Travelling by tram has been one of the little joys in my everyday life. Even though I could catch one of the 105 buses that stop in front of my house, I usually end up waiting a bit longer for the tram just to get the experience. It has much of the same charm as the safari rides in amusement parks, one gets to marvel at the daily (wild)life of the people in Kallio and Hakaniemi, the most vibrant districts in town. However, lately the jolly safari rides have turned more into visits into the house of horrors: creatures jumping on my face screaming something or someone grabbing my arm and laughing furiously at my fright. The falling leaves have revealed something else besides bolding trees: horrible social ill-being. By this I mean the outcasts of society, the people that had made the park benches and children’s playgrounds their home during the summer months, but have now been forced to move out. The nights get colder and these people who have lost their way in life need a place to warm up – and what could be easier than to jump on a tram? Usually just sitting near one of them is an experience in itself, the whole package for the senses: you see them (rather close at times), you hear them (rather loud at times), and you sure can smell them. Recovering from the first wave of inconvenience you might want to think about the person as a, well, person. In Riikka Pulkkinen’s novel Totta a girl plays a game with her grandfather always when travelling by tram. They pick a person from the crowd and start to make up a story about them. Sometimes the stories are happy, sometimes tragic and sad. In the case of the real world outcasts the stories are never happy, but it would nevertheless be important to picture them once in a while.
Take him: A bearded man in his 60s, has not showered for three weeks, the other sole of his shoes missing. He keeps his Gambina bottle in a paper bag, shouts random oddities to people passing him by, then starts to doze off in the steady rumble of the tram. Pisses himself. Nevertheless, he is a father, and a grandfather. He ran a thriving business in the 80s, lived in a row house in Käpylä, was married to a blonde bank officer who gave birth to his two children. They were the living image of a happy family, if you ignore the affair the man was having with his secretary and the antidepressants the wife was secretly consuming. But they were on track, inside the magical sphere of acceptance in society. Until came the depression. First went the business, then came the booze, then went the wife, then came the DUI, then went the house, then came the new friends. Half of them are dead now, from alcohol or drugs, some of them jumped under a train. This man is now putting all his might into getting up from the damp place under the bridge in the morning, yet he would rather stay there and wither away if it were not for the inescapable need to get the morning drink. Suddenly, you do not feel disgusted by him anymore, you feel sorry for him.
There are other, less visible examples of the growing gap between the rich and the poor everywhere along the tram route alone. A quite startling one is the bread line in Helsinginkatu, where Veikko Hursti foundation is handing out clothes and food twice a week for people in need. For a people who wants to forbid begging (in public) it must be a terrible shame to queue for bread and milk, but what other options are there? Most of them are regular pensioners who try to fill their stomachs from day to day. A society that does not take care of its elders, can you really call it a welfare society? The same fate awaits us in a few decades; although with the way the politicians are now going we might never get to ‘enjoy’ our retirement days. Our minister of finance Jutta Urpilainen is blindly keeping hold of her promise to the voters about not raising the retirement age. She will rather leave the time bomb ticking than add few more minutes to it. What do you say, should we take her for tram ride?