A community’s traffic culture is often mentioned as an indicator of the health of its society.
Within the larger traffic culture is a public transport culture, and Tallinn’s public transport doesn’t have the best image. A former Tallinn mayor once remarked that public transport was for children, the handicapped, and people too drunk to drive. But each year more and more Tallinners seem to abandon their cars for public transport, and the atmosphere aboard the bus grows a bit more similar to that of western cities. And there’s nothing like a blizzard to bring riders into closer quarters and the system under a loop.
Today there were the regulars aboard bus 1A: children, pensioners, the 50-somethings in low income jobs, the occasional yuppie, and of course the red-faced drunkards marked by clanging backpacks stuffed with empty cans and bottles. But there were also more 30-somethings than usual, the salarymen, who gave up on digging out their cars and trudged through snowdrifts to the main road to catch the bus. There were fur-clad Viimsi princesses who wore sneers on their faces to let the rest of us know they were not accustomed to the morning ride.
And there was conversation. A newspaper editor and a writer discussed a column (they agreed they disliked it). Two university students guessed at exam questions on Goethe (was the professor petty enough to ask his birthday?). A group of pensioners debated the cause of this year’s heavy snows (global warming was scoffed at).
And there was conversation among strangers. “Be good and pass this forward,” said a woman, sending her ticket ahead to be validated. “I can pass it forward,” remarked a man, “but I won’t guarantee it’ll be passed back.” People reached for the tiny slip of paper, as if eager to be part of things, and the ticket was returned.
Passing a ticket forward isn’t unusual, of course. Money is occasionally passed to the driver and change returned via human chain. But it was the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit which marked the difference this morning. Gone was the usual gray pall of morning on the 1A. It was, in a word, normal.
Vello Vikerkaar is a columnist for Postimees.