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Infoguy of Melbourne- Homeless to role model

infoguy nightride busI’d just arrived in Melbourne, at a time of the year when the damp, coursing rain, and bone chilling winds rule the streets and suburbs, and, of course, I just had to explore the nocturnal fruits of the city.

After the music stopped, the band packed up, last drinks were served, and we had consumed the mandatory utterly delicious grease, carbs and protein feast that is the glorious rocketburger and fries combo, it was time to part ways and head home.. “oh, bro, you have to taxi it this time of the night- the trains stop at midnight”

Slight problem. My house was at the end of the earth, and I really didn’t fancy spending half a days pay conveying my very tired, and slightly inebriated body back there.

Asking a few similarly stumbly locals outside the deserted and spooky, vaguely urine perfumed façade of the iconic Flinders Street Station on Elizabeth street, I discovered that the budget late night transport option of choice was a wheezing nightrider bus…

A conveyance that generally reeks of kebabs, broken dreams and something vaguely and unpleasantly vintage cheesy at 30 paces in the Swanston st bus mall, and i’m not talking about the stench of maccas and KFC wafting from their open entrances.

Only problem, that there were over a dozen stops to choose from.. and as I blearily stared at the sputum and grease smeared perspex route map placards at each stop, I found them incomprehensible. I just wanted to go home.

Infoguy melbourne homeless nightrider deskThen I noticed a bloke in a high vis fluoro vest, directing similarly cluseless and lost people to the right buses.

He had a little makeshift desk set up, made of a few milk crates, stacked, a laminated info “I” symbol stuck on the front, with a tabletop, a box, post it notes, and a few other papers and paraphernalia on top… like a tourist infodesk.

I didn’t think anything unusual about the setup at that point. drunk people proof maybe? that made sense.

YES! must be a late night PTV customer service worker. Just what I needed. :)

Dutifully, I lined up, and waited to be served.

The apparent PTV guy was a cheery, industrious looking fellow, with a quick smile and was unusually cheery and happy for a somebody who obviously had been dealing with stroppy drunk, tired and  “where do you need to go mate?” I told him my suburb.

infoguy melbourne helping infromation tourist customer service homeless“Ok, you are around here then” *he points, thumbing a circle around my suburb*

“Can you point out your street at all? you have a couple of route choices” he waved his hand theatrically, tracing a couple lines up and down.

Looking down at the big map, filled with hand drawn lines of what must be bus routes, I was rather impressed with myself to be able to indicate my house.

“Ok, you need to take the Eltham bus- that’s the best one for you, the next one is at 03:30AM”

Leaning down over his “desk”, he scribbled the details on a post it note, carefully folded it into quarters, and pressed it into my hand.

Then he threw the curveball.

“I’m a homeless person. I struggle with homelessness every day, and all donations are much appreciated”

He indicated toward the plastic box on the makeshift table, where a few solitary coins were camped out.

I lurched off toward the bus stop he indicated… then just… stopped. had an incredulous double take moment. Turned. Shook off the slight fuzz of alcohol (yeah, ok I’d only had two beers, but I’m a terminal lightweight cheap date), and fatigue, And opened my eyes, and saw.

infoguy homelss man melbourne degraves street subwayThe orange vest had the insignia of a cold storage company on it, the coat was good quality, but a bit tatty. Shoes looked worn, and the jeans a bit shabby…  the man’s face marked with experience, eyes misted with distant memories of better times.

This was a man that had nothing, on the edge of society, was probably struggling with mental illnesses and living in the cold unforgiving street of Melbourne. Was probably hungry and alone often.

I felt for my wallet, fished out the coins, and strode back to the desk and dumped them in. I felt lighter. Somehow seeing a homeless man being entrepreneurial, find a place in a city, a society that was valued, made my own problems, fears and aspirations seem so small, and easy to overcome and accomplish.  There was somebody that had stepped up from a low impossible to fathom to help himself, and others.

Every coin was deserved. Earned

I caught his eye, directly- looked at him as an equal. with respect, not pity.

“Thankyou”

That’s all I needed to say.infoguy melbourne central railway tube station

His little “business” even had a facebook page. Solid gold. i didn’t look at it at the time though.

I didn’t see him around for a long time after that, though I did have a feeling I he might have been a guy in Degraves street selling the “Big Issue” magazine. I wasn’t sure though.

I hoped that his disappearance was a good sign, that times had turned for the better for him.

It wasn’t till many, many months later, quite recently, I saw him again at the Swanston street mall again.

I didn’t need any help, but I threw some coins in the box anyway, and stopped to have a chat, and congratulate him on having the up and go, gumption and courage to do something positive, and do a hard days  work (or in this case, nights work) , well, and with pride and competence.

infoguy melbourne central helpdesk volunteer homelessTurned out that things were indeed on the up for him, as he proudly told me that Melbourne central shopping centre had allowed him to set up shop below the shot tower, doing what he does best- customer service.

A professional looking desk had even entered into the equation.

The place is a confusing maze, and the touch panels seem always broken or no help at all.  I can see how he saw a  niche opportunity there.

I was also amazed when he shared with me that he had been living homeless for 30 years.

Looking at his desk, I noticed he had set up a facebook page. Even homeless people understand the importance of the digital channel for promotion and customer interaction. Fantastic.

On that, I learned more of his story.

https://www.facebook.com/InfoGuy-of-Melbourne-351917111682585/?fref=ts

The guy even somehow GRADUATED from Latrobe university, with a Bachelor of arts recentlyinfoguy graduation latrobe iniversity bachelor of arts.

An amazing, and difficult achievement in itself for us regular, fortunate humans with a warm bed, home and support mechanisms to help us along.

But one degree is not enough for this courageous fellow. Next year he plans to study towards a masters of speech pathology at Charles Stuart university.

Well done, I salute you sir!

You have come a long way in six years, starting outside the Degraves street subway entrance of flinders street station in June 2008, warning people that the entrance to the station closed after 10PM, trying to prevent people from missing their trains.

It’s been step by step in the right direction over the years- from the humble subway sentinel, to drunk person drover, festival football and concert traffic director, shopping centre sage, and now finally, educated man reaching toward the light from the darkness.

Hopefully, the next trip on your journey will be a job, a home and everything that others take for granted in their lives.

All the best, true personality, battler and friend of the city of Melbourne.

 

 

 

Trying out Crossfit in the Melbourne suburbs (Part 2)

The first place I went to was ‘Crossfit CBD’. This was on a hard-to-find rooftop in the city, allowing a maximum of sunburn, as well as ridicule from tradies having their perpetual cigarette break on a neighbouring roof. Whatever.

I only did a trial at this place and never came back as it was a bit far from where I lived. It was ridiculously intense for someone who never did much cardio – I remember some shoulder press, pullups, maybe some running up and down the stairs? My memory is hazy as this was several years ago now, but I do remember almost a week later I was still feeling that delicious aching in my muscles. I knew I’d had a serious workout.

Crossfit Moreland was the next stop, 6 months later. It’s located in Brunswick, not too far from Sydney Rd. This is run by a bloke called Ben Lustig. I believe he is also a qualified olympic coach which is in my opinion a better sign of competency than someone who just does the CrossFit course only. I see the crossfit coach ‘qualification’ as really just a signal that someone had a few thousand dollars spare to buy a license to print money, nothing more than a franchise fee. Anyway, Crossfit Moreland was quite big and rapidly expanding – it moved to a new ‘box’ while I trained there. There were several other trainers working there too, Dylan, Phil, with others undergoing instructor training when I left which speaks volumes as to the size of the place. Sessions would regularly have 12 people attending, with a waitlist – most other boxes seem to struggle with getting about 6-8 people at any given time. If I lived anywhere near I’d definitely still be going there.
Crossfit Moreland also promoted a ‘Paleo’ diet challenge while I was there. Paleo is often practised by crossfitters which while maybe not optimal (a big debate in itself), is a good baseline for people who have put no thought into dieting before and are overweight. It is supposed to mimic what cavemen ate, cutting out sugars, processed food, grains and dairy, while concentrating on meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, minimal fruits. Of course, some hipsters take it to the extreme and virtually worship coconut oil, avocado, bacon and eggs.. not exactly what cavemen really had access to. But I still can’t fault a diet that is basically ‘stop eating the garbage that made you fat’, even if it has some flaws and costs a lot to keep on top of.
I took part in the strict Paleo challenge for 30 days. In that time I spent probably double my normal food bill, and lost 3kg. Of this, 1.5kg that was muscle unfortunately. But I did have visible abs showing though after that – proof it works!

 

After I moved (again, as one has to do a lot in Melbourne), I went to Crossfit Oakleigh. The owner/trainer here, Scott, is a competing Strongman, which had resulted in a Strongman angle to most of the workouts he programmed. In fact, the place was in the process of changing it’s name to Strong Melbourne while I was attending, so the Crossfit angle was only temporary.
He definitely knew his stuff, however it was a little too ‘strongman’ focussed for me. Strongman is those guys who lug around anvils and tractor tires and try to lift cars and so forth – but they also get fat along with that muscle due to just eating as much food as possible. Yes, it’s part diet that makes that happen, but I felt like the cardio part was often left until after the extremely heavy lifting, meaning one was already a bit too worn out to burn a lot of calories. Don’t get me wrong, I gained a lot of muscle in the few months I trained there, but it’s also the fattest I’ve ever been in my life. A desk job probably contributed to that as well though.
The client base was extremely small at Crossfit Oakleigh – some days I was the only one who showed up, and 3-4 people total was common. I believe he did a small recruitment drive as numbers were increasing around the time I left.

The most recent box, Crossfit Carnegie, I first visited today. I’ll wait before posting any opinion on it – a great first impression though!
Crossfit Cons:
The cult mentality of Crossfit is a bit odd and disconcerting – most people who stick around for a few months or more will almost always go on to obsessively research crossfit, eat Paleo despite there not being clear evidence that the majority NEED to cut out grains or dairy, and spend hundreds on Reebok branded crossfit shoes, those tight pants, and random straps for their wrists and legs. Really, I don’t see the need of drinking all the Kool-Aid when it comes to working out. I prefer to go in, do the workout, go home, and eat something which is nutritious. Living the whole crossfit life is a hobby of it’s own, but I really see it as a means of getting fit and getting out.
The cost of Crossfit is also very high. $45 per week is a lot of money, arguably it can be good value if you need a lot of correction to your form when working out though. I justify the cost as motivation – I’ll always push myself much harder if I’m doing it under someone’s guidance – and if I’m paying a premium I’ll turn up – I know this makes a difference from trying to go it alone for a few months.

Pros:
I found the people involved with crossfit, despite being very culty, to always be friendly, helpful, and non judgemental. Also very supportive. In some cases I saw some people in very bad shape, who were given nothing but shouts of encouragement and words of advice from everyone to assist them in completing the WOD.

The main pro is it’s almost impossible not to get super fit. Some day I’ll get that six-pack back.

 

Disclaimer: The above experiences are personal anecdotes. None of the businesses listed were contacted regarding this article and no money has been accepted for any opinion. It is merely a summary of experiences from memory.

Trying out Crossfit in the Melbourne suburbs (Part 1)

From the moment I heard about it, I’d always been interested in the so called ‘sport’ of Crossfit – perhaps more a morbid curiosity than anything. People always seem highly polarised and either love it or hate it, to the point of outright rage or cult-like support.
On one end of that spectrum you’ll hear

‘How do you know someone does crossfit? Don’t worry, they’ll f*cking tell you!’

And on the other hand, everyone knows ‘THAT’ person who posts an instagram filtered photo of a barbell at 6am as though all their friends care. Don’t forget the followup photo of chicken and avocado, also carefully filtered. #paleo #cleaneating #crossfit. The law says that any workout is null and void without a photo, right?

I’ve worked out in gyms, on and off, for several years. Initially with friends, none of us with much idea what we were doing, still managing to put on a bit of muscle here and there. We gradually learned a bit more over time, but staying motivated and thus making consistent progress was the hard part.
After I moved to Melbourne from Adelaide, it was time to try it out due to the high frequency of crossfit ‘boxes’ (this is what they call their gyms, which are usually an old warehouse or one of those suites in an industrial park with a roller door). There seems to be one in every suburb without fail, all for the extraordinarily expensive price of about $180 per month.
What is it, anyway? They describe it on the official website as follows:

“Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.”

It uses barbells with olympic lifts, bodyweight exercises like pushups, cardio such as rowing and running, kettlebell movements, and gymnasium style exercises like pullups and muscle-ups.
If you head to youtube and search for crossfit, the first thing you’ll find is all these ‘fail’ videos like the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T74Xek-pDLM
The thing about Crossfit is it uses a whole lot of fairly advanced movements, so this is where the (very real) danger lies. Coupled with the very short weekend course that qualifies one to be a trainer, it can’t be guaranteed that any trainee under them is going to be doing things properly, or more importantly, knows when to stop. There is also a mentality amongst the more hardcore crossfitters that you have to push yourself extremely hard – sometimes to the point of injury or damage – to get the most out of it.
Still, the movements and exercises in crossfit are the kind of thing that anyone might do in some form or another while trying to get fit or gain muscle. None of it is really mystical or different, it’s just a bit of everything thrown together.
I’ve been to 4 crossfit ‘boxes’ in the Melbourne suburbs, in the next post I’ll talk about the overall experience of Crossfit in various suburbs of Melbourne, and some specifics about each ‘box’.

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