A return trip for our trolleys?
May 8, 2002
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of travelling the furthest distance to present the shortest film, “Bird in the Wire,” at this year’s International Shortsfest.
Aside from the intimacy for which the festival has become world famous, in particularly the warmth of its audiences, I must admit a great draw card in making the trip was quire obviously the festival’s location.
Along with some stunning shops, restaurants and ski runs, I was excited to read in the local paper about a proposal to replace the town’s shuttle service with trolleys. I would like to offer my support to the collective in favor of introducing trolley/tram shuttles as both a functional and cultural centerpiece to the streets of Aspen.
My induction to the craft of filmmaking came from an irrepressible desire to tell a story about the cultural importance of heritage trams and tram conductors to the world’s largest tram network, which exists in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
The short film, which proceeded “Bird in the Wire,” titled “Return Trip,” represents a group of passengers on a journey aboard an old heritage tram. These trams had recently been removed from the system in favor of new, slick, low-floor versions. And up until a couple of years ago, passengers on our trams were serviced by conductors, who, beyond selling tickets and assisting the elderly, were in many cases characters who kept us informed, engaged and on many occasions entertained.
After over 118 years of service they’d become fondly known as Connies. Ticket machines and a clumsy policing system had replaced them.
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The story in “Return Trip” is simple. A group of despondent passengers take matters into their own hands after a faulty ticket machine (often the case in real life!) takes their money without producing any tickets. A short while later a big burly man gets on board and kicks the machine. It clanks, splutters then begins spitting out tickets.
The payoff comes after an elderly lady, who’d been sitting close by the machine and who had been the only one to witness the spectacle, collects all the tickets, swings her handbag over her shoulder in the manner of a conductor, and then proceeds around the tram handing out free tickets – a few other things happen along the way, but that’s the gist of it.
Effectively, the older woman draws upon the collective spirit that has so often characterized a Melbourne tram ride, and, like the old connies, had brought everyone together in the spirit of community.
Since the making of “Return Trip,” and after some intense lobbying from many areas of the community, including some high-profile support from local performers such as Geoffrey Rush, the tram companies have agreed to re-introduce connies.
They have even agreed to clean up some of the heritage trams for the purposes of operation along some of our more picturesque lines. A proposal currently exists to build a special tourist line to run the length of our popular St. Kilda Beach.
I offer both my film and account of the events taking place in Melbourne in the support of future discussions relating to the proposed introduction of a trolley service in Aspen. It makes sense, all the great cities of the world have them, or have at least reintroduced them on an antiquated level.