Friday, 29 July 2011

The Loud Talker

Melbourne's trains are the perfect gallery for indulging in one of my favourite things: observing people.

The other day I arrived at Southern Cross station during the evening peak.  From the top of the escalator to platform 14 I could see the platform was packed with people.  They were standing in rows, all facing the same way.  In the setting of the soaring roof of the station they looked like the congregation in a cathedral; MX newspaper replaced their hymnals and prayer books.   At this time of the afternoon they were washed in the pale light of the winter sun as it set.  They are united in a common objective: to have the train run on time; yet separated by the specifics of their prayers:  to get a seat on an overcrowded train; not to forget to pick up milk; not to get caught without a ticket by a ticket inspector; to find a way out of the job they hate; to find the strength to walk in the front door, wondering whether the argument is over; to not have a loud talker in their carriage.

I found a seat that day and pulled out my book ("Bossypants" by Tina Fey).  I read the same sentence ten times before I gave up, knowing I had no hope of progressing during this journey, for I had a loud, over-sharer in my carriage.  Her monotonous declarations were further magnified by the otherwise generally silent demeanour of her fellow passengers.

"No," she had told her boss that day.  She didn't want the pay rise, thanks very much, because it would mean she would have to give up her Health Care Card and lose her concession status.  The bonus is okay though, because it doesn't put her over the threshold, but no, she's not interested in a pay rise.

I felt like I was part of a tabloid current affairs television show, aimed at finding welfare disincentives set up by a socialist Government.  I was amazed at how many times it was necessary for her to repeat this information to her conversation partner.  I also learnt how she felt about the requirement to keep the Government informed about her circumstances.  What an impost!  "You'd think they'd know that I'd tell them if my situation changed!" she declared.

She was talking so loudly she may as well have been on her mobile phone.  The lecture lulled.  Commuters sought refuge in empathetic eye contact with each other.  Breaths were held...

"I can't believe the seat reservation policies of airlines.  Fancy having to pay to select a particular seat.  It's  a rip off.  That's what it is."  Perhaps the pay rise would have helped her pay for this, I thought.

Teeth were gritted.  Body language shifted.  Wasn't she listening?  Couldn't she feel the wave of hostility pulsating towards her?  No. She couldn't.  This woman was sitting behind me and I just had to get a look at her.  There was no way to do it subtly, so I just turned around and looked.  I'm sure I had the same face I use when there's someone talking in the movies.  She drew breath momentarily.  We made eye contact.

She was an ordinary person, apparently talking to the woman sitting opposite her.  I'm not sure what the purpose of this other woman was.  She couldn't be heard. Would she have taken the pay rise? There was no space for her to contribute.

I also learnt that she's staying at the Ramada Inn while she's in LA.  She's nervous about driving on the other side of the road.  She's done some preliminary research into what to see while in Hollywood.  She has very strong views about all aspects of airlines and aviation in general.  She's really angry about her boss threatening her status as a welfare beneficiary.

She ran out of steam. Just as I arrived at my stop.  Naturally.

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