I don't think that I am a particularly atypical commuter across this swirling massive connurbation that we call Sydney, in that I travel 28 miles one way to get to work. At 56 miles a day, for at least 48 weeks of the year, that adds up to more than 13,000 miles every year. Yet for the vast majority of that travelling, I am seated; as though I was in a movie theatre.
Relative to me, apart from the gentle bouncing that happens in what would be considered one of the most boring fairground rides of all time (and consequently the most successful outcomes of public transport), all of the scenery of Sydney is dragged past the windows at speeds which regularly hit triple digits. When a train is doing 60mph, for every second that passes, 87 feet of scenery is pulled past the windows; that means that I only get a passing glance at anything on the journey. If I want to specifically look at something, there has to be planning in advance and even then, the glance is only fleeting. Yet, here we are in a metal box on rails, where if you replaced the windows with big television screens and put hydraulic jacks underneath the box, you could recreate the whole experience and most people wouldn't really be any the wiser. It really would be a boring fairground ride and demonstrates perfectly that strange concept which people much wiser than I, have called travelling without moving.
On an aeroplane, which is basically a fart filled metal tube of people, which is thrown into the sky and above our heads at five hundred miles an hour, the effect is even more pronounced. Up there the ball of the earth turns slowly underneath and the colours which are obviously made by factories, are dragged past the windows which are smaller than what you find on a commuter train. You're travelling without moving for so long that in some cases you can literally watch the entire Star Wars trilogy and still be within earshot of the same few people the whole time.
On a train though, if you're on the same one every day, then in many respects it is like on that fart filled metal tube in the sky, except without children.
On the train I usually get in the morning, I know that I am the man in the coat and hat with glasses. Sometimes there is another man in a chequered hat with glasses and I expect that we could team up and investigate murders in a crime drama. There are the twins at the far end of the train who look as though they could have played rugby for Australia, in some imagined past. There is a lady in her late twenties who appears to be doing some sort of medical course because she constantly has a book with complicated anatomy diagrams that look more like Britain's motorway network than any kind of system in the human body. There is a man with a pair of big can headphones which puts out unfamiliar dance type music and he is forever drinking energy drinks; probably to keep the sleep out of his eye. There is the Beatrix Potter type lady who has a crocheted bag with a massive flower on the front and paintbrushes which are always poking out.
I see mostly the same people every morning and yet, I bet that if I said a word to any of them, they would all be weirded out. I mean, I would be if some random person came and spoke to me on the train in the morning.
We are all characters who inhabit a specific space at a specific time. Apart from the odd phone call which sometimes breaks the silence and the occasional rapscallion who pierces the quiet with music that is way too loud (all the single lettuce, all the single lettuce), we a microcosm of the city, hermetically sealed in a box of our own farts. Because we inhabit a neutral space, I don't think that any of us are particularly inclined to want to disturb each other. We live in our own little aural bubble; which is occasionally peppered with noises of the train itself.
I can describe a half dozen people that I usually see on the train and yet due to that phenomenon of traveling without moving, I can not mentally picture some things outside the window because they whizz past at 87 feet a second. I don't have a good idea of what Pendle Hill Station looks like yet, after it has been torn down and rebuilt; there is one particular shop in Auburn which I am intrigued to find out what it sells; and there is a Chinese restaurant in Parramatta which I can see from the railway line that I really want to go to but can not explain why.
What goes on inside people's heads is impossible to know unless they tell you something; which means to say that on one of the decks of the train which you can see, there as many as fifty black boxes which are unobservable. I kind of feel that at sixty miles an hour, that even though you can see the world which flashes past outside, you don't really get a chance to observe that either. Granted that you can see trees, buildings, cars, the occasional person walking around, and you can read the signs which whizz past for a moment, travelling through a place doesn't give you any idea of the character of the suburbs and communities; nor of the individual lives which all fit together to build them.
If you could replace the windows with big television screens and put hydraulic jacks underneath this fart filled metal box which we all find ourselves in, it would near enough as make diddly squat difference as to be negligible. Buildings are put up and torn down, people go! about their business, cars move in and out, trains whizz past each other at sixty miles an hour, and none of us are really moved by any of it but we are travelling; even if it is only travelling without moving.