James Cridland

Trip report - my house to Brisbane, on a bus.

My crappy MacBook Pro is sad, and has an intermittent screen fault, so I have to go into an Apple Store and find out what to do with it and whether it is a fixable issue. The Apple Store is a 25 minute bus ride away, but I’ve not really left my neighbourhood for three months.

The bus pulls up but overshoots. Useless bloody bus driver, I think to myself. But then the back door opens, and I realise that’s how it’s supposed to be - I get on the back door to avoid getting too close to the driver, who isn’t wearing any protection. I’m the first one on (which sounds unusual but isn’t - we’re only two stops from the end of the route). I choose a seat, only holding onto the poles with the inside of my elbow. Don’t touch anything, that’s my motto.

On the 20 minute ride into Brisbane, we stop twice. It’s the middle of the day, but only two other people want to get onto the bus. One of them is wearing perfume, and as she walks past me I consider that the particles of perfume might be laced with particles of covid-19.

We drive past the skate park. In one corner, a dad tries to cajole his reluctant son into having another go. In another, a group of teenagers sit together, sullenly, ignoring physical social distancing while maintaining the mental aspect, which is entirely the wrong way round.

Roma Street station is all boarded up. They’re demolishing it to make way for the Crossrail station, and theoretically a big entertainment complex, though that was in the news recently for being overpriced and almost impossible to ever turn a profit - and that was before we decreed that we could never go out in crowds any more. The black-painted plywood makes things look even more grubby.

I get off the bus, dodging two cycle riders on the pavement. I’m early. My usual plan would be to pop into a coffee shop or find a bite to eat. I dodge a few more cyclists and look for somewhere to get some food. This is more complex than it seems: some places are packed full of people queueing, others are so empty it’s hard to tell if they’re open. After a near miss with another cyclist, I find a Vietnamese chain and grab some food to take out, and sit on some steps to eat it, watching the cyclists who I dimly realise are Uber Eats and their equivalent, delivering lunch to people who are staying in their offices. They must be doing a roaring trade.

Things are the same but different out here. The flashing outdoor advertising displays are still here, but are mainly flashing messages about washing our hands and being nice to other people. Hardly surprising, I guess - who’d be advertising outdoor when most of us aren’t travelling? And what would you advertise anyway, except for a TV show or a new brand of yoghurt?

I find a coffee from my favourite coffee shop, the Death Star Canteen on Queen Street, which is now opposite what appears to be another demolition site. I ask for a flat white to go. “Would you like a large or a stupidly large?” Just a large will do me.

The entrance to the Apple Store has some of those barriers up, like you get in airports at checkin, assuming you’re queuing up for economy or something dreadful like that, obviously. I wait patiently for the two Apple employees, wearing masks, to let me in. But it turns out I was waiting in the wrong line - if you’re waiting for the Genius Bar, you have to go and wait the other side of the door, so I go over there and wait patiently for the other two Apple employees, wearing masks, to allow me in. They check my name off their list. One of them points a temperature sensor to my forehead. I am suitably tepid, so they let me into the next area outside the door, where two more Apple employees in masks point me to a seventh Apple employee in a mask who hands me a face mask of my very own and lets me walk inside.

I’m met by Apple employee number 8, in a mask, who ushers me past Apple employee number 9, in a mask, to wait in the corner for Apple employee number 10. There are about half the Apple products on the tables than normal, though my uncomfortable mask makes my glasses completely mist up every time I breathe out or talk, so it’s quite difficult to see much.

Apple employee number 10 duly appears. “James?” he says. “Yes,” I say, and instantly my glasses fog up and I can’t see him. It turns out that he’s the Genius, and he waits patiently until I can see again and then shows me to a different table, where he stands the other side and asks me about my poorly computer.

I explain what’s wrong with it, and my glasses fog up. It’s something to do with the display, I say. A helpful voice comes through the fog - he’s running some sort of test on the computer. I can’t see quite what because my glasses have fogged up. He goes away to ask someone a question, and comes back, and says that the tests say there isn’t anything wrong but there is something wrong, and it’ll cost $691 to replace the display except he’s not going to charge me anything. I smile at him through the fog but he can’t see me smiling because I’m wearing a mask obviously, but I can’t see him because my glasses have fogged up again and I’m also really quite hot by this point and my face is sweating. My face. Sweating.

It’s really hard to hear someone with a mask on - it messes with their voice, but also I guess I’m lip reading rather more than I think I am. But I think he promises me that it’ll be fixed in a few days, and after a slight bypass via the iPad section, I leave the store and delightedly rip off the mask. I was thinking of getting a pack of masks, but if it’s as uncomfortable as this, I’m not going to. Apple employee number 12 showed me his secret weapon - some defogging wipes.

Instead, I go straight to the bus stop and straight home. This wasn’t fun, wasn’t a trip back to normality, and instead was a reminder that it’ll be many, many months before I’m doing a regular trip report again. Especially if I have to wear a face mask for 14 hours.

A note from the future: my first flight after the pandemic was in March 2022 (14 hours with a mask on). The above was my first experience with a mask: I soon found comfortable ones to wear that didn’t fog my glasses up.