Rainy Day Trains #3 & 4

Upper Hutt – part 3 of an occasional series on greater Wellington suburban areas

Saturday was a miserable rainy, gale-force-windy day, so my visiting bro and I decided to go to Upper Hutt. After all, when one goes to Upper Hutt, one ought to take a posse.

For all your polarfleece needs

I’d never been there before and wasn’t sure what to expect, but after the 45-minute train ride, I found a rather ordinary, slightly rundown town centre.

Most of the businesses were either mainstreet chain stores or curious local niche businesses, complete with a superbly ironically named hairdresser – Urban Hair Studio (if I had a hair salon in Upper Hutt, I’d call it Upper Kuttz).

Home fires burning

A block back from the main street was a new mall called Trentham City Shopping Centre, which seems to have invented that moniker to avoid the negative associations of “Upper Hutt”. The mall was strangely empty for a weekend, though this could be explained by the large number of empty shops. It felt like one of those empty subprime mortgage crisis homes on the outlaying suburbs of some American city.

We had lunch at a lunch bar called Mr Trans, which was a real old-style New Zealand lunch bar. It didn’t look like it had been decorated for about 20 years, and had a selection of awful landscapes on the walls, for sale. But you don’t go to a place that like for the decor. You go there for the lammingtons and the ham and tomato sandwiches and the savouries at decent prices. Though I did feel a little out of place at one stage when I realised I was the only woman not wearing polarfleece.

No women's health diagrams

Upper Hutt City’s motto is “A great place to live”. This reminds me of when Hamilton named itself “Fountain City” in the 1970s, with the idea that while the city didn’t have a lot of fountains, maybe if they called themselves that, people would start building them. As it stands, Upper Hutt isn’t currently a great place to live. Not when the weird new all is strangely empty. Not when a guy was stabbed in the town centre last night.

But I’m sure Upper Hutt will figure out what to do with itself sooner or later.

Paraparaumu – part 4 of an occasional series on why it’s better to go out than stay in

So we had this all-day train pass and decided to make the most of it by heading up the coast to Paraparaumu. It’s about an hour on the train, and all the way it was rainy and miserable. But with a little imagination, it’s possible to see how it would be quite nice on a glorious summer’s day.

Virgin Mary upon the hill

We sought shelter as soon as the train arrived, and the Coastlands mall was there for us. (Curious – Queensgate mall in Lower Hutt is the only mall in the Wellington area that doesn’t have a train station outside its door. It’s also the biggest one. Coincidence?)

Coastlands was full of old people, which makes sense given that the Kapiti Coast is full of retirees. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeing out your golden years in a sunny coastal area, but it just feels a bit strange when the town seems overrun with seniors. Can’t we all live together?

We ended up seeing “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” at the local cinema. Briefly, while the film had funny moments, I found it was hard to get involved in the story when there were no characters I sympathised with. Everyone was either an arsehole or a doormat.

Heading back to the city, the Overlander pulled in and the conductor insisted that we get on that instead of the Metlink train. The Overlander was warm, the seats were comfortable, and the carriage smelt really nice. Not only that, but I wiled away the time by reading a brochure about the history of the Overlander, including the Raurimu Spiral – a wonder of modern engineering, etc.

We were also treated to a bit of scenic commentary from the conductor, whose charmingly clunky spiel ran into trouble with the weather: “On your right, you’ll see the Tasman Sea. Also, it separates Australia, which is over there further. Also on your right, you will see Kapiti Island, but you won’t be able to see anything.”

You don’t get that on the Metlink trains.

Friday afternoon late train blues

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was waiting at the train platform for the train home. Half-past five came and went; no train. But I had my iPod, I had some internets on my phone. I could wait for a while. And finally the train came about 20 minutes late.

All was good until the train arrived at the public transport jewel of Lower Hutt, Waterloo Station. An Englishman got on the train, lugging a suitcase, wearing a Lonestar steakhouse t-shirt and looking rather bothered.

He started complaining aloud to anyone who would listen. “The bloody train was half an hour late”, he moaned. (There must have been a tear in the delicate fabric of the space-time continuum that suddenly added on 10 minutes to the time around Lower Hutt). “I don’t know why I came to this bloody country. Trains run every 5 minutes in London,” he proclaimed, somehow mistaking the suburbs of the Hutt Valley (population 100,000) with being akin to London (population 7,350,000).

No one responded or sympathised. He then proclaimed, “The country’s going to the pack, why wouldn’t the trains be any different?” This drew a response from a middle-aged lady sitting nearby, who’d migrated to New Zealand from England 15 years ago. She asked him why, if he disliked it so much, didn’t he leave. “I am bloody leaving. I’m going to Australia on Monday. Biggest mistake of my life coming here.” Oh, really?

“This country’s 30 years behind the rest of the world,” he angrily exclaimed. But, kind sir, that’s why we like living here. The trains might not run as frequently as in other places, and sometimes there are stoppages, but trains don’t get blown up by wannabe terrorists, and innocent people don’t get killed by paranoid police.

The accidental tourist eventually shut up, and the train made its way on to Wellington. Just past the Kaiwharawhara platform, the Englishman got up and stood by the door, obviously wanting to get off the train as soon as it reached Wellington station.

Stopped

But – ha – the train stopped and stayed stopped. The conductor came along an explained that the signals system wasn’t working and had to be operated manually, so only one train at a time could enter or leave Wellington station. There was going to be a long wait.

Another passenger really really had to wee, so he walked out onto a connecting platform between carriages and went off that. I figured this would just reinforce the Briton’s opinion that he was riding on the “bloody Flintstones railway”.

The conductor came out again with an update. We’d get there, eventually, but, “That’s what happens when you don’t invest in your railway and now we’re paying for it.” We get to blame both the last National and current Labour government for this. Oh, but Wellington will soon have the shiny new trains, hilariously named Matangi.

Secret message

The stopped train gave me a chance to check out the surroundings of the railyard, which usually flash by. I saw some graffiti in memory of Darren. What fate had taken him? Maybe he was an English tourist. I wonder if he’d be happy knowing his memorial place was doubling as a public urinal?

Eventually the train got to the head of the queue and finally rolled into Wellington station, one hour after its usual time. I was surprised by how civil everyone (except the angry tourist) remained on the journey. There were a few phone calls made explaining lateness, visitors to the Upper Hutt scrapbooking expo amused themselves with their goodie bags, but no one was furious.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, spending an extra 40 minutes on a lightly filled Welington train isn’t really all that bad.

1987, man

Two teenage boys got on the 006 bus at Mt Eden. They happened to sit across the aisle from a guy probably in his late 30s who was decked out in motor-racing-logo-emblazoned clothing.

Almost straight away, he started telling the boys his plans for the day (going to visit the girlfriend, then over to his mate’s to watch the footy), and then started reminiscing about the golden days:

I used to be involved with stock-car racing. 1987, man. 1987. I was in a car down at these races one night, and there was 10,000 people there. 10,000. The atmosphere was electric. You could cut it. That’s how electric it was. I mean, they weren’t all there to see me. There was actually this fella from the USA who was there, but when we came out, all the lights were on and there was 10,000. I thought, “Shit – this is it.” It was pretty tough in those days. You had to hang on. You let go, you’re gone. 1987.

The only thing standing between you and me is the bus, baby

I had the day off today, so I decided to go to Sylvia Park because it is a mall and it is shiny and new.

I considered taking the train – the new Sylvia Park station opens today – but it actually looks like going from Mt Eden station Sylvia Park could require three trains, which is, like, totally ridiculous.

So instead I took the 512 bus. It starts off fairly ordinarily – Symonds, Khyber, Broadway, Great South, Main Highway, Ellerlie-Panmure Highway, but then once it hits Mt Wellington, it goes on this dizzying circuit of various suburban streets, including one called Ferndale, which is the fictitious setting of Shortland Street, which makes me think that the bus isn’t actually grinding around the suburban hills, but rather I’ve accidentally jumped across a vortex in the space-time continuum and am in a parallel universe/limbo where I must circle the mean streets of Ferndale South in a bus until finally I get to jump back in to the relative civilisation of Mt Wellington Highway.

Now, when I first visited Sylvia Park a few weeks ago, it was a quiet Friday. The mall felt like a 1960s English Corbusian-inspired housing estate that had been turned into a New Zealand mall, and I was quite excited by it all.

But when I got to Sylvia Park today, I realised I’d made a terrible mistake. It was the school holidays, so the mall was packed with babies&children&teenagers.

Enough Sylvia Park school holidays mayhem! I jumped on the first bus that came along with “DOWNTOWN” on its destination board. What I didn’t realise was that it went to downtown via Panmure, when meant entering a whole other space-time continuum and going on more crazy-ass circuits, past butcher shops that offer discount rates on sausages for sports clubs and hangis.

But as it happened, I’d just signed up with Twitter, so I amused myself by sending progress reports to the interwebs:

Life would be so much easier if I were a shut-in/hermit (hermette?) type.

10 cents for your thoughts

Getting the bus today was rather exciting. In fact, it was even more exciting than the time last week when I inadvertently got high from the paint fumes some dude was huffing a few seats away. (Crazy people: if you’re going to abuse solvents, please don’t do it on public transport, especially air-conditioned buses where the windows don’t open.)

The big news is that the bus fare has gone up another 10 cents to $1.60. This, my friends, is an absolute outrage, for it was only a few months ago when it went from $1.30 to $1.50.

I was quite happy for it to be $1.50, and I was looking forward for it being that much for at least a year. It was very convenient to fish out three fun-sized 50c pieces and give them to the driver. But now $1.60 is going to be annoying. I’m going to have to start finding 10c coins or mucking around with twenties. God, how inconvenient.

This morning when I got the bus, I forgot about the price increase. I plonked down three fifties and the bus driver looked at me like I had come through a wormhole from the 1940s was expecting change from a halfpenny.

“It’s a dollar sixty,” he grunted. “Oh! Ha ha! Yes!” I gracefully exclaimed, and managed to piss off both everyone on the bus and waiting in line behind me as I took far too long rooting around in my wallet for the 10c coin I knew was there.

Later, as I boarded the bus home, I gave the driver a $2 coin as I couldn’t be bothered making $1.60 in exact change. He stared at it and a slightly nervous look shot across his face. “Have you got a 10c coin, ma’am?” he asked. “Oh, sorry, no,” I replied, trying not to look like a lying liar. “Hmm,” he hmmed, as he reluctantly departed with one of his precious, precious 20c coins and two tens. See, that’s what happens when the price goes up.

Those who can’t, catch the bus

I recently pulled a muscle in my leg and then it got better and then I pulled it again. Both times the injury took place as I was jaywalking in an effort to catch the bus (which I dislike), and both times the injury has meant I’ve had to take the bus more while I wait for my leg to fix itself. There is a lesson to be learned here; something about how catching the bus is hazardous to one’s physical health.

It’s probably also hazardous to one’s mental health too. If it ain’t polyphonic ringtones (or worse – people who play music aloud on their phones), it’s today’s lady bus driver (whose bulging abdominal fat stuck out through the open zip on her uniform pants) who was so excited by the two American tourists on the bus, that after they got off, she kept the bus waiting as she told them about her dream of going to America one day.

Last night I decided to have fish n chips from the fish shop. I knew from previous experience that “one chips” was really enough for two, so I ordered half a chips (that sounds so wrong) and one fish. I ended up with two pieces of fish and enough chips that I could have easily gone halves with someone and neither of us would have been hungry. Tragically, my rubbish bin was the recipient of one fish and a quarter chips. Sometimes I wish the concept of McDonald’s-like portion stinginess would infiltrate its way into fish n chip shops.

Gangsta dwarf rock

A few times an elderly man has caught my bus. He gets off at a special stop outside a retirement village. The last time he was getting off the bus, two teenage girls started giggling. I looked up and saw why – on his top he was wearing an ordinary old man sort of jacket and shirt; on his bottom he was wearing a pair of trackpants with PLAYA emblazoned in gangsta script.

After work today I was walking to the bus stop. I saw a man walking towards me. I glanced at him, just as I glanced at many other people along the way. I quickly registered that he was a dwarf. Then he winked at me.

Fans of quality Waikato rock will be interested know that Prime Devastation have recently issued a press release regarding some things that have been bugging them.

Hitchin’ a ride

I showed up to the bus stop at 6.30 this morning and there was a lady there frantically trying to hitch a ride with any vehicle that went past, including a police car.

A couple of taxis drove past and she attempted to hail them, but they drove on by. Then a cab pulled up and she let out a huge sigh of relief and walked towards it. But she was soon stopped in her tracks when a passenger got out of the taxi and dashed over to the ATM while the taxi waited for him.

The woman turned to me and said in a cranky, rude voice, “You know, there are no buses today. They are all on strike,” with a silent “you stupid girl” added by her sneer.

“Oh,” I said. “I guess I’ll have to walk.”

“Hmph. Lucky for some,” she muttered, before returning to her mission of attempt to bum a ride to wherever it was she so urgently had to be.

Public transport

The bus drivers were on strike today, which hugely inconvenienced me because there were all these other people clogging up the footpaths and all these cars running red lights as they tried getting to work along the congested roads.

Actually, the chaos caused by the lack of public transport made me realise how many people actually use the buses. I only take buses when I start early or finish late. Otherwise I walk, because it’s just not pleasant being crammed in a bus with a bunch of other miserable people on their way to work.

There’s something horrible about a full bus. I’ve been on the packed 96 tram doing the 50-minute rush-hour journey all the way from downtown Melbourne to St Kilda, and that was more tolerable than even a lightly-packed bus.

Instead the Auckland bus system gives me the pleasures of such fellow passengers as The Smelly Guy. I encounter The Smelly Guy on my 7am-start weeks. He gets on a few stops after I do and the last thing he does before boarding the bus is to put out the cigarette he’s smoking. This means that he comes on the bus reeking of smoke. But it’s not just that.

He appears to be a painter and probably wears the same painting clothes every day, so as well as the fresh cigarette smoke, his clothes are impregnated with the odours of stale smoke, paint and, yes, body odour. One morning the bus was full and he ended up sitting next to me. I felt ill from his malodorousness.

But this morning I had the sweet smells of autumnal Auckland to keep me company as I made my way to work.

Tourism

I was walking home along the Symonds Street motorway overbridge. It started to rain, first little droplets, then big, fast, heavy rainfall. It was interesting seeing the number of people who stopped and crossed over to the other side of Symonds Street and caught a bus. That’s what I did too.

Earlier I noticed some very cool police action at the K Road/Pitt Street/Mercury Lane intersection. There was one cop standing up the top. Whenever a car would violate the intersection blocking rule, he’d walk over and give the driver the branding words, or take down license plate numbers if the car got away. Also, whenever a vehicle travelling from Pitt Street to Mercury Lane tried to speed through an orange light, but ended up running a red, the cop would radio through to another cop parked down Mercury Lane a bit, and he’d get the offending vehicle to pull over. I was crossing over Mercury Lane on a green man when a red van shot through. It was pleasing seeing the cop make him stop.

Even earlier I met up with Chris Foggynotion. It was very cool meeting him. I still have this idea that everyone on the internet is a huge loser geek with bad hygiene and no social skills, so whenever I meet someone of the net who turns out to be the complete opposite of that, it’s a pleasant surprise.

iseeparisOk, here’s something fun. Remember when I posted the pic of me in Paris? And Yesmum commented that “‘Robyn in Paris’ is the new ‘Man standing on top of the World Trade Centre with a Plane in the Background’.” Well, one of my interweb friends also picked up on that and got busy with Photoshop.

iseeparisday
The Independence Day attack.
iseeparisfriend
The WTC guy
iseeparisufo
A mysterious UFO.
iseepariswtc
The WTC guy’s plane.