Everyday people: Melbourne's tram conductors

Everybody knows Melbourne is a cosmopolitan city; but how many people realise that its cosmopolitan nature is reflected in its tram conductors? All conductors may wear the same verdant uniform but they are as varied as the fare in the Myer Food Hall.

For instance, there is the fresh-faced girl whose face says: “I’d rather be …” but stoically continues selling and checking tickets in a tram-induced torpor.

In contrast there is the political activist giving a running commentary on the Croatia Rally to his captive audience of commuters. Perhaps he majored in Political Science at Melbourne University and is launching his career on the tram sideboards. One could imagine that during the days of Gorbachev’s exile he left his copy of Das Kapital at home and even perhaps used it as fuel in his combustion heater instead of religiously carrying it around in his conductor’s satchel.

Then there is the earnest middle-aged Asian man who believes that the ‘s’ in ‘service’ really does mean service with a smile. It doesn’t matter where in greater Melbourne you want to travel he’ll find a tram that will take you there. And if there isn’t a tram going to your desired destination then he would somehow extend the tramline especially for you, or at least feel personally responsible for its non-existence.

Another conductor looks as if he will expire any moment. His fingernails and teeth are yellowed from smoking roll-your-own cigarettes. He wears a cloth cap instead of a regulation conductor’s which he pushes back off his forehead to scratch his balding head. He is wondering if he will make it to the tobacconist before closing time as the mere idea of going without his Log Cabin makes his satchel clasps clink and his voice wheeze almost inaudibly.

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The tram Lothario certainly does not wheeze during his daily rounds. He moves effortlessly between tickets. He flashes a smile for each commuter. Sometimes he has a sparkle in his eyes and his smile borders on the obsequious; and you could believe him capable of composing sonnets in honour of the beautiful women who brighten his day.

The collection of characters makes tram travel all the more enjoyable for the visitor. Unfortunately, as soon as you get used to tram travel you have to leave.

Do you people watch?