Thursday, August 11, 2005
Would I have become such a fan of trams if I hadn't lived in the cities of San Francisco and Melbourne? Some people get interested in things they don't have ready access to because it's intriguing, something different. But for me, despite having lived more than 3 decades in Melbourne, with one of the most extensive tram networks in the world, tram travel is still a fun event. The fact that I don't use it to get to work helps maintain my positive outlook.
Tram travel has changed over time, of course. The old trams I rode in the 70s were prone to their poles losing contact with the overhead electric power wires as they took the curves. If you were a passenger this meant a delay to your journey, but if you were an onlooker you were treated to the spectacle of a shower of sparks as the pole disengaged and rather obscenely bobbed up and down until the tram driver ran around to the back to get the pole reconnected. These days trams have a different connecting system so this does not happen anymore.
When I first arrived in Melbourne I did use the tram to get to work, spent many hours on them in fact. Early on I would think how nice it would be to be a tram driver - the old trams had a driver's compartment that cut you off totally from the passengers (there were conductors then), and I thought it would be a lovely way to travel around the city and suburbs. Victor Borge, the comedian-pianist, was also a great fan of Melbourne trams. He'd always go for rides on trams when he was here, and on his last visit before his death, he was given the special privilege of driving a tram for a short distance.
The only time I got to drive a tram was in Sydney, when I was a member of the tram museum there (I said it was an obsession!). It was of course in the museum grounds, not in traffic. There are others though with a greater obsession: recently a teenager twice stole trams after having observed drivers operating them over a period of time. In his most successful endeavor, he took the tram on its scheduled route, stopping for passengers and letting them off, but passengers started getting suspicious when the "driver" started giving interesting commentary on the way! This kid had also at one stage stolen a train, so there was definitely a fixed rail fixation going on.
Melbourne is also home to the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. This takes you around the suburbs of Melbourne and through the city while you can have a pretty decent meal and drinks. In the 80s Mel and I surprised my parents with a dinner on the tram: we told them we were taking them to dinner, but had to wait on a certain street corner. This was before the tramcar restaurant had become so well known, and they were taken completely by surprise when this beautiful old tram pulled up and we entered a comfortable, sumptuously restored tram, complete with white tablecloths, fine cutlery and dinnerware. The ride was smooth, although the wine glasses tinkled nicely as we'd sometimes go across other tram tracks. Magical!