Kaleidoscopic Train Ride

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Something about the Southern train line captures my curiosity. Maybe it’s the diverse graffiti artistically painted across the train body, covering doors and some windows so you can’t see outside, that catches my eye. Or perhaps it’s the bustling nature within the train where one finds blind evangelical singers walking the aisles hoping to hear the sound of coins dropping in their cups, buskers playing over the lively chatter of a mixed group of passengers packed like sardines, and loud vendors walking carriage to carriage selling everything from bags of chips to coolers full of popsicles to loofahs and socks. But it could also be the wind that refreshes my face as it blows through crooked and broken windows, enticing me to stick my head out the window and feel the fast moving cool air while I look across the suburban sprawl and see Table Mountain majestically protecting the city bowl. Oh but the sounds of the train are enough to spark my interest. The siren-like horn as it announces its arrival at a station, the screeching of iron wheels on steel tracks as it comes to a halt, the sigh of the engine informing you that the doors are unlocked, the two blows of the whistle from the train conductor indicating the train is taking off, the electric sound vibrating in the wires after the train is gone…

It’s all of these things and more. It’s the adventure of being on the train. There is no patient train here. You must be quick to hop on the train because it only hesitates for a moment and then is off to the next station. There is no announcement or map on the wall telling you what station you are at – you can only keep track by peering out the window and hoping to see a station sign on the platform. The doors do not open automatically, when the train stops you must pull them open. And you must be aware of which side of the train to get off of because the side that the platform is on varies at each station. Sometimes it’s so packed and hot during the ride that passengers keep the doors open for the whole hour ride, some risk seekers going so far as to hang on as they lean out into the open air. And then there is the unreliable nature of the train that leaves you questioning if it’s worth the ride. Sometimes it will randomly stop for long periods of time leaving passengers uncertain about their time of arrival. Some lie their heads back, accept it and escape into the darkness of dreamland, while others open the doors and continue their journey on foot. If you’re lucky enough, you will be riding the train when it happens to stop in front of the Indian Ocean as it winds along the coast, doors wide open, giving you the chance to see a seal or dolphin and almost always a surfer bru riding the waves as the sun sets over the mountains. It’s enough to appreciate the beauty and tranquility and simply forget about the constraints of time.

Everyone has a different final destination when they board the train. But it is a space of mobility that people of all backgrounds share. Some people ride out of necessity; they have no other means to get to work. For some it’s to save money, for others it’s time. Whatever the reason, the train is a public form of access. Ultimately it serves as a medium to bring people together who don’t usually share the same space. It’s a kaleidoscope of people. A culture in itself. And I think this aspect is what intrigues me the most.

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