Steel Migrations: riding the 19 tram to North Coburg
I’m occasionally hit by bouts of claustrophobia and hydrophobia.
The claustrophobia is the result of accidentally locking myself in a toy chest when I was six years old. I was in there for an hour before an adult walked passed and heard my muffled screams and unlocked the chest. The closest I’ve felt to this traumatic childhood experience is boarding a crowded 19 North Coburg tram when I’m in a bad mood.
The 19 tram is a fickle beast, prone to fits of madness, rage and the inevitable delays of Melbourne public transport. For the most part I like my tram route because it goes up Royal Parade passed Princes Park and stumbles up Sydney Road spewing commuters onto the pavement and into the many bars and cafes along the way. It’s like a Mallee Ringneck feeding the road with tiny morsels of consumerism.
I can’t remember my first ride on the 19 tram but I do know that I’ve used it almost everyday for the last four years and I can even hear it clanking away at night as I eat my dinner in my wee flat in Ye Olde Lodge. If you’ve ever caught the 19 tram then you’ve probably gone passed my building many times and thought that it’s either a hotel or a halfway house for recently released inmates. I can assure you there are no ex-cons in my building but plenty of other unsavory acts occur on a daily basis, especially in the flat near the laundry.
I think it was the Bedroom Philosopher who wrote about the 86 tram a few years ago and he captured the spirit of the journey perfectly. The 19 tram has a slightly similar ambience but is also very different in many ways, the main difference being that the 19 tram has a strange sense of nobility, particularly if you watch it stop and start up Sydney Road from Brunswick Road. I love watching it slowly crawl up passed Blyth Street and disappear into little Turkey, the sun reflecting off its back windows. It reminds me of being a kid in Scotland, watching my Dad walk up David Street with the day’s takings tucked under his arm, in an old biscuit tin. Just a reassuring feeling of familiarity that makes us all feel at ease when perched on the edge of trepidation.
However, on a bad day the 19 becomes my biscuit tin of nightmares. I only catch it a few stops down to Grattan Street but when I see it approach my stop with its windows misted over and people packed in around the door I’m filled with dread. Why not walk I hear you ask? I’m constantly running late so I end up having to squeeze myself in and just take it like a man. It’s that feeling of impending doom as I mount those stairs and squeeze myself into that jigsaw puzzle of arms, legs and torsos that pisses me off the most. Being stuck next to the person with a bag that is far too big for what they really need to do that day. Music from earphones that’s too loud and never my cup of tea. Sour coffee breath, shit perfume, bullshit conversation and that fading pulse of unease from people just like me. Poor morale is infectious and a bad start to the day.
First world problems I hear you bleat? Of course they fucking are but they’re still problems and I’ve always felt that people who use that expression from the safety of their single story Victorian townhouses are just wankers with European run arounds, trying to make it all authentic with a Triple R sticker on the boot. But being squashed in with all that humanity is not my idea of a good time and finds itself right up there with any film featuring Johnny Depp – Donnie Brasco, notwithstanding.
But on the whole, I like the 19 tram. No I love the 19 tram. It’s regular, double carriaged, has un-vandalised upholstery and runs late on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s something reassuring about coming home on the tram and getting off on Sydney road and navigating your way across the road to Barkly Square. Crossing Sydney Road is an art form and is definitely an example of real life Frogger (see Seinfeld, season 9, episode 18). People unused to it are blown away by the fool hardy moves of locals, unafraid upon white lines, while trams, trucks and bikers speed passed on both sides. It’s all about keeping your nerve and developing a keen understanding of spatial relationships, speed and timing.
So, next time you’re on the 19 tram have a think about its strong links to Sydney Road. That tram dominates that strip of road, which unfolds between Brunswick Road and Bell Street; a huge metal worm muscling its way up the asphalt in all its glory. One of the few trams in Melbourne with a soulful journey, instead of a slow descent into a middle class Hades like the 75 tram’s route to Burwood.
I am unable to account for the hydrophobia. Maybe I’m just lazy.