[Helensville Vintage Travel Poster]
The first two weeks of my new job is training based in central Auckland, and I live in Helensville. I ask about staff parking only to be told that only managers are lucky enough to have a car park, but there is parking across the road for $20 a day. I haven’t made any money yet so $20 is already too expensive. I’m told my training supervisor also lives in Helensville and she catches the 6.30am bus in. 6.30am isn’t even a real time in my world, but at $10 return it is a lot more reasonable: I dread Monday morning.
5.30am Monday morning. I’m awake, well my eyes are open, my feet are on the floor and I’m confused about where the light switch is. Getting ready seems to take longer than normal but that could be the lack of energy. I drive myself to the local bus stop. I don’t want to be late, so I’m there with plenty of time. It's cold, it’s dark and it’s bloody early. At some point I consider getting in the car, driving in and paying the $20, at least that way I can have a nap in my car at lunch.
I’m nervous as 6.30am gets closer and as it passes minute by minute. I’m worried they just decided to not run the bus this morning. 6.41am, 11 minutes late, two nails fully chewed off and a third one in my mouth when the bus casually pulls up to the curb. I swear at myself mentally. Jen said that buses are either two minutes early (and that, she had never seen in three years of catching the bus to town for Uni) or they’re ten minutes late.
I hop on after a middle-aged woman who looks bored and give the bus driver the exact change for my fare. I turn and look down the bus, everyone looks like they’re on a bus of convicted criminals on their way to prison, bored, grumpy and displeased with anyone of the factors on this cold dark morning.
All except one. A larger woman that is dominating the space on her seat meant for two. She has her hands in the air waving like a lunatic. This must be Suzie, the training supervisor from Helensville. I make my way slowly down the bus with my nicest smile on. “Oh Em Gee! You must be Amie! Hi! I’m Suzie! I’m your training supervisor! It’s so nice to meet you!” I’m not sure what my face looks like but I know in my head I’m shocked. This woman in her late 20’s early 30’s has just started with ‘Oh Em Gee’ and has continued her greeting at such speed I’m not sure for a moment what she has actually said. I haven’t had a coffee yet and Suzieis way too perky for this time of morning. “Hi, yup that’s me, nice to meet you.” I say in a mono tone before dropping into the seat in front of her, it’s all I can manage.
At some point near Point Chev I wake up a bit and realise I’m bored. Looking around the bus I realise that everyone has a book or an iPod. I turn around to my perky supervisor, “is there a place I can get a decent coffee near work?” Perky looks up from her book at me and goes into full swing. “Oh yeah! There is a really small but really good coffee shop right next door to the office. They do amazing muffins and other stuff too! I always go there before work.” I’m still amazed anyone can talk that fast. I’m bored enough that I decide to ask another question. “This seems to be taking forever. How much longer till we get there?” It’s already 7.30am. She smiles “Oh about another 40minutes.” I know my mouth drops open because she actually laughs at me. “And we haven’t picked up the majority of the passengers yet.”
My heart sinks. I thought I was going to get away with a nice short, quiet, seat to myself ride on the bus. So far only the seat to myself has come true and according to Suzie, that is about to change. Two stops later a big group gets on. They must be a bunch of friends because they are gossiping away. They don’t even look at the bus driver as they swipe their concession cards. Apparently one of them saw Jeff leaving Wendy’s house looking dishevelled while Wendy’s husband Brian was at work. SCANDAL! They all gasp. A blonde in a skirt that is way too short for her age doesn’t want to be out done. She saw Jeff kiss Wendy the way her husband should in a park down the road. SCANDAL! They all gasped again. They all go quiet as the next group of passengers get on. Among the new group is a red head. She smiles and walks up the bus towards the gossips. They all say, “Morning, Wendy.” Wendy sits in the seat next to me. Great.
Now everyone has heard what the gossips were saying, and they had just identified Wendy, and Wendy is next to me. There are a lot of evil looks being aimed at our seat. I try to slink down and become invisible. No such luck. Wendy has noticed the looks and thinks I’m the reason for them. She turns to me and in a hushed voice says “What the hell did you do?” The voice is hushed but the tone is nasty. She sounds like she hates me, she doesn’t even know me.
Sadly for her I’m at boredom break point and having been denied a sleep in and a coffee my mood is turning sour. In a voice that isn’t as quiet as it could have been I say, “It’s not me they are looking at, hon. Those looks are all for you. Your girls over there told the entire bus before you got on that you’re doing the dirty with some guy named Jeff while your hubby is at work. So it’s all on you.” I turn and look out the window.
Fuck. Less than two seconds after saying it, I regret it. My first time on a bus in three years and I manage to get involved in someone else’s business and become a raving bitch. I should have had a coffee at home. I refuse to turn around and watch the full blown screaming match that’s going on behind me. I know it would be entertaining. I feel Wendy get up off the seat, then an audible slapping sound. I give in. I turn around to see a full on cat fight happening: hair pulling, slapping and screaming.
Suzie leans over and taps my shoulder, “Our stop.” I grab my bag and push past the mass of women. I can see a coffee shop from here. I smile, thank the bus driver and head for the coffee queue. All it takes is two sips of my flat white and I think, ‘That bus ride wasn’t so bad, but I still have to get home.’
Work is as boring as a first day can be. I’m a quick learner and by lunch time I have convinced them to leave me on the membership counter doing payments and helping out customers. I have already figured out how to process a basic driver licence application but Suzie has decided that would be moving me a bit fast. Lunch is better. I’m told to take 45 minutes so I decide to walk down to Queen Street and wander around for a bit.
Before I know it, I have a paper bag with some Burger King in it and I’m sitting on a park bench in Albert Park. It’s nice to be outside in the sun, a little chilly but it’s ok. The fresh air is a help but before I can even open my burger wrapper and say ‘cheese burger’, there's some homeless guy sliding onto the bench next to me. He is in some mish-mash clothing, a big brown jacket over the top of it all. His face is filthy and he stinks. He has a gleam in his eye that makes me wonder if he is crazy or just hungry, he’s staring a hole right through my burger. I’m not going to discount the crazy though, hungry people can go crazy when they don’t get food. I sigh. He isn’t just going to leave me to my burger and I can’t eat while people are watching me. I toss my burger at him and grab up the bag with the chips still inside. They will have to be enough.
I haven’t even got my arse off the bench to walk back to work when he says, “Arncha gunna leave me ya chips?” Filthy fucking arsehole! I’d already given him my burger, but even the thought of him knowing I have chips, taints them. I toss the bag backwards at him without looking back and stalk my way back down the hill. I stomp back into work with a second coffee in my hands, back to the boredom of processing membership payments. Four hours to go.
At 5.00pm I’m given the arduous task of pulling in the footpath sign. It’s the only closing task I’m able to do because no one trusts me to learn how to cash up my till. Suzie tosses my coat and bag at me, “We better scoot, or we will miss the bus and the next ones not till 5.50pm.” Her speech has slowed gradually over the day, like a tape deck running out of battery power.
I refuse to miss the bus. This day has already sucked enough. My stomach is on full volume rumble due to my lack of lunch. All I had had was the muesli bar that had been floating in my handbag. I wave a half-arsed goodbye to the staff and walk away.
Suzie asks how I felt my first day went, my stomach is mid growl, I’m heading towards hungry crazy so I’m a bit blunt, “Shit, I pick things up quickly so I was bored most of the day.” Suzie nods. “I thought so. It’s a bit of a pity that Toni isn’t moving as quick.” Toni . I have to do my two weeks of training with Toni and she is as thick as mud. She couldn’t work out membership payments and I couldn’t move onto the next step till she had caught up, ultimate fail. If I had it my way, this training would only take a week. For Toni it would take at least a month.
The bus stop is crowded, apparently every bus leaving Auckland stopped here. Not a good thing for me. Yes I have Suzie here to help because she has to catch the same bus but you still have to be quick. I spot our bus first and move towards it. My change is already in my hand, just to make sure I’m as quick as possible getting on. I give the driver my change and walk down the bus to one of three free spots left. It’s a tossup between sitting next an old guy who is nose deep in what looks like some French novel, a blonde lady who’s nodding away to an iPod or a young chick who’s looking out the window, looking bored. I go with the young chick. I figure she has nothing to read or listen to as well so maybe we could start up a conversation. Then she will get off and I can enjoy the relative quiet and decide what to make or buy for dinner.
Well I wish I’d sat next to the old guy. The moment I sat down and smiled it was like asking to be the waste basket that she dumped her problems into. She never even asks my name she just jumps right in and starts crying about her boyfriend cheating on her, his name is Matt, and that he had cheated with her sister, not sure of her name, it was caught in a sob. Then she is crying into my shoulder, actually touching me. Personal space, GONE! The next thing I understand is something about a chemistry test and having used the wrong thing and burning curtains? I’m still not really all that sure.
I notice a string of snot making its way from her nose, towards my work shirt. I’m tempted to just hop up and move seats but when I look the bus is packed to the point where people are standing. I’m trapped. Shit. I turn back and the snot has made contact with my shirt. I give up. Then she says very clearly “I just don’t know what to do.” which sets her off into an even more full blown crying session. Everyone on the bus is looking everywhere but at the wailing girl crying into my shoulder. The only thing I can ask is “Where is your stop?” She mumbles at me through bubbles of spit that she lives in Westgate. I’m not religious, but I pray we get to Westgate quickly.
God doesn’t hear me. The motorway is packed, and barely moving. I look out over the head of the sobbing mess on my shoulder and watch the world go by. I think about dinner, Enchiladas, with sour cream and wedges, my favourite, as a special treat from myself for dealing with this horrible day. The wet has seeped through my shirt now. We get off the motorway to do two drop offs. One other seat opens up, next to Suzie. But who am I kidding? There isn’t even enough room on the seat next to her for her bag let alone my arse. I do the only thing I can to pass the time, zone out.
Then the bus is at Westgate and the bawling baby thanks me for listening. I don’t reply. She gets off and everyone left on the bus relaxes. It’s getting dark outside. I left Helensville in the dark on a god forsaken bus and now I will return to Helensville in the dark on a different god forsaken bus. I sigh. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’m so very ready not to be in this uniform. I watch the sky grow dark out my window. I watch the lights of passing cars. The bus turns and goes around the roundabout before gliding into Helensville. I can see my car. I have never been so excited to see my car. The bus slows, it stops, the doors open and I spew out, keys already in hand. The bus drives away and I climb into my car. It’s quiet. Really, truly quiet, I love it. Then I think this is only day one of ten for my AA training and my head falls to the steering wheel, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!