Common urban tribes: Groovy women

Common urban commuter tribes of the 67

NAME: Groovy women (Hippus floppyhatti)

APPEARANCE: Never over 40. Generally wearing boots, a beret, beanie or floppy hat. Short hair and an abundance of black clothing.

ACCESSORIES: Gloves during winter. Cloth bag or one of those dicky little backpacks. Probably has a mobile phone, but then, who hasn’t?


OTHER ATTRIBUTES: Usually reading fashionable magazines or lecture notes, or having what sounds like an incredibly pretentious and
meaningless conversation.

School buses and Coke

US School BusSchool buses. There is nothing quite like an American school bus. I don’t know why they have to be that colour, but it’s cool. Maybe they found people just didn’t spot them unless they were big, yellow and with lots of stop signs attached.

After a few days on holiday in America, the school buses became a bit of an obsession with me. I just had to get a good photo of one. Australian school buses are just plain buses, so it would be just as much a postcard as a piccy of the Grand Canyon.

At first I couldn’t snap one. They’d be past before I got the camera out. They taunted me. Until we stopped in the little town of Jerome, Arizona (proud to announce the arrival of the town’s first bank machine), and I snapped one coming down the main street. Of course, once I got my photo, I’d see fleets of them everywhere – typical, eh? But it didn’t matter – I had my picture of the big yellow school bus.

The USA is one of the last countries still to hold out to metric. Imperial measurements rule. There is nothing more confusing than to attempt to buy a drink that’s 12 fl oz, when you not only don’t know how much a fl oz is, you don’t even know what it stands for. I got by though – I’d just look at the sizes on offer and choose the middle one. That way I knew I wouldn’t be getting anything pathetically small or ridiculously big.

But I get the feeling that metric is sneaking in… it’s taking over by stealth. It’s on the stuff that nobody reads – the nutrition information. Well, almost, the energy/fat (it’s energy if you use it, it’s fat if you don’t) is in calories instead of kilojoules.

There was one other thing measured in metric, something that I didn’t expect. Coke bottles. Yep, the ol’ two litre bottle of Coke is alive and well in the USA. But the cans are [some amount of fl oz] that brings them out at only 355ml! Ripped off! No wonder I still felt thirsty after drinking a can of Coke; I was 20ml short of quenching my thirst! Americans! Rise up! March on the streets! Demand your 20ml of Coke!

Common urban tribes: Young male executive

Common urban commuter tribes of the 67

NAME: Young male executive/consultant (Yuppis Andersenis)

APPEARANCE: Double breasted suit or jacket and trousers. Fancy tie. Button-down collar. 55% chance of cuff-links. Trenchcoat in winter.

ACCESSORIES: Mobile phone generally concealed about person, but nobody ever calls. Copy of The Financial Review. Briefcase or big leather diary.

VOCABULARY: Mostly TLAs and discussions on tax minimisation.

OTHER ATTRIBUTES: Annoying habit of pulling cord and standing by the door a ridiculously long time before the stop.

Things from home

People apparently want to know more about our big trip to America last month. Oddly enough, the people who want to know the most are the Americans. Either they just want an outsiders view, or they’re trying to make sure we had a good time there. Which we did.

If you live in Seattle, and you know someone visiting from Melbourne, be sure to take them down to the waterfront. Seattle has half a dozen trams from Melbourne down there, and it’s probably the spookiest feeling in the world to be sitting in a vehicle (a) that’s such an obvious reminder of home and (b) as far away from home as you are. What really makes your jaw drop is to see the old notices for the tramways band playing at Wattle Park. Just plain weird.

Seattle’s Space Needle is cool, too. You’ve seen it painted onto the back of the studio set on Frasier – well I’ve gone up in it. Quite apart from the view, the design of it is just so olde-sci-fi that it looks like a prop from one of those early Flash Gordon series.

Seattle also has ferries. Stepping out onto the deck of a Seattle ferry in the wind is possibly one of the coldest things I’ve ever experienced. The wind doesn’t obey the normal rules of aerodynamics – it just seems to go through you rather than around you.

Actually, we didn’t spend all of our holiday in America – we got to nip into Canada for a couple of days too, on the pretence of going to see Vancouver, but it was mostly so I could get another stamp in my passport.

Crossing the border was a bit intimidating actually. Because my wife and son have dual nationality, I was the only Australian in a car full of Americans. They didn’t even have to show any ID – I was the one who had to get out for a grilling at immigration.

At first I thought they’d be really friendly. I spotted the picture of Her Maj Queen Liz on the wall and thought they just wanted to say hello and welcome to a fellow Commonwealth person, and compare notes on socialised medicine. Turned out to be a quick quiz about where we were going, how long for, just a short conversation to see if I’d suddenly break down and shout “Oh stop playing games! You know all about it! You know about the mysterious white powder in the lining in the suitcase… you know about the huge amounts of currency… you know about the false passport in the name of Gonzo McGillycuddy.”

Just as well I wasn’t really concealing anything other than that I really needed to go to the toilet. But it still made me a bit nervous – knowing that a cough at the wrong time could result in some customs guy ramming a rubber-gloved hand up my arse for a rummage around.

In the end they were just friendly and business-like, and I got my precious passport stamp. Driving on into Canada, things began to look more familiar, as the miles turned into kilometres. The money was different colours… they had $1 and $2 coins… but there was still the confusion of VAT and tips.

Common urban tribes: Skateboarders

Common urban commuter tribes of the 67

NAME: Skateboarders (Skatus bigpantus)

APPEARANCE: Loose t-shirts, and very big pants. Often with caps on backwards, smelly sneakers. Always bad haircuts.

ACCESSORIES: Skateboard, soft-drink bottle, multicoloured misshapen lump which might have once been a bag.

VOCABULARY: Mostly complaining about school, or talk of the skateboard spare part trade.

OTHER ATTRIBUTES: Typically in groups of three. Almost exclusively male. Ability to walk doubtful.