the bus when I got to my destination. He nudged me to tell me that this was "San Sebastian". I also think that he just wanted to get out and drag deeply on another cigarette.

When my friend Danny and I first flew into Malaysia a few years ago we were exhausted and I was overwhelmed by sights, sounds and the general strangeness of everything. Two days later we were waiting for a train, our weary backs resting up against the slightly slimy cold wall at a train station in KL, to take us to the border of Thailand. We weren't the only young travellers sitting around, patiently sharing peanuts. With us was a young Swedish girl, Malin, that Danny got to talking to. I was too overwhelmed and sat reading the guide book (not yet the 'seasoned' traveller I like to think I am today).

When the tardy train finally arrived Malin sat with us in our third class carriage and over the eight hour trip through bone clattering hell, we made a pact to meet up at the Full Moon Party at the end of the month. And we did, and it was awesome, and six years later I met her and stayed with her in Sweden. Not to mention the other Swedish girl we met through her, who stayed with my friend Kat and I for three months in 2006. But that's another story...

You know that moment, when the person on the inside of the bus seat you're sharing moves slightly, but deliberately against you, and you brace yourself to get up at what will potentially be their stop? Well I felt that this morning, and then she (the elbow lady) made another movement as if she was going to arise from her hallowed seat, but didn't. So I asked, "Is this your stop?" and she haughtily said no and harumpted. That sound one makes when displeased. I smiled, and inwardly rolled my eyes.

So perhaps my lovely (loosely speaking) bus companion of this morning was one of a kind, but I feel a sense of loss for her. There are so many whimsical and entrancing moments I've had on buses, planes, trains, ferries and in shared taxis. Not to mention standing in shelters and waiting for never arriving buses. It's a connecting feeling and it reminds me of the links I share with the people around me. I'm not standing on the outside, in my metal bubble, looking in to the world. I'm in a sardine can of emotion, leaning against my seat buddy as I sleep my way to work each morning. Who wouldn't want more of that?

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