12 April 2010

Love Your Trams

This weekend I dragged Chris to the tram museum. I know that sounds about as much fun as a trip to the dentist, but wait. It was, in fact, awesome. Picture this: it's in the middle of nowhere by Melbourne standards (aka Hawthorn); it's (ironically) difficult to get to by tram; it's only open once a month for a few hours; it's in a big, drafty warehouse; and it contains nothing but discarded relics of a much-maligned public transportation system. What's not to love?

The reason for this trip was ostensibly so that I could take some photos of these dinosaurs (I'm on kind of a photography kick these days), but really, I just wanted to ring the bells and sit in the drivers' seats and play with the hand brake. No, that's not dirty. And because Chris is such a devoted husband he came along to ensure my safety in the wilds of suburban Melbourne. Also, I think he secretly wanted to ring the bells and play with the hand brake (possibly in a dirty way).

My devoted husband waiting for the tram to take us to the trams.

(Our friend Kristina wisely escaped this madness, only to find herself staring at paintings in a nearby museum and then, overcome with fright at the NGV's scary glass ramp/staircase of doom, promptly (and sensibly) returned to her hotel to pass out in what can only be described as an art coma. So although she missed out on the tram-a-palooza, at least I was able to get a good paragraph out of her anyway. Thanks, K-WOW.)

When we got to the tram museum, we made an absolutely (non-)shocking discovery: all of the museum volunteers were octogenarians!  I know, right?  (Non-)shocker!  I asked the gentleman at the front desk where I should pay (a gold coin was the suggested price of admission).  He replied with a stern scowl, "Young lady, I'm not too sure if we're planning on opening for any additional days this month.  We're usually open only one day a month in the winter."  Huh.  Well, we left a couple of dollars on his desk (which he accepted with a rather surprised expression) and headed into the tram hall, where no fewer than three additional old men were eagerly (desperately?) waiting to ask if we had any questions about trams.*

What an amazing place!  A huge, echo-y chamber, kind of like an airplane hangar, full of trams sitting perched on temporary tracks, one behind the other.  Arranged in rows like dominoes.  It was kind of like going to the Children's Museum in Boston: everything's your size; there are lots of bright colors; you can play with all the moving parts; and nobody cares if you run around screaming your fool head off.  Chris immediately disappeared.  A few minutes later I heard a tram bell ringing merrily near the back of the building and knew he would be pleasantly occupied for quite some time.

I was sitting in the driver's seat of a jolly green and yellow beast from the 1920s, fiddling with the hand brake (it looks like a steering wheel but makes an awesomely annoying loud clicking noise) when I heard a dour voice behind me: "Did you know that Melbourne's first female tram operator died a few weeks ago?"

I turned slowly and realized that the Dreaded Thing had happened: one of the ancient volunteers had sidled up and was eagerly waiting to Dispense Tram Knowledge to me.  He was practically bursting with excitement.  I realized then that there was probably a good reason that the museum was only open one day a month.

About 20 minutes later, after learning about how Australian women had protested their lack of equality in the tram-operating arena by gathering in the streets of Melbourne and complaining loudly, and how they had finally won the right to drive trams ("until one of them has an accident - then it's back to the kitchen where they belong!"), I politely escaped by jumping from one tram to another, Indiana-Jones-style, scurrying down a side row, and looking busy by taking what ended up being about 500 photos.

The aisle-maze, my savior.

I spent a significant amount of time lying on my back, staring up at one particular tram's smiling face, and playing with the different features on the camera.  Is this how it feels to be Herb Ritts?

The green beasties.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  We wound up our visit with a friendly hello to yet another elderly gentleman who was lovingly polishing the handrails of No. 431, St. Kilda Beach.  All in all, a very satisfying day.

*NB: all of the volunteers at the tram museum were very friendly and knowledgeable; any negativity implied by the author is for humorous purposes only.  The author sincerely appreciates their graciousness, hard work, and dedication to the preservation of history.