Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:17:37 AM EST
From the diaries by London bus -- afew
I would hate to be a London bus driver. I would prefer to scrub public toilets in gas stations or pick up nasty trash from sidewalks (er, pavement, I live in Britain now) with one of those metal grabbing things. If given the choice I might even cut off my lower lip with a pair of rusty scissors rather than drive a double-decker. Forget about flexible shifts and free passes for your family, gimme those shears! First of all, I'm a lousy driver (good thing we don't have a car) and suffer from mild to severe anxiety attacks even on a bike when anything bigger than myself comes close. I couldn't drive a bus if I wanted to. I admire all people who are daily willing to take responsibility for other people's lives, including drivers and pilots. Secondly, I can think only of a few jobs where you have to deal with more bullsh*t than in the trademark vehicle of England. Non-payers that try to slip in through the back doors, teenagers screaming like wild orangutans in the upper deck and smoking behind the seats to hide from the CCTV, mob trying to break in like bubbling lava during rush-hour even though you wouldn't squeeze a mouse inside. Insults and arguments, and fights, too. Abandoned bags of groceries that you hope carry just that - groceries. And then of course the outside traffic. Jaywalkers who feel they own the road and readily volunteer both of their respective fingers if challenged by a honk. Cars cutting you off so that when you jump on the brakes you cause seven whiplashes, a broken hip and a dozen of dislocated shoulders at once. Plus the darn rugrat behind you dropped his lollipop and is crying like mad.
Given all the abuse, some bus drivers turn out to be callous, mischievous and just plain bastards sometimes, like jail wardens. They have the most uncanny ability to sense when you desperately have to get somewhere, and make sure they can do everything on their part to be of least assistance. The first thing they will do is that they will simply not show up. The more you're pressed for time, the bigger the time-gap between individual buses. If you are on board, they decide to go at 2 miles per hour, or they will stop an entire bus for ten (precious) minutes and leisurely chat with the idiot who again didn't charge his Oyster and refuses to pay regular fare (he did the same thing yesterday!) instead of grabbing him by his rear end and throwing him out. In case you happen to be darting to the closest bus stop through a busy road in pouring rain with a toddler in your left arm and a watermelon in your right, risking grave injuries from roaring traffic, they nonchalantly pass by (even speed up), or, if they happen to be standing there, they wait until you're about 30 centimetres from the entrance and then whooooosh! They're gone. In such instances I wish for a Harley and a machine gun, or at least a Harley and a carton of rotten eggs.
A rather entertaining story on the subject of the tense driver/passenger dynamics was posted on http://paulm.com/inchoate/2004/08/london_nightbusmare.html.
Fellow passengers are often anything but fellows. It is on buses, more than anywhere else, that I often come to the sad conclusion that humans are stupid, selfish and passive-agressive, and that there are too many of them. Once planted in a spot on a bus, people stay put. It is virtually impossible to convince them to make an extra step aside when you need to get out or get in. Have you ever observed the phenomenon when about a hundred of people gasping for air is clustered by the doors, while the middle parts of the bus are virtually empty? What part of MOVE DOWN THE BUS (YOU STUPID MORONS) do people not understand? (This phenomenon, alas, extends to the tube as well.) Consequently, being a regular passenger on a bus means a perpetual invasion into your personal space. I wonder whether the reason Americans are so much friendlier than Europeans is because they can choose when to get intimately close to someone. They don't have to worry when was the last time the people in the car behind them brushed their teeth or washed their underwear, whether they'd find their ringtone really annoing or not, whether they are cultivating a Polish plait, or where their hands (and other body parts) had been, or whether they're carrying the ebola virus or the latest variety of flu. Or, again, whether their grocery bags contain just groceries and backpacks just books or camping gear. In America, there is traffic, but you're in the cocoon of your vehicle, perhaps bumper-to-bumper but not butt-to-butt, butt-to-face or armpit-to-nose. It is so awkward to be so close to someone we don't know that we simply pretend that it's not happening, i.e. we ignore each other. Public transport passengers are experts in ignoring each other. They sometimes go so far in their illusion that they are not seen or heard that they will engage in behavior they would otherwise perhaps think twice about. Forgive me for being gross, but I have seen about five individuals who littered the floor with boogers that they meticulously extracted from their nose while staring into infinity. Then there are make-up artists who pull out just about every single beautifying product and proceed to turn their mug into a face. Or their face into a mug. And then there are the mobile yappers who will gladly share with half of the bus the most intimate events of their life. No-one's looking, so no-one's listening, right?
As a green(ish) progressive, as I like to think about myself, I am committed to my car-free lifestyle. But public transportation the way I experience it in East London doesn't have the most positive impact on the way I think about others. It challenges my view of humanity as a whole, in fact. You will perhaps object by saying that doubledeckers offer a great view, that fellow passengers kindly leave their newspaper behind for your entertainment (The London Light, anyone?), and that you got to pet the cutest puppy the other day. Maybe someone even let you sit down if you look decrepit enough. Well. In theory (and on the rare day), I think London buses are great. But more often than not, I'd just rather walk.