Sunday, 29 July 2007

"Status" published July 29

Just once in my life you would think it possible to do something a little unusual and not have it become a trend. I’ve been catching buses consistently for 10 whole days. I’ve stood in the rain and waited for 20 minutes, I’ve caught the wrong one and I’ve forgotten to ring the button for my stop. But generally I’ve become quite the buster, complete with my 10 pass ticket and smug saving the environment face.
Distressingly I was recently in a very posh restaurant (having caught the bus and arrived a little early) and overheard a table of well heeled businessmen earnestly discussing their recent bus trips. The men had “my car cost as much as a small house” written all over them but they were telling tales of hopping on not one but two buses to get about the place. Surely rich white men were untouched by such hippy talk as using public transport? Surely my bus experiences were mine and mine alone not to be messed about with by people of that class and status? When my companions joined me one of them looked over at the table and explained away my dilemma.
“They own Stagecoach,” he announced in a matter-of-fact tone only news readers possess.
Obviously they’d been indulging in a fun corporate exercise of “getting down with the customers” and were celebrating in the relative safety of a restaurant none of their customers could afford.
But good on them. The more people who catch buses the better because then we might get more of them, on time and going our way more frequently. We’ll reduce traffic congestion, save petrol, and operate like a proper metropolitan city. We might also get buses free for students and old people which would be super.
There are some of us who adore public transport. I’ve been to Europe six times and never caught a taxi. Not even from the airport. Which sometimes means you’re in a carriage with dope smoking Nigerian teenagers who live in the outskirts of Paris, but they seemed quite nice. They were certainly laidback.
It also means you sometimes get told the train you’re on is the right one when it’s not. But how often do you get to see a quaint old train station in the middle of Sicily while a young woman (who later reveals she is a geriatric neurologist) screams at the top of her voice in staccato Italian at a station master to get her the right train and get it now.
But back in New Zealand if everyone becomes busters, there will be the problem of status anxiety. Without the buzz of sliding into your heated leather bucket seats, firing up the V8 and cruising around the streets in a car designed for fording rivers rather than negotiating traffic islands at an average speed of 40km, how are people going to know that you’re important? How will they know that you have six figure salary, a seven figure house and a really small penis?
I’ve been working on it. First you must wear your money in accessories. You don’t just plug into a 1GB iPod you have the mega 80 GB version. You also have headphones at least the size of your head if not bigger and every accessory you can find from skins to armbands. People will take one look at you and see the equivalent of at least a BMW 3 series or an Audi A4. But add a Blackberry and get busy with your emails and you can shift all the way up to a Porsche or even a Rolls Royce phantom if you score yourself a Vertu or an iPhone.
Then there is the problem of maintaining your status as in individual. By necessity public transport means you are not alone. You may have to sit next to a fat person or listen to rowdy children…yuck! But please don’t return to the solo haven of your vehicle. Consider this a good chance to mix with the “real” people and drop in funny anecdotes at work just to show that you’re “in touch.” You can even afford to become a little supercilious with it now you’re officially a buster.
And if you’re not a status seeking wanker, then it may be necessary to advertise your less materialistic attributes by reading intelligent literature. A newspaper is a good start, a Jane Austen if you’re into attracting the ladies, but why not go the whole hog and grab yourself a copy of “A Life Stripped Bare, my year of trying to live ethically” (available at all good Trade Aid shops.)

No comments: