In light of my recent slackness and current brain malfunctions, I have decided to “reboot” with a blast from the past. I wrote this assignment – a 2000 word story about a journey – for a university class in 2013. My lack of travel, along with my frustration with the unit (“You can’t call it Storytelling and Genre Writing if we only study one genre!”), produced the aptly named story below. Enjoy.
The Most Boring Travel Story Ever
Drivers speed their vehicles past the green bus shelter in a last-ditch effort to get to work on time. It’s 8.52 on a Tuesday morning, and after three buses stating ‘Not in Service’, the 894 Camden to Campbelltown bus finally stops opposite the Narellan Town Centre. After a brief exchange with the driver to pay the fare, I sit low in a blue vinyl seat on the left side of the bus. The sun, welcome after a gloomy week, shines warmly through the window. Outside, a biting cold wind whips the trees and long grass into a furious dance. The Narellan Business Exchange buildings seem unaffected by the harsh winds, though they may have suffered from the power loss the night before.
The bus bumps and jitters along Narellan Road, reputed in the area as one of the worst roads in Sydney. Although it is now after 9am, the ‘Narellan Road car park’ lives up to its name. The small businesses slowly give way to the rickety back fence of Currans Hill houses. One section of the fence has collapsed, perhaps a casualty of yesterday’s strong winds. As the bus crawls past, the trees still for a moment in respect for their brother twice fallen. The bus driver enjoys a brief respite from the stop-and-start traffic as we approach the bus lane at the intersection near the school, however it’s not long before he is forced to rejoin the general traffic. At this rate, I suspect that I won’t be catching the 9.21 train.
Past the school, the rubbish that litters the roadside is more evident, proudly displayed along a chain-link fence. A tree-covered hill offers a short reprieve from the warm sun. At the highway overpass, the view ahead looks bleak. Blinking red tail-lights from vehicles of all descriptions cover the road as far as the eye can see. Stifling a groan, I peer around at the other passengers. They appear unaffected by this revelation, perhaps regulars on the route. After the TAFE and university campuses, the bus makes good time as the traffic relents somewhat. At this rate, the bus may arrive just in time to see the train depart.
Finally arriving at the Campbelltown train station, the bus leaves me on a cold concrete footpath. Tall steel fences with spiked tips prevent direct entry to the platform without a pre-purchased ticket. I start the long climb up the stairs, glancing at the half-torn ads of closed businesses. At the top, the station’s asphalt floor appears to be held together by discarded chewing gum. A small newsagency sits hopefully waiting for customers. With Campbelltown’s CBD across the road, business seems unlikely – the majority of the rushed city workers are already slaving away at their jobs. I purchase a ticket and make my way to the empty platform 2, City via East Hills line. I find a blue wooden bench in a sliver of sunlight. Despite being shielded from the wind by the toilet block and station master’s building, the platform is icy without sunlight. Surveying the concrete jungle, I see that the other commuters are mainly of the older generation, with a spattering of others toting bloated suitcases. Although quite a few are standing, none make a move to share my seat. This is convenient, as even my crazy pregnant thermostat seems unable to keep me warm, and I find myself shuffling slowly along the seat to follow the meagre sunlight. With around 20 minutes to wait for the next train, I take a moment to remember the last time I took this exact journey, five years ago.
It was not long after my husband Ben and I got engaged, a belated gift for my 21st birthday. Ben had recently started working in a large accounting firm in the city, HLB Mann Judd, after a few years in a local accounting firm. Coupled with my early starts at Kirrawee, Ben’s late arrivals at home were taking their toll and we were both becoming quite miserable during the seemingly never-ending work weeks.
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2008: Earlier in the week the real estate had dictated an afternoon inspection at our rented townhouse, and as the lower income-earner with a comfortable collection of annual leave I had taken the day off to attend the inspection. Considering our recent lack of time together, I decide to catch public transport into the city to surprise Ben as he leaves work, then take him out to dinner. Although it is April, summer seems loathe to leave and the afternoon sun is unpleasantly warm. The townhouse is situated along the bus route, so it is easy enough to set out on time. Staring out the window with my headphones blaring, the trip to Campbelltown train station seems to take no time at all. I am surprised at how many people are waiting on the platform at this time of a weekday afternoon. Once on the train, the vinyl seat sticks to my legs, painfully tearing at skin as I occasionally wriggle around in anticipation. The cluey passengers are sitting on the right-hand side of the train, leaving the others to deal with the hot sun beating down through the window. Unable to look out my window, I set my gaze on the corner of a window on the other side of the train in the hopes that any accidental eye contact will be deterred by my black singlet top, ripped denim shorts and large headphones. In hindsight, it probably isn’t the best outfit to be wearing when potentially meeting my husband’s new workmates, but it’s comfortable.
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2013: At last, the 9.51am train screeches into the station. It’s nicer than the train of five years ago; the carriage is air-conditioned, the seats are fabric and at this time of the morning, mostly empty. The sun through the window seems pleasant rather than stifling after the chilly platform. I walk up the stairs and choose the single seat at the back of the carriage. The single seat in front is facing backwards, so I am able to set up my bag and clipboard to take notes. The notes are the purpose of re-taking this journey, a chance to include a little more detail and ensure accuracy for a university assignment. While I would have preferred to write about a more interesting journey, such as the family holiday to Queensland or even driving to University of New England or Charles Sturt University, finances and time constraints meant that those journeys were infeasible for this purpose. Besides, revisiting this particular journey provides its own mild entertainment as some of the other commuters surreptitiously glance in my direction, wondering whether they’re being studied.
The train departs from Campbelltown station, with the window offering a view of industrial estates and caryards. The next few stations – Leumeah, Minto, and Ingleburn – appear to follow a pattern: the train station is surrounded by shops on one side and industrial buildings on the other. Moving away from the graffiti- and gum-covered station, a spattering of aging track-side houses peters out into sports grounds, sparse bushland or grasslands, occasionally revealing even more residences in the distance. Macquarie Fields Station breaks away from the norm, offering a view of Macquarie Links Golf Course on the left-hand side of the train. The station looks well maintained, and the clean, white concrete almost gleams in the sunlight. Glenfield also looks to be a newer station, with the chewing gum seeming like more of an incidental occurrence than a necessity to hold the station together. After passing the private school and some houses, the train changes direction slightly and the sunlight glares through the window. One day, I will learn to factor the sun’s position into my choice of seating on the train.
The inhabitants of the carriage remain quiet with the exception of a young lady holding a phone conversation in French, and a trio of animated Asian ladies chatting in the middle of the train. The next few stations pass in a blur of bushland, earth works and suburbia. There doesn’t appear to be any fixed pattern to which stations have been (or are currently being) refurbished. Some platforms appear to be almost derelict, with no indication of repair work intended.
At Padstow station I lose the single seat that I was leaning on to a lady who smells strongly of perfume and a burnt finger bun. I begin to feel cramped in the limited space, and with my unborn daughter apparently also feeling the squeeze, I search for another seat. Fortunately, a few people leave the train at Wolli Creek, and I find a place to sit in comfort as the train speeds underground towards the airport stations. International, Domestic, Mascot and Green Square are stark and new. Green Square proudly displays an advertisement about the advantage of using the train network to get to the city quickly, which seems rather pointless as the only people who see it have already purchased their train tickets and clearly intend to use the train.
After a brief exposure to the sunlight at Central, the train is plunged back into darkness for more underground stations. Museum and St James are both older stations, apparently revelling in their history. Advertisements from bygone eras line the walls, which appear to have been decorated like a 1970s bathroom. Circular Quay offers a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, an impressively large cruise ship, and sunlight sparkling off the waves. Finally, the train pulls into Wynyard Station.
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2008: I step off the train and follow the crowd until I see a quiet place to stop, just outside the bathroom. I consult my Google maps printout before heading out onto York St. A cloud of cigarette smoke greets me just outside the station doors. In my hurry to escape I turn left instead of right, and end up at the wrong intersection. While I could probably still make my way to my destination without passing through the noxious cloud again, my sense of direction (or rather, lack thereof) dictates that I follow the map implicitly, so I steel myself for another assault. I make my way against the flow of bodies down the steep Margaret St, then right onto Kent St. Tall buildings tower over busy streets. I wander under an overpass and find myself outside 207 Kent St, Symantec House, home of HLB Mann Judd’s Sydney office. Entering the tall glass doors, I am surprised to find that I am currently situated on Level 6, not the ground floor. I make my way to a comfortable leather seat with a view of the lifts, and settle in to wait.
Not a patient person at the best of times, I try to divert my excited energy into picking out details in the foyer without arousing any suspicions from the office workers. A gleaming yacht sits beside the entry, its mast reaching for the high ceilings. Four lifts provide access to the High Rise section of the building, and another three for the Low Rise. The floor is a stylish mix of polished marble, polished floorboards and dark carpet, seemingly unaffected by the day’s use. Outside, a collection of fern-like shrubs restrict the view of the street.
My attention is brought back to the lifts as a steady flow of business suits make their way towards the exit. I scan the crowd for Ben, nearly bouncing off the seat in anticipation and receiving more than one strange look from passing workers. The steady flow is reduced to a trickle, and by 5.10pm I resort to direct contact to find out what is taking my fiancée so long to come out. I send him a picture message of the yacht with the caption ‘Guess where I am?’ My excitement instantly evaporates with Ben’s reply ‘Well, guess where I am!’ I call him to discover that he had also arranged a surprise for me. Knowing that I was at home, Ben had taken an early mark from work so that we could spend some time together, and was already on a train passing Kingsgrove station. I make my way slowly back to Wynyard Station, all but oblivious of the surrounding crowd. Ben waits for me at Riverwood, and we share a cynical laugh as we squeeze into the carriage with the other sardines travelling home after a long work week.
Wow, you made it! Congratulations… and commiserations. Please feel free to offer feedback: the assignment was well-received, however I would still appreciate any comments or suggestions that spring to mind. I can’t go on pretending I’m a writer without actually writing anything, so this is where the evidence will be published, judged and (hopefully) learned from. Onward and upward!