Tracking the Trackers

Thursday, 13 August, 2015

It was a cold and drizzly Melbourne evening, the sort that seems to sag under the weight of its own dampness. I stood watching the glum faces of overworked Melbournians as they trudged home from jobs they hated, to families they’d lost any enthusiasm towards. This spot, one tram stop past the free tram zone, was one of my many observation posts from the past few days: I was trying to track down a ticket inspector.

As I watched packed tram after packed tram roll past, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the first Melbournian to actively attempt to engage Public Enemy Number One. Perhaps I was following in the footsteps of a disenchanted ruffian on a mission to reclaim his dignity after being asked for his non-existent myki one to many times. Or maybe a keen Liberal politician had lost the respect of his own constituents and set out to find support among his own kind: fellow believers in civilian subservience to authority. Nay, my attempt to track down an authorised officer of my own was inspired by a different and arguably more altruistic desire than these crudely constructed characters. I was looking for an interview subject, with the intent of writing an article in which the hated and oft demonised ticket inspector would finally be humanised.

The article would revolutionise the very fabric of student journalism, becoming the expose of 2015, a shining example of the power of understanding the enemy. It would be the article that completely inverted consumer sentiments, as it re-envisioned the place of law enforcement officers (with myki reading machines) in contemporary Australian society. What a progressive, forward thinking article it would be, as the enemy is personified and the reader is forced to confront their inherent prejudices and baseless hatred. Only one obstacle posed a hindrance in my endeavour to personalise the maligned ticket inspector.

I couldn’t fucking find one.

Like any late night reveller in search of a toilet knows, no matter how ubiquitous something may be, as soon as you actually need one, they are nowhere to be found. Ticket inspectors had always seemed a staple of the Melbourne Landscape: standing in rows of three outside the ticket barriers of Flinders Street Station, or clumping together as they wait to board a tram. Pervasive is the way of their being, and being perverse is their nature, for if they existed to be convenient they wouldn’t exist at all.

But alas, tonight like all other nights of my search, there were no inspectors to be seen. No matter how many times these hunting grounds had served hungry inspectors trawling for the un-topped up straggler, whenever I sought my quarry they were always starkly empty.

A tram draws to a stop in front of me, the driver stating his intention to terminate early at Melbourne Central, and a memory rises of another wasted day spent searching in vain for the elusive authorised officer. I’d left my concession card at home in an attempt to draw the inspectors towards me. This ploy proved unsuccessful too, and when the ticket barriers finally slid open, their demeaning beep and flash of orange alerting the world of my status as ‘lesser’, there were no grey jacketed officers awaiting me, arms outstretched to welcome me into their clammy embrace.

As the Melbourne Central bound tram finally moves on, it reveals the garish advertisement behind it, warning passengers to carry a valid ticket or risk being caught by inspectors and fined. The universe is openly mocking my attempt at subverting nature, to prey on the predators themselves, to pursue the pursuers, and in doing so trap those who so often capture but have never been caught. As rain pounds the top of my already matted hair, I eventually give in to that which I’ve already admitted to myself. As long as I search, the search will be in vain. I climb aboard a tram sticky with the steam of clogged up breath, and wedge myself into the damp cavern. I will try again another day.