It’s been years since I’ve been on a bus… well- one that isn’t part of some sort of holiday transportation or touristy adventure, that is.
This, despite the fact there is a bus stop at my front door. Literally.
So, when we recently had a party to go to in the city we eschewed our usual pricey-but-convenient taxi and stepped on the public bus instead.
Not much had changed since my school days. The smell was the same- that curious mix of engine fuel, chewing gum, cologne and old fruit skins.
The chug-chug-chug as it lumbered away from the stops and the kisss-kisss-kissss as it braked towards them, maybe a little smoother than back in the day, but signature nonetheless.
The assortment of characters that stepped on and off, youngsters reeking of cheap booze consumed quickly; students full of earphones, bedecked in weather-appropriate style, eyes glued to smartphones.
A trio of chattering Asian men, wafting cigarette smoke, casino-bound.
The view out the window I’m sure was fascinating to drink in, in contrast to driving the same route concentrating on such mundane matters as gas/ brake/ indicators/ mind that pedestrian…. but the inside of the bus was what really held my attention.
That communal concept- it’s like sharing an elevator- but slowed down and fleshed out. The glimpse of peoples’ lives, sharing that moment in time, while not sharing it at all. The closest thing, really, to being an actual fly on the wall.
What struck me, and what happily restored my wavering faith in the humanity of strangers, was that while all the passengers rather steadfastly ignored each other, they- without exception- demonstrated extreme politeness to the driver.
‘Thank you, driver!’ they all ballyhooed as they disembarked. A nod and a wave usually accompanied.
I thought of the series of harassed and harried drivers on my school bus, the bulging veins on their necks as they roared down the aisle to us to ‘SHUT UP!!!’ after putting the bus in park at the lights.
Hush would descend. Driver, I often observed, had somewhat of a remorseful tone-of-face. (Surely he’ll get in trouble for this, I would think. Isn’t it his JOB to drive the bus?)
‘If you girls don’t pipe down and let me drive this bus,” he would gasp, or words to that effect, “I will pull over the side of the road and you can all WALK home.” (Snickers from the Brave Back Section.)
The murmurs would gradually build to talking, then to shouting, then to squealing and screaming again.
Once or twice the driver followed through on his threat and we would trudge- outraged- to the next stop to catch another bus. Those drivers never appeared on the school run again.
Were all school buses the same? ARE all school buses the same?
I don’t know, but I’m glad to know there is a culture of gratitude on the public transport system that chug-chug-chugs backwards and forwards along my street now.
And I hope, if those harried drivers still drive buses, they are claiming their rewards with the sedatest of bus runs, and the politest of punters.