I cycle to work every day. It’s free and it’s fun. On my commute I have to weave through varying angles of lane-changing traffic and try to beat amber lights before they turn red. My main source of amusement is other cyclists though. Blokes who pedal through the CBD every morning in lycra and clip-on shoes. Clip on shoes they have to unclip at every junction as they await the green light. And then clip on again as they attempt to regain momentum before unclipping 15 seconds later as they reach the next junction. They spend so much time clipping and unclipping they forget to actually cycle. They are among the slowest cyclists on the roads. Tourists with the chunky hire bikes merrily cruise past these huffing clip merchants, while their lycra sags with sweat produced predominantly from frustration. And why the lycra? It is not saving you time. It is making you look like a toothpaste commercial.
I have worn both lycra and clip-on shoes but that was for long distance rides in the countryside. This is a ten minute chug in rush hour. And then there’s the guys (it’s only ever guys) who decide to cycle down the pedestrian walkways near our boat along the wharf. It’s teaming with tourists, lost old people and confused foreigners squinting at maps. Suddenly a neon helmeted blur flashes into view as some chubby bloke on a road-bike with tyres as thin as pencils careers along the riverside in bottom gear like he’s trying to catch the peloton. Ringing the bell repeatedly he screams things like, “Watch out! Heads up!” as the masses are forced into evasive action, diving out the way, children split from their terrified parents, a bolt of pink and green dividing them. Why don’t they slow down? If they are truly in a rush, why don’t they use the roads? I assume they don’t as there’s less clipping and unclipping on pedestrian walkways, just excessive panic and fear instead. And as for the ones who have earphones in while they demand walkers to take heed of their frantic yelling, please do us all a favour and cycle straight into the Yarra. I finally snapped and yelled at one the other day who had the temerity to berate some Asian tourists for getting in his way, “In Australia we overtake on the left!” He screeched, the confused muddle of selfie sticks and smart phones failing to part appropriately for him. It was just asking for a witty retort, so bloody-minded and casually racist it had to be dealt a swift biting blow. “Just slow down you idiot,” I shouted instead, swiftly averting my eyes as the clipped crusader turned to me. He zoomed off, hopefully into a ditch somewhere. The Asians didn’t understand what I’d said and carried on taking on selfies. “Excuse me,” I said as I pushed my way meekly through to my bike.
That’s me in the shirt trying to control the baying masses. We’re clearly the hottest ticket in town.
Been a while! I should set the scene: I’m sitting in our compact wee room on the first floor of a dishevelled pile of bricks called 5 David Street. The roof is made of tin so we’re slow roasting at 6pm, under the latent heat of the 3pm sun. The swivel fan, last used on the set of JFK, gingerly puffs warm air around the room like a series of disappointing farts.
Despite these humble surroundings, Melbourne is a gift that keeps on giving. My job as a river tour guide continues apace and it’s still like living in a water-based sitcom. The Captain’s hatred for our bitter rival boat cruise company flared up again recently. They were advertising ‘2 for 1’ vouchers on our patch near our ticket booth at Flinders Street Station, which they don’t have a permit to do. Usually in these instances, the Captain phones some local authority and they’re told to move on. This time he dragged his incredible frame up the stairs and across the road where he set upon the voucher seller, in this instance an unsuspecting Scottish backpacker. He enveloped the poor Scot’s neck with his sausage fingers, throttling him in front of dozens of alighting train passengers. The illegitimate voucher seller promptly phoned the police who were waiting for the unperturbed Captain as we docked after a late afternoon cruise. There were three cops, stern looks all around, and I had visions of the Captain being hauled into some sort of reinforced police van. But a 15 minute chat at the riverside later, it was the cops who were thanking the Captain for his time, queueing up to shake his hand as they bid him farewell. “Thanks very much for your time Captain!” They piped one by one. The Captain lumbered back on to the boat, glanced round at me and the throngs of impatient passengers checking their watches for the next cruise, and gave a very rare smile. I’m not sure but I think I detected a wink as well. There is not another human on earth who gives less of a shit than this man. Needless to say there’s been no follow up and our rivals continue to push vouchers on our Flinders Street Station patch, so there’ll no doubt be another throttling shortly.
Earlier this week, a couple of rowers were obviously so ‘in the zone’ they didn’t notice our boat honking it’s horn repeatedly as we reversed away from the wharf and into their path. I was yelling off the back deck alongside a few concerned passengers for them to stop but on they came, seemingly intent on reversing their slender boat and bodies into our churning propeller. At the very last second one of them realised their predicament and jammed their oars into the water, nudging themselves into us harmlessly rather than crashing violently and being stirred into rower puree. While we all checked everyone was alright, the Captain decided to throw his hat into the ring: “Are you deaf as well as stupid?! Next time I run you over no problem!”
He’s not a big fan of rowers in general. After another close shave with a solo Redgrave wannabe, the Captain unloaded such a tirade of abuse all we could hear from the perspiring paddler was, “You give ferries a bad name!” I’m almost certain he does. And he couldn’t care any less. All hail the Captain!