Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Why I hate buses

When I was much younger, and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I used to say "a bus driver". My Dad was one, and children tend to copy what they see. Gradually that ambition morphed into lawyer then journalist then lecturer then retire as early as possible. Seeing my Dad get up at 4 in the morning to start the early shift, or getting in after midnight, upset because various drunks had threatened him and refused to pay, was enough to put me off.

These days I try to avoid buses as much as possible. We didn't have a car when we were growing up, so we went everywhere by bus, and I've had more than my fair share of riding on them. But today, my fella had the car so I had to catch one to work. I always dread those rare days because I never know the rules and invariably end up humilating myself. Last time the driver refused to let me on because I tried to pay with a £10 note. This time, the humiliation began when I got on the bus with a Cafe Nero drink. I put it on the ledge by the window as I fished the correct change out of my wallet.

"That had better not be a hot drink!" the driver scolded. "You're not allowed to put it there."

So I had to pick it up and then use one hand to get my money out. The driver scowled at me the whole time, drunk on power. Everyone else glared at me, as I held up the queue. I wanted to give her some sort of passive-aggressive parting shot like making an allusion to insane health and safety laws or the Third Reich, but knew that she'd throw me off for insubordination, so I just skulked to the first empty seat in shame.

Apparently I got off lightly - some drivers won't let anyone on the bus if they have coffee.

Then the other aspect of buses that I hate kicked in. All these people I know from work got on, and then we all pretended that we didn't see each other so we wouldn't have to make polite conversation the whole way. At least I didn't have to face Lancaster's new scourge which has been reported in our local newspaper - religious militants getting on the bus, sitting next to people and then trapping them into conversations where they try to brainwash you.

As the bus lurched off the main route to enter a confusing housing estate, adding another ten minutes to the journey, a hand tapped me on the shoulder from behind. I looked round. A wizened face wearing a rainhat (it wasn't raining) beamed at me.

"Are you a lecturer?"

"Yes," I said. Everyone looked at me again.

"So am I!" said the face.

"That's nice," I replied.

That was the extent of our conversation, although about ten minutes later I heard and felt him give a terrific disease-ridden cough onto my neck.

My fella actually likes getting the bus. This is one area where we are very different.


Paul Brownsey said...

Travelling by bus is a pretty penitential experience, but as for the fact that "some drivers won't let anyone on the bus if they have coffee", my response is "Yay!"

It only adds to the misery of bus travel to observe someone stumbling along the aisle with a mug of coffee that a sudden jolt may send over you. It adds to the misery because you may already be coping with the chug-chug sound leaking from the earphones of the person next to you, the smell of curry and chips being wolfed by the person in front, the pain engendered in your knees by the too-narrow gap between your seat and the one in front, the dogshit that may be smearing itself over your clothes owing to the propensity of travellers to sit with their feet up on the seats, the shouting into mobile 'phones, the shouting as people engage in conversations across the bus, being clocked in the face by the packs on the backs of backpackers or the bags that women think don't occupy space once they've hung them over their shoulders...

I have seen a woman on the 118 bus route in Glasgow who sits drinking coffee from a china mug. I suppose she grabs it as she leaves the house...

Lubin said...

I hadn't even thought of sitting in dog shit! Oh no. At least my coffee was in a sealed cup, so I couldn't have spilled it, even if I'd wanted to throw if over the driver (I guess that's why they have those glass screens).

Anonymous said...

I used to love buses, especially when you could smoke on them, and even more so if they were double-deckered. On gloomy Sundays we'd catch the number 11 - a bus which used to virtually circumambulate Birmingham, travelling the whole of the ring-road in about four hours. We'd take crisps and cans of pop; sometimes, when the bus drivers changed, we'd jump out, buy chips, and jump back in again.

Thinking back, there's little I haven't done on buses. I've been sick on umpteen of them, mostly as a result of over-indulging alcoholically; I was mugged on one - although 'mugged' is over-egging it somewhat: a couple of guys asked me quite harshly to empty my pockets, and, being drunk, I didn't see the problem. I've been intimate with strangers - well, one stranger - on a bus, and I know where I was when I first heard that Elvis had died: on a bus. I didn't only hear it; I felt it. A woman sitting a few seats back was so upset that she had to get off, and as she rushed forward to disembark, her shopping back caught me smack in the back of the head.

I've been thrown off buses too, more times than I care to remember, and sometimes in a state of utter sobriety. I was thrown off a bus once for not paying the correct fare, although not before I'd tried to convince the driver that the amount he was asking really wasn't value for money, and wouldn't he refuse to pay for a meal he'd eaten that he hadn't really considered to be value for money?

I've made friends on buses and I've unmade friends too. I've had long cosy chats with people I knew I'd probably never see again, and I've had terrible arguments with people I'd known for years but would probably never see again either. I've laughed a lot on buses, sometimes to the point of breathlessness, stares and pointing fingers. I've cried a lot too, sometimes with the same result.

I'd like to say that I've lived much of my life out on a bus, but it's not really true: it just feels as though I have.

I like buses. Maybe it's the regularity, the knowledge that however long you wait, one will come along eventually. There aren't too many things you can say that about.

I've laughed a lot on buses and I've cried a lot too.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that last sentence was a needless repetition. Handsome lad, you really should install a facility which allows us to edit our comments after they've been sent!

theguyliner said...

The only time I ever enjoyed buses was as a uniformed schoolboy, smoking defiantly on the upper deck with a friend. Buses are only fun if you're young and brash enough to mercilessly piss off your fellow passengers. Now at 35, and one of those pissed-off passengers, I hate them.

Lubin said...

Thanks for your comments! I never realised buses arouse such passions.

My fella was once sick on a nun while on a bus. I think that's my best nun/sick/bus story!