As usual I catch the 1.58pm Doomben to Central train. In the northern sky heavy clouds, charged with menace as the
train clatters into the city. It’s a plangent little trip replete with a menagerie of whistles, sirens, alarms, the crackle of
electrical detonations and over the PA regular advice to ‘customers’ (what happened to ‘passengers’?) to not leave
personal possessions unattended. Visions of backpacks detonating, unattended.
The almost empty commuter train passes yards parcelled up with Thomas the Tank type engines, railway
paraphernalia, emerging high rise buildings with their signal cranes sporting the ubiquitous CFMEU flag. A fine piece
of spray painted portraiture on the underside of a pass-over bridge catches my attention. Looks a bit like Einstein
promising entropy and the end of days. The train’s electric motors and disc brakes whine down into Central’s
underground station. I wait for a ramp to be deployed by the guard. No chat today.
Passing up into the outside world I’m in a cityscape forest and begin the twenty minute push in my lightweight
wheelchair, Passe Par Tout (PPT), to the university pool at Gardens Point. Out of the station, it’s a quite steep, one
block downhill run. Waiting at the crest for the traffic lights to go orange. Check to make sure the cars are all slowing to
stop, I launch the little buggy forward, riding on the back wheels weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic. It’s not unlike
snow skiing through a gaggle of learners and tiny tots.
It’s term time and QUT’s campus is seething with micro shorts and other animals.
The swim is smooth and easy now having reached a reasonable level of aerobic fitness. A lane all to myself for the
forty five or so minutes it takes to swim two K’s. Excellent for ski injured shoulders and for those preferring not to
surrender body maintenance to professionals.
Time to head back to the station for the 4.23pm to Doomben. The end of the line. It’s also time for clouds of students
finishing their afternoon lectures to head for home so the footpaths are more than usually crowded. The wheelchair
must navigate between these dozens of people hoarding the footpath, none of whom have rear view mirrors to see this
diminutive parcel looming up behind. Mostly I manage not to ride over any toes and only occasionally bump into a
swinging arm. I’ve abandoned most of the niceties we British people so favour preserving my quota of apologies for
more personal moments.
There’s a bank up of students at the lights up ahead all obediently waiting for the little green bipedal stick figure to
appear. Not the familiar wheelchair logo, so, conveniently, I argue, the sign doesn’t apply to me and if there’s no traffic
I’ll scoot across. Jaywheeler on the loose. I was once advised by an irate police officer this will encourage others to
disobey. Many pedestrians are on their phones he said and peripherally see a movement to cross the road so blindly
follow. Bad, I’m told. People not unlike sheep. He said. Another officer, on another occasion, less accomodating would
have none of my sophistry and ripped me a $50 fine…
As I frequently ride on the road in my PPT machine I’ve developed a method of notifying drivers of my intentions so
there’s absolutely no doubt in the driver’s mind as to what I’m doing. A kind of traffic cop hand signals technique.
Today I squeeze through the student mob waiting at lights at the head of Margaret Street, a nicely steep, one way
opportunity for flight, which, when the cars on this road stop for their red light I can launch off into the break in traffic,
imagining I’m once again on a ski slope. I wish. The road has two lanes divided by broken white lines. After a few
pushes I’m up to speed, maybe twenty five, thirty kliks p/h. I turn around a couple of times to make sure there are no
cars coming up behind me and weave between the white lines, imagined slalom gates. I tend not to do this all the time
mostly just stick to enjoying the simple pleasure of zooming a straight line past the often surprised gaze of pedestrians
who sometimes smile benignly at the crazy bastard in the wheelchair.
Towards the end of the block a set of traffic lights means I must slow down. This involves throwing the ‘chair up on the
back wheels and squeezing the drive rims to brake, then cruising in to do a left turn onto the footpath.
Today a Landcruiser whose driver apparently doesn’t realise it’s a one way street begins to turn into what from his
perspective is the left lane. The one I’m not in. The traffic cop in me instinctively seeks to draw attention to his error.
This involves taking my right hand from braking duty to wave him away.
The wheelchair now has only the left hand doing any braking. In a flash the chair has jagged sharply to the left flipping
me into the air. Only one place left to go. Down. I land on the bitumen to the sound of the empty wheelchair scraping
on the road and the clatter of my cordless headphones bouncing away.
People rush to help. A bus has pulled up in the lane behind me. One bloke righted the ‘chair, a worried looking woman
wanted to call an ambulance. I climbed back in. Assuring all I was OK. Someone handed me the headphones. The
helpful fellow who’d looked after the ‘chair reckoned I’d ‘lost some bark’. And, true enough, on glancing down - plenty
of surprisingly rich red blood was running from a couple of vivid abrasions on my right elbow. I felt OK. No broken
bones. Thanked everyone for helping and scooted on my way. Had a train to catch.
I needed to pick up a script from a chemist just down the road. The pharmacist, who I know from regularly buying my
pain drugs there quickly found a dressing and taped up the wound.
How I managed to not whack my head on the road I don’t know. Maybe the back pack with my swimming gear
Just managed to get back to Central for the 4.23 train.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to do my daily swim for at least a week, maybe ten days while my thinning skin repairs
and leaves me with yet another cicatrice on the body wounded. So much softer falling on snow! Unless you break shit.
Which happens too. Another tale to tell.