Riding the bus to work is possibly the most irritating dichotomy facing the modern commuter, a Love/Hate relationship for everyone concerned.
Fundamentally, bus travel is Good. It’s economical, forces lazy people into walking at least a small distance from door to bus stop, and exonerates everyone who may have inadvertently left their PCs on standby all night. It’s better for the environment, and it also allows me to hone my already-superior eavesdropping skills.
And riding the bus when I’m in foreign lands, different cities or basically doing anything other than heading to work, is actually a lot of fun. Where else could you see such an eclectic cross-section of society?
But my love of bus travel has alas been eclipsed by my commute to work, and each morning I’m confronted by a fairly harsh reality: 79 strangers crammed into a steel cage with wheels and being shuttled around the city by a man who has to sit behind bullet-proof glass “just in case”. Worryingly dystopian. And on a personal note, no one talks on commuter buses, and they don’t like the windows to be open. Weird.
Instead, any noise will come from an empty can rattling across the floor like a razor across your brain. Or that bus-staple, The Inconsiderate Buffoon who thinks that yelling into an iPhone 4 about nothing in particular is going to endear him to wider society. Even my love of eavesdropping doesn’t extend that far.
But thanks to my ability to exude an icy confidence of the ilk found in people too old to care, I sit on the upper level, at the back, assertively open the window and – and this is key – stick my headphones on. And with that, my bus journey turns into an almost comedic circus of weird lookin’, animated creatures parading around to the sound of my tunes, for the sole purpose of entertaining me.
A walkman or similar is essential for this (you can read about my life-long love affair with tunes on the move here). Forget that, and you’re at the mercy of whoever’s getting on at the next stop. Unsettling how the journey to work and its success or failure depends upon the behaviour of Strangers.
Alas, earlier in the week I found myself in exactly this position. I had foolishly forgotten to do the ipod jacket-to-bag transfer that’s usually second nature when I get home and realised just as I sat down on the top deck.
Expecting the worst, I hunkered down into my luridly-patterned seat, wrenched open my window and waited.
But the worst didn’t happen. Instead, my love-affair with bus travel was reignited halfway through my journey with the arrival of two characters I would never, in ordinary circumstances, put in the same sentence as “love affair”.
Imagine if Plug and Smiffy from the Bash Street Kids, but grown up and wearing their hard, drug-weary lives on their faces, started walking towards you on the upper deck of a bus. What would you do? Recoil in horror and hope they sat nowhere near you? Or say a silent prayer willing them to sit nearby so those aforementioned eavesdropping skills can get some exercise?
Turns out, they didn’t have to sit next to me. These guys’ voices carried throughout the whole vehicle. But they sat next to me anyway, and despite their obvious substance misuse, they had a highly entertaining conversation which covered:
Plug: 10 stone; Smiffy: 17 stone;
Last night’s dinner
Plug: How did you get on with that Fray Bentos pie the other day? Was it soggy?
Smiffy: Naw, man, it was good and crispy. I hud it wi’ broccoli and carrots, mon.
Plug: Ay, yuv got tae hiv veggies, mon;
and the route of the number 44 bus
Smiffy: Aye, a number 44’s nae guid tae me. (Despite being on the number 44.)
Through the medium of a Fray Bentos pie and some Beano characters I was reminded that the bus is a hotbed of eavesdropping potential, and an ever-changing showcase for the rich tapestry that calls itself Society. I need to get in amongst like this more often. In fact, I’m fairly confident that if buses were filled by hilarious duos like this each day, a visible difference would be seen in workforce attitudes across the city, people would be happier and bus travel wouldn’t be seen as something to be endured.
Or perhaps people should just let me open the windows.