On the buses
I have had cause to be on the buses of late. Gammy hand.
Public transport is pretty limited here, but there is a service that very handily goes from the end of my road to the end of my work’s road, although what is a fifteen to twenty minute drive becomes a forty minute whistle-stop tour.
The buses are cute, and generally a cheerful orange. They have seatbelts (that no one uses); the fare is fair; the payment contactless. Much better than the bad old days of the exact-change-only thievery of the other buses.
I was a fan of the buses, before the gammy hand, before the pandemic, even. Just standing there, fairly confident that the bus will come – and once you get on, it still has the vibe of a trip, a day out, a jaunt… I can sit back, relax, people-watch…
The bus service from the end of my road has a couple of quirks though. The main one is the sense that you get, on occasion, that the bus driver isn’t entirely confident about the route. Once, the driver missed a turning and I had to shout directions to get us back on track. Hope no one was standing hopefully on the road we missed. And twice, the driver has hung a left instead of a right therefore missing an entire estate. Hope no one was standing hopefully there either… And then there was the day that there were roadworks that took the driver by surprise and when he called in to let base know, he didn’t seem entirely confident about where we were…
So this uncertainty makes each trip potentially a wild-west maverick adventure, so that is who I am when I get on the bus. I mean, you make your plan, you get on… but who knows how it’s all going to end?
City buses have it easy. They float down main roads, slide into bus lanes; automated displays let the passengers know the real-time ETAs of their buses. Not so in suburbia. We swing speedily along wide open roads, windows rattling, hearing the engine straining as we scale hills and judder to sudden stops; we navigate the badly parked cars in busy residential streets. Curtain twitchers frown disapprovingly as we loop round roads where no one ever gets on and no one ever gets off…
I love the “there” journey. In the morning, the buses run to time and all is well with the world. Waiting for the bus home is another matter. A depressing game of psychological chess. I have to bolt out of work and make it to the bus stop. At that point I check to see how things are progressing on the bus app. There is, because of the way things are, in reality, a chance that the bus may, just may have been and gone – early – and I have no way of knowing. So I might be standing there in ignorant futility. At what point do you think – enough – and break into a walk to another transport solution half an hour away? Because you know, that as soon as you do that, the cheerful orange bus will appear. But will it?
On the way home I am generally aching; my bag feels heavier; I am tired in all kinds of ways. The route seems daft on the way home but it makes sense of the way there. Always good to get home for a cup of tea.
I have to say, though, the service has been pretty reliable this time round. In the winter of 2019 there were more fails and close calls – the worst one was when it was dark and raining and the driver didn’t see me… sad times…
Of course, it is the people that are most interesting. There is a wee element of groundhog day with people living in the same pattern as me, at least on the way there. There is one kid who has his ticket on his phone, and by the time we are going home, his phone is generally out of charge, so he has to rely on the kindness of the driver. But it has always worked out for him. The drivers are kind. And the passengers are always polite. It warms my heart when people say “Thanks Driver” as they leave the bus, as if it is the guy’s name. I can’t say that. I just say thanks. I kind of wish I was a “Thanks Driver” kind of person.
A lot of the people who use this service are very frail and they make me worry. It is so shoogly and swingy. I imagine it must be quite daunting to be shunted about in your seat, keeping one hand on your zimmer-trike gadget. The wise advice on the signage says to ring the bell then stay in your seat until the bus stops. This is very good advice but almost no one takes it. The urge to get up just as the driver is drawing in is irresistible, but really stupid, as that’s when one could easily come a cropper.
Let me tell you about yesterday. It was forecast to be 17 degrees, and in a non-public transport context, this would normally mean that the DMs would be patched in favour of the Birkenstocks. But with the back-of-my-mind lack of faith in the bus service, and the potential need to walk far in case of an epic fail, I had to stick with the DMs, while knowing I would regret this when the 17 degrees were out in force.
I made it to the bus stop after work in good time. Roasting. The bus was just two minutes late, which I think is reassuring; I would always rather it was two minutes late than pressuring me to be on time. On I got and away we went. Just me. Bus to self.
Lovely bright sunshine. As we went along, I was joined by three teenagers, then a very old lady with a wheeled shopping trolley bag thing. As we took off, the trolley went slamming into the wall opposite but when we turned the other way it slammed back then she caught it. Very deft. We got to the bit where the driver is meant to go right, and he went left, leaving that estate unserved, then we took off into the depths of the residential bit.
Suddenly the driver pulled over, donned a high-vis vest, got out the bus, opened the back of it and declared the bus broken down. Like a rat, I abandoned the sinking ship, failing to think through how the very old lady might get herself out of the situation. I should have made sure she had a plan B but I didn’t think it through. So I am kicking myself about that and hoping that the bus company had contingency plans.
The teenagers and I spilled out into the middle of des res suburbia and started generating solutions. My solution was to walk to another bus stop and start piecing together an alternative patchwork bus route home. I was glad about the DMs for the walking, but could have done with the Birkenstocks for the heat. When I got there and checked the app, it was going to be AGES until a bus came, so I gave up and thought I would walk to the parents’ house and sit in the 17 degrees in their garden and await rescue.
At that moment however, I was rescued by none other than my partner-in-work who happened to be passing. A joy. As ever. Unbelievably fortuitous. Providential.
The gammy hand is pretty good now, so I may well be driving within the week. Exciting times.
So, as I come to the end of my bus-dependant phase, here’s what I think. Buses are great and people should use them. When you are going past all the houses day after day, hour after hour, you think – surely there are people who want to get on here, and go wherever and then get home again with no effort? I think that people should download their local bus app and see what jaunts they could be going on.
I am thankful that, even in the case of epic bus fail, I am fit enough to walk the 10k home from work and have friends, and family who live where I could walk to in a disaster. But for people who are dependant on the buses, we are not quite there yet.
Thanks, Driver. It has been fun.