New South Wales is a strange state and it's got a strange government. A strange government that, over its two-odd-decades in power, has degenerated somewhat. A strange combination of neoliberal attack and ugly, sleazy nepotistic corruption overseen by incompetent gangsters.
The approaching March 26 election reminded me of an incident that happened… sometime in the last decade or so. It is all been a bit of a blur, what with the blood/alcohol content a citizen is required to maintain just to live in this fucking place.
I can't recall exactly where, but it was one of those places on the very edges of suburbia, one of the fartherest outreaches of civilisation. An isolated, nowhere land where dreams go to die and nightmares go shopping at Westfields. It was maybe Penrith? Somewhere like that.
This is a true story. I wrote it up at the time like this because I decided to turn it into a film script, but unfortunately Ken Loach has been very busy these last ten years, apparently. And I thought he appreciated gritty realism.
The Bus Stop
[Carlo Sands waits at a bus stop. There is no shelter, just one of those planks of wood stuck in the ground and painted yellow with a Sydney Buses logo sprayed on it. A small girl, maybe five, approaches.]
SMALL GIRL: Hello sir, could I please borrow 50 cents?
CARLO: [looks at girl] Fuck off.
SMALL GIRL: If you give me 50 cents, sir, I’ll fuck off.
CARLO: [Looks at her, she stares back] Oh for fuck’s sake! Lucky for you I hate kids. [gives her a coin] Now fuck off.
SMALL GIRL: Thank you sir. I always keep a promise!
[She kicks him in the shins and runs off]
CARLO: Good! Ow.
[A man walks up as Carlo rubs his shin while looking down the road for a bus.]
MAN: Howyagoin there mate?
CARLO: [looks at him then back down the road, hand on shin] Bruised.
MAN: Let me guess, you had to pay 50 cents for the privilege?
CARLO: The little fucker got you too, did she?
MAN: She’s infamous round these parts. You’re not a local, clearly. No shin pads.
CARLO: You mean the little pigtailed princess violently assaults people all the fucking time? For cash? Why doesn’t someone deal with the little prick?
MAN: She’s the daughter of the local member. She’s got connections.
CARLO: What the fuck does she need 50 cents for then? Old man’s fucking loaded.
MAN: He’s a gambling man. Pokies. You can find him down the RSL most days losing our hard-earned taxes. When he runs out of coins, he sends his little princess out to do the rounds.
CARLO: Jesus Christ! Well, thank fuck I’m outta this hole. What time’s the bus come?
MAN: Bus? [Laughs] Mate, we haven’t seen a bus round these parts in years. That’s an antique you’re standing next to. Should be in a museum, but the council keeps it out for show.
CARLO: What the hell are you talking about? When’s the fucking bus come?
MAN: I told you, you’ll wait here for ever. You want my advice, you’d better start moving. You don’t want to get caught out here after dark.
CARLO: [Staring at the man] You’re serious! So why the fuck has this shit hole got no fucking buses?
MAN: The MPs got debts. Our honourable representative lost a fair swag of this state’s revenues on the fruit machines. He acts in our name, so we gotta pay it back somehow. It’s only fair, they said. First thing they took was the buses.
CARLO: Oh, for god’s sake! Why don’t you boot the bastard out?
MAN: Ah, c’mon! You really want to let the other mob in? No one wins by replacing a mongrel with a rabid dog, that’s how we look at it ’round here.
CARLO: [looking down the street again] But surely you can’t just accept having no buses…
MAN: [looks at him carefully] You know, we used to have a few of your sort round here. Idealists. Most of them never did a day’s work in their lives, of course, but you had to admire them for their beliefs. But end of the day, you gotta play the game with the hand your dealt. If they’re selling oranges, no point dreaming up recipes for apple crumble.
CARLO: [turns to the man] Look, I’m not advocating a fucking insurrection! I’m not suggesting a free-love commune with magic mushroom handouts for the unemployed. All I’m saying is, this place needs some fucking buses! And quickly — it’s getting cold.
MAN: It’d have to get a whole lot colder round here before a bus stops.
CARLO: Well, I’m not waiting for this hellhole to freeze over. Just tell me how to get out of here.
MAN: Hmmm… You could try walking to the next stop. Fair way though. And like I say, you don’t want to get caught out here after dark.
CARLO: What happens, someone head butts your elbow?
MAN: Very funny. Just take my advice. I’ve got better things to do than talk to arseholes. Have a good one.
[He walks away.]
CARLO: Good fucking christ.
[Gets timetable out of his pocket, unfolds it and squints. ]
CARLO: [reads] Hmm, 2.10. [Looks at watch) The bus is pretty late.
[A teenage boy walks past. His pants are low and baggy. He is listening to an iPod.]
CARLO: Hey! HEY!!
[Carlo walks right in front of the boy who, his path being blocked, reluctantly looks up.]
CARLO: Hey! [The boy takes his headphones out.] What time’s the bus come?
TEENAGE BOY: Bus? What’s a bus?
CARLO: Jesus Christ. Taxi. T-A-X-I. You fuckers heard of them out here?
TEENAGE BOY: Of course, like what’s your problem man?
CARLO: My problem is I want to catch one out of here…
TEENAGE BOY: Then, like, call the number dude. Jesus.
[He steps around Carlo, puts the headphones back in and walks off.]
CARLO: [calls after him] And what’s the number? What’s the fucking number?! Fuck!
[He looks up to the sky.]
CARLO: And now it’s getting dark …
WOMAN: [from behind Carlo] Do you always talk to yourself?
CARLO: [turns around startled to see a smartly dressed woman with a sly smile] Oh, fuck! I didn’t see you. You here for the bus? I’m told they don’t exist.
WOMAN: [smiles] Locals will tell you that. You just got to know where to find one.
CARLO: And where the fuck would that be?
WOMAN: Well, you’re in the wrong place for a start. Far too obvious. To catch yourself a bus out here, you’ve got to think creatively.
WOMAN: That’s right.
CARLO: Do you want to give me a hint?
WOMAN: And what’s in it for more me?
CARLO: I’ll fund your election campaign to kick out the corrupt son of a bitch who gambled all your fucking cash away.
WOMAN: You mean my husband? He’s done more than a few good things for this place you know. More than most people appreciate.
CARLO: Like what?!
WOMAN: He’s abolished waiting at bus stops. That’s why it’s so obvious you’re not from around here.
CARLO: Ok, just tell me where I can catch a fucking bus out of here so I never have to talk to one you asylum escapees ever again.
WOMAN: [points] Walk ten k’s that way.
CARLO: That’s not creative!
WOMAN: You couldn’t figure it out. I’d get moving, too, things can get nasty after dark.
CARLO: [looks in the direction she pointed, thinking reluctantly of the walk suggested] Why does everyone keep saying that? What happens after dark?
[No answer. He turns around but she’s gone.]
CARLO: Fucking nutters. [shuffles impatiently] I know how to make the fucking bus come. Light a fucking cigarette, never fucking fails.
[Carlo gets a cigarette from a packet in his pocket and tries to light up, with the lighter failing.]
OLD MAN: [from behind] Smoke a whole bloody packet, it wont help ya. Tried it myself plenty of times in the old days.
CARLO: Yeah? Well I figure, if it doesn’t bring the bus out of here, at least I’ll die quicker. Either way I win. [Lighter fails again] Fuck!
OLD MAN: I remember the day they abolished the buses. Smoked a whole bloody carton. Waited 48 hours before it kicked in and I realised: they’ve finally done it, the bastards. They’ve gone and abolished the bloody buses.
CARLO: Look, someone has obviously slipped a tab of acid into my schooner. I’ve got better things to do than fuck around here talking to a community of outpatients. Now, I realise none of you are exactly the strongest beer on tap, but can someone tell me, please, how the fuck to get out of this god-forsaken, loon-ridden, shin-kicking, pokie-addicted, iPod wearing, busless shithole of a fucking place?!
OLD MAN: Well… [thoughtful pause] I can tell you what happens after it gets dark.
CARLO: I can’t believe I left my machete at home. Look, I don’t give two flying fucks what happens after it gets dark! Look around you, you useless, old, busless bastard, it is ALREADY fucking dark! Well, you know what? Fuck it! I give up! If I’m stuck here — you do have a pub don’t you?
OLD MAN: Take the second right, one block down.
CARLO: I need a FUCKING beer!
[Carlo storms off. The old man passively watches him leave. He shrugs.]
OLD MAN: Kids. At least in my day, we had some buses.
[The old man wanders off. The bus arrives, turns out it just been running a few years late.]
At least, I assume that is how it ended. It was all a bit of a blur.