Desperate to escape the high-summer hell of the Spinoff’s non-air conditioned office, Toby Morris spends four hours trying to get some work done onboard the blissfully chilly Outer Link bus.
Editor’s update: Since this article was published in February 2018 air conditioning has been installed in The Spinoff’s office, thank god.
I’m sick of fans. I’m sick of sweaty armpits. I’m sick of worrying whether other people are sick of my sweaty armpits. To be blunt: the Spinoff office is hot. We’re on the top floor and there’s no air conditioning. We have fans, and we open the windows, but I still get little beads of sweat rolling down my back and the noise of the fans messes with my ears so I can’t hear anything.
I could work at home, but again – no air con. I have a fan but it’s gutless and my neighbours are doing construction so it’s noisy. There’s a studio I can go to on K Rd (kia ora Inky Palms) but surprise surprise: no air con there either. By the afternoon that place is cooking, and there are pigeons that sit on the window sill and make weird noises like old ladies who’ve just met Daniel O’Donnell.
So I’m looking for a new office, somewhere cool, quiet and cheap. The coldest place I can think off is the beer room in a bottle shop, but you can’t really hang around in there. It’s nice and cold at the movies, but it’s dark and expensive. So I’m going to try the third coldest place I know: the Outer Link bus that repeats an endless loop around the outside edge of Auckland’s inner suburbs and the centre of town. It’s air conditioned, it has comfortable seats, it never stops (I think) and I’ll get to see the city. An office with a thousand views. What could go wrong?
9:02. Dominion Rd. The Outer Link goes in both directions and I’ve chosen clockwise. Anticlockwise seems appealingly rebellious but I don’t want to go straight into town. I need to warm up to that.
9:03. The bus arrives. Luckily the driver looks mellow, and I can’t picture him throwing me off. I make my way towards the back of the bus. Not too far as to arouse suspicion but far enough. I manage to angle myself so the driver can’t see me in the mirror.
Problem number one: the seats are narrow. They’re the ones with the scooped back made to fit a average sized person, which is a problem for everyone with broader shoulders than an average sized person. Then they go and put those seats right up against the wall. At least the air con is on.
9:08. St Luke’s. A guy in a thick Free Tibet sweatshirt jumps on. He’s caught this bus before. He’s ready for the coolness. Me too, Tibet, me too.
9:11. I’ve just realised that for once I’m on time for work. By condensing ‘catch public transport for 45 mins, then you’re at work’ into ‘catch public transport, then you’re at work’ I’ve managed to save 45 mins. This is off to a good start.
I decide to start arranging my office. I have three devices on me and some stationery but first I have to pluck up courage to open my laptop and bring my office to life.
9:14. Mt Albert shops. The startup noise rings out right as the bus idles to a stop. It’s loud. Even typing on the keys seems very loud, but no one is looking. I think. I need to keep it cool, not draw attention to myself.
9:16. Carrington Rd. I’m starting to relax. There’s a girl playing games on an iPad, and a bald man scrolling through Instagram. Everyone is on screens, mine is just the biggest. This is my life now. Breathe out.
9:19. Problem 2: I’m wondering how I’ll get packages delivered to my new office. Right now my address is Bus NB4023, currently at the lights at the Pt Chev shops. Wait, no that’s changed. Email me.
9:20. Pt Chev Rd. After sending word of my new office I’ve received instructions from HQ. Spinoff editor Toby Manhire wants me to take the opportunity to record the incidences of audible ‘thank yous’ directed at the driver, and observe any suburb-related differences. I’m happy to accept the challenge. The passengers are very quiet so far.
9:22. Pt Chev Rd. Here we go: an old lady says a gentle thank you outside Twisted Tomato.
9:24. Meola Rd. No thank you from two young student looking types. Ungrateful really.
9:25. Westmere Shops. A young woman from a 1997 Country Road catalogue gets on, talking loudly on her phone. Bald insta-man looks on disapprovingly: she has totally altered the vibe of the office. “Hamish has really stuffed up,” she says. Turns out he didn’t give her all the information. What was she supposed to do?
9:27. Cox’s Bay. Ah! This is what I was hoping for. Talk about a corner office. Cox’s Bay looks magnificent in the morning light. The tide is in and the light gleams of the water. Boats bob in the water and the charming boathouses look like 1000 piece puzzles.
9:29. We’ve stopped for a minute in Herne Bay. Country Road says that Hamish had said that Sandra was in surgery, but it turns out that wasn’t the case. Maybe I should try and do some work I guess. I turn on the hotspot on my phone to get some internet and start replying to some emails.
9:36. College Hill. Business people are getting on now, including a confident silver haired man in a suit who gives me a dirty look. I bet his office has air con. He’ll never understand. He starts playing Pokemon Go. Still a clear lack of thank yous to the driver.
9:39. Victoria Park. An older gentlemen departs with an elegant and stylish thank you. Beautiful people stroll in the park. It’s heating up.
9:41. Still at Victoria Park. The driver puts on a high vis vest and gets off the bus. Country Road is still talking. I think the bus driver is taking a break. Fair enough. It occurs to me my new office doesn’t have a break room. Or a toilet. Shit.
Hold on, we’ve got a new driver. This guy looks a lot more surly, but he doesn’t know how long I’ve been on for. I’ve got a clean slate. This might work.
9:49. Queen St. Most of the passengers leave, with a few murmured thank yous. Country Road is gone (no thanks) and the bus is quiet again.
9:53. Still stopped on Queen St. Turns out the air con doesn’t go when the bus is stopped. A slightly sweaty boy waits.
9:56. I’m getting distracted on Twitter. Shit, this is just like a real office.
I need a water cooler. Some plants maybe. Actually, the seat pattern has that covered – ferns upon ferns upon ferns. One for the Lockwood fans. Do offices have flags?
10:02. We whiz under Symonds St and out onto another beautiful view, looking down Grafton Gully towards the harbour under a bright blue sky. Outside it’s hot. Suckers. I’ve got a nice breeze on my knees. I love my new office.
10:06. Parnell. A young woman departs with a lovely clear and strong thank you. Solid work.
10:07. Parnell shops. I’m replying to an email declining a project because I’m too busy, but it occurs to me the person I’m emailing will quite possibly read this article and not believe me. Two more people get off at the shops with quiet but unmistakable thanks. Now we’re talking. Can’t you see, Deirdre? I’m a data journalist now.
10:12. Newmarket. Two more thank yous. We’re on a roll. The bus is very stop-start though the shops and I’m making all kinds of wild typos in my emails with jolty fingers. Shit – how am I going to draw?
10:15. A schoolboy gifts us all with a deep sombre ‘thanks’. What gravitas. The future of the bus ‘thank you’ lies with the children, and based on this guy, it’s in great hands.
10:24. We’re stuck in traffic on Manukau Rd. Why am I reading Twitter again? My leg is starting to go dead. Maybe I need to change seats.
10:26. The thank you run-rate is high now, with at least three quarters of bus leavers getting into it. Is it infectious? Was it just too early for Dominion Rd, Mt Albert, Pt Chev and Westmere? I’m nearly back around to the start of my loop so I guess I’ll find out. I love my new office. Well, to be honest, I’m starting to get hungry and worried I might need to go to the toilet sometime soon. Still into that air con though.
10:35. Mt Eden shops. It occurs to me this is just like the movie Speed, except instead of the bus not being able to stop, it’s me. And maybe Dennis Hopper is… well, I dunno. The truth is, I love Sandra Bullock.
Ok, my emails are all up to date. The next item on my workday agenda is the traditional freelancer’s last day of the month task of sending out all my invoices at the last available minute. Gotta admit this feels slightly daunting – invoices feels like a serious task for a secure location, not hurtling down View Rd.
10:42. Dominion Rd, right back where I started one hour and forty minutes ago. I’m on to loop number two. The bus is fuller now than the first time.
10:46. Balmoral Rd. A group get off. There’s one clear ‘thanks driver’ from an older woman, and one simpler ‘thank you’. A slightly ragged old man sits down directly behind me with a startlingly crackly plastic bag. I hope he can’t read this.
10:52. Mt Albert shops. I’m attempting to set up a meeting with Madeleine from the office, who has managed to find my moving office on some kind of transport tracking app. There’s some talk of meeting for lunch and Simon brings up the tantalising idea of bringing Nandos onboard. But this is no holiday: I love my new office but it doesn’t really have a break room, and technically according to the stickers on the walls you aren’t allowed to eat food in it.
10:53. Another traditional ‘thank you driver’ from an older bloke. Is it rude to say ‘driver’? People seemed to have dropped that part off. The bus clears out again at Unitec. The invoicing is going slowly but moderately well.
11:02. Meola Rd. Mangroves! Sports fields! We’re zooming through Westmere this time and I’m so excited to be heading to Cox’s Bay again.
11:04. Cox’s Bay! The tide is going out, making silver rivers that gleam in the sunlight. I love those silly boats getting stuck in the sand, gets me every time.
11:11. College Hill. A tiny sliver of panic starts to creep in because the bus is filling up. What am I going do to if someone needs to come and sit next to me? I’m getting very conscious of people reading over my shoulder as I do my invoices.
Maybe I should have a morning tea break? Actually, I am starting to get a bit hungry. And I’m getting a dead leg.
11:21. Queen St is heaving now. Backpackers and loveable bogans are eating steaks outside Father Ted’s Irish pub and I confirm that yes, I’m very hungry. There’s a mass exodus off the bus, and only one ‘thanks’. Crackly bag has decided to move seats to the one directly in front of me and I can only assume that now that he knows exactly what I earned in January he is drunk on knowledge and power.
The driver is taking another break, and again the air con is off. I can feel sweat starting to build up behind my knees. How long I have been sitting like this? Two hours and twenty minutes. I love my new office but it’s a lot less appealing without the air con. Crackly bag is now holding some thick rope. What is he up to?
11:26. Hold on – another laptop user has just sat diagonally across from me. It’s catching on! Bus office is a thing now! He’s even on a spreadsheet. Everyone is doing it.
11:32. We’re off again. The invoices are done, the emails are up to date. Next on the day’s agenda is to stop procrastinating and do some illustration work. The bus lurches onto an on-ramp and I elbow the window.
11:41. Fuck it, I’m taking a break. I’m sneakily eating a pear I brought in my bag. It’s fresh and juicy and better than an apple in most respects. I wonder if Sandra Bullock likes pears. I should’ve brought a water bottle.
11:44. Newmarket shops. Crackly bag is off the bus. No thank you. Now the other bus office man is now taking a phone call, talking about treaty obligations. “Depends on what you mean by the Crown” he says, loud. This guy is bold! I love it!
11:48. Treaty obligation office man leaves. Again, no thank you, but he’s busy.
11:54. We pass a sign that says ‘James Law’ on Manukau Rd, except it looks like it says ‘jameslaw’, like a coleslaw made out of Jameses. A lady two seats in front of me is powering through the Herald crossword. I’ve always wanted to work in an office with the type of people who were good at crosswords.
11:58. The bus is quieter again as three people get off with no audible thanks. That’s four or five thankless stops in a row, in stark contrast to this area on the first loop. I think it’s about momentum. The bystander effect. We’re followers. Wake up sheeple. The bus is down to three passengers. Not sure if the driver has clocked me yet.
12:04. The Mt Eden shops are full of people shopping and lunching out on the street, enjoying the sun. It looks nice, but I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for them. Don’t they wish they were in air conditioned office like me?
12:10. Loop 2 complete. Three hours, ten minutes. Enough admiring the view, I gotta get drawing.
12:12. OK, my elbow on my drawing hand is squished up against the window. This isn’t going to work. I’m going to have to move to the other side of the aisle. Is moving going to draw more attention to myself? I hate moving offices. Two teenage girls give a chirpy thank you. The kids are ok.
12:24. Woah, this is not going well. My screen is catching the glare and the bus is herky jerking all over the show. Worst thing of all, the sun is streaming my eyes and making me… sweat. This is terrible. Where are we? Mt Albert? I tuned out all the thank yous, sorry. Maybe there were none. I think I need to go the toilet.
12:29. Pt Chev Rd again. Oh no. This is falling apart, fast. There’s only one other passenger and I think the driver is on to me. It’s so hot in here. My drawing is rubbish. My line is shaky and wild. I’m busting for a piss. A lady laughs as we pass the Westmere cafes and I’m sure it’s at me. An old lady says ‘thank you, have a nice day’, so at least that’s something. If can I make it to Cox’s Bay maybe everything will be ok. Come on Cox’s Bay.
12:35. Oh no. The tide is right out now and the boats look sad and desperate in the mud. I’m trying to talk myself into liking it just as three obnoxious rich-kid skaters get onto the bus, banging their way down to the back seat.
I’m turning off the tablet. My new office is turning into a nightmare. The skaters say ‘hashtag chicks’, on purpose, and laugh like Beavis and Butthead. And then they’re swearing loudly, arguing about where to get off. “It’s all downhill from here,” one says. Honestly. A single bead of sweat runs down my back.
12:42. They get off on the bottom of Ponsonby Rd, but I think my spirit is broken. I’ve been on this goddamn bus for nearly four hours. The back of my knees are drenched. Maybe I can make it to Queen St. God I’m busting.
12.53. Queen St. I’m tagging off. Three hours 50 minutes. It feels good to stretch my legs. I better go to the office I guess.