Plugged in and tuned out
500 Words: Odd One Out
We stand on busy Parramatta road on a Monday morning, the first day of the school holidays. We wait at the bus stop just down from the footbridge overpass, shouting to each other as the cars, trucks, vans and motorbikes thunder past on their way into Sydney city. A sleek concertina bus pulls up. The driver hardly looks at us as we board . Up one step, then another. We’re on a pre-pay bus and as the the door closes and the bus lurches inelegantly into the traffic, we fall toward a contraption on a pole that punches a hole in our ticket and ‘pays’ for our ride. The bus is pretty full and the only seat that’s free seems to be reserved for people with prams but the driver is oblivious and there’s no conductor to tell us off, so we park our bottoms there anyway.
The bus pitches forward. I’m sitting at right angles to an older, dishevelled guy with flowing grey hair, wild eyes and a smiley face. When we make eye contact, he launches (very loudly) into his medical history and his upcoming cartilage operation. He’s shouting information at me about surgeons, procedures and outcomes. I listen and nod. I can’t honestly say I really want to be a part of this conversation but I don’t want to be rude either. I am interested in what he has to say.
But no one else is interested and no one else is listening. Everyone else on the bus is plugged in and tuned out. Blank faces are connected to iPods whilst others are seemingly talking to themselves when, in fact, they are connected to their phones and on hands-free. Fingers tap away at tablets on laps. Not a newspaper in sight. The old guy keeps talking at me and I keep listening. Whenever other passengers do look up and see us conversing, they turn away, looks of boredom on their faces.
My daughter thrusts her mobile phone to my ear. “Hello? Hello?” I gabble, thinking someone is on the line. “Just pretend you’re talking mum,” she hisses. “I do it all the time when I don’t want people to bother me.”
I’m appalled but I totally understand at the same time. “But where’s your compassion?” I ask her.
She rolls her eyes at me.
We lurch to another stop and a lady with a pram gets on. She needs our seat so I bid a hasty goodbye to the old guy and we make our way up the next step to the back of the bus. Back here, everyone is connected to their machines. Not one physical conversation
is taking place. No eye contact. Nothing.
For a while there, I was the odd one out, and it felt good.