By Kate Moore
Public transport doesn’t have to be a hassle. It can be a goldmine of ideas, and not just for writers.
It is often too easy to feel irritated on the afternoon train or bus — peak times, body heat and the possibility of no available seat might have you wishing to call a taxi instead! Rather than tuning out, have you ever tried tuning in to a conversation? For a writer, there is countless inspiration for poems and stories — and realistic dialogue, of course.
For anyone else, a number of useful things can be heard by focusing on a conversation — or two, or four! The man in front of you might be talking about how he got an early phone upgrade and the woman to your left might be chatting about how she saves on birthday presents. You can learn things from people just by listening, and perhaps steal some ideas for yourself. I recorded a man’s phone conversation on the train once — he sounded like a gangster and was none the wiser. It was great writing material.
People all over the world have decided to drop the irritation and start the notetaking on public transport. There are even websites dedicated to this.
One of them is American website conversationsonabus.com. The creator of this blog believes that a bus is the place where you’ll hear some of the best conversations and comments in the world, and welcomes submissions from those who have overheard bus, bus stop, tour bus, train, subway and streetcar (tram) conversations. Here is one between a mother and her little girl, submitted by Dave Fontaine, from Portland, Oregon —
“Little girl sitting near me with her mother. The girl pointed to a picture she’d drawn and said, “He has a heart on.”
I said to myself, hard on, and started to giggle.
The mom asked in all seriousness, “Because he loves you he has a heart on?”
On the Chronicle Live’s website , a newspaper serving Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and the surrounding area, readers have shared their stories about the most bizarre things overheard or experienced on the Metro.
This one, from Shane Donnelly, is my favourite —
“A friend and I had a superhero themed 18th birthday party (this was 9 years ago). As the Metro pulled up at West Jesmond there were quite a few of us dressed as superheroes, so after we got on the driver told the train: “The next station is Gotham City.”
And this —
Thomas Johnston: “I once watched a woman eating a whole rotisserie chicken from the bag on the platform at Monument. It was like Attenborough. Absolutely incredible.”
I don’t know about you, but I can see myself taking the place of that woman!
Now you know how interesting public transport can be, and the little gems people come up with, it’s time to make your next trip the best it can be. Sit — or stand — back, and listen to your heart’s content. Pay attention to your surroundings, or just keep an ear open. You might find your next novel, a way to fix your phone or even the perfect baby name! You might find that little bit of gold.