I thought I had left the rat race behind years ago. But for the last month or so, I have found myself having to travel to work with all the other madly scurrying rodents who must be at their desks before 9am.
I have to take two trains and a bus to get to work. It’s better than driving in peak traffic though, and parking would cost me more than $100 a week, not to mention petrol. Public transport costs me a mere $30, and for some of the journeys I can get a seat and get emails done or do some reading.
Although I live in a big city, I’ve had the luxury over the past eight years or so of being able to work from home a fair bit, or being able to travel out of peak hour to work.
When I do have to be at work early—which is four days out of five at the moment—it always astounds me just how many people there are everywhere, all trudging off to work at pretty much the same time. As they march off the train to the exits, tickets in hand to “touch off” through the gates, there’s a rhythmical stamp to their progress.
In my teens, I visited Melbourne, Australia, and was entranced by life there in what I saw as the fast lane. When I was in my mid-20s, I left New Zealand to live in Melbourne. I loved the thought of being a city worker. I felt cosmopolitan, sophisticated, excited and energised by the throngs of people, the sky scrapers and the daily rush.
I got a job in corporate publications at the HQ of a big bank in one of those city sky scrapers. It made me feel very “New York” when I’d get a takeaway coffee and raisin toast or a doughnut for breakfast (I could eat such things in those days). From my 23rd-floor office, I had a sweeping view of the city.
In the 1990s, I went to live in a much bigger city, Bangkok, and revelled in its great mix of culture, history, modernity and tradition.
In the 2000s, I was based in the small seaside town of Sorrento (Victoria, Australia, not Italy!). Whenever I had to go to Melbourne, the noise of the crowds and the traffic would accost my ears and I would wish to go home immediately.
I’ll never forget one fine Friday afternoon in Sorrento. I was out on a boat with some friends, and we were fishing, the three of us lolling on the deck, cutting up bait and drinking tea from a thermos. The sea was like glass, and all we could hear was its gentle lapping against the boat. On the horizon, we could just see the hazy cityscape of Melbourne. My friend squinted towards it: “There are people in all those buildings, sitting at desks and working as we speak,” he said. “Glad I’m here.” And we went back to our fishing, with no more than the thought of fresh King George whiting for dinner on our minds and whether or not to put parmesan in the crumb.
Now, I live quite close to the city centre (16 minutes by train), but far enough away that I can’t see or hear it. I can still appreciate a great CBD: a night-time skyline, cathedrals, beautiful book stores, the perfect coffee. But the daily drudgery of having to queue up, push, rush, open bags for security, have tickets checked, and so on leaves me cold. And don’t get me started about rudeness, aggression, people who don’t keep left up stair wells and round corners, and people who rush past you to grab a seat before you get it.
When I go to a city, I’d like it to be not because I have to travel through it at some ungodly hour for work, but because I’m visiting to sample all it has to offer. And therefore, it wouldn’t be at peak times. Count me out of the rat race.