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The Buses of London or Why I'd Rather Walk

by Barbara 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.  

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Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 04:06:35 PM EST
They're nicer here- they just don't run very often, or in the evenings or on Sundays.

But since almost every bus is owned by Stagecoach, how do you choose between bus travel and
funding anti-gay bigotry?

by Sassafras on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 04:58:53 PM EST
I ask myself whether or not you have yet travelled on the "Bendy Buses" (aka "Happy Buses" because payment appears to be optional) and whose drivers tend to wear the benevolent demeanour of a travelling philanthropist.

As a regular traveller on the 25, which goes through "bandit country" on its way from Oxford Circus to the Ilford Badlands, I am always intrigued to see how many of those alighting through the rear two pairs of doors somehow forget to use their Oyster card.....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:00:32 PM EST
Yes, Chris, indeed, I have travelled on the 25 many times (at times with a leg or an arm caught in the door). A horrific experience in spite of the philantropic bus drivers. I would estimate that only about 1/8th of the passengers touches their Oyster card to the reader -- the rest of them cluster around the two readers (located by the doors) in hope that if they're checked, they can pull out their card fast enough. Tempting... maybe that's why they tend to be even more crowded than other buses, if that's even possible.

"If you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it." Lord Brabazon
by Barbara on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:07:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely the most cosmopolitan bus route in London, as well.

Apart from the East End immigrant populations of Bangladeshi's and Somali's, I have noted a phenomenal rise in Eastern European riders in the last couple of years.

(Any other bids for Cosmopolitan Route of the Year, anyone?)

Didn't note any difference as between likelihood of use of Oyster card though... I reckon your observation is about right, Barbara, both in terms of Oyster use and "Reader Clustering".

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:20:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, are you in London or in Scotland? I'm confused.

We should meet, regardless...

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:23:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Both, mainly in Linlithgow (about 20 miles West of Edinburgh) since I am rarely in London these days, although I am down there 4th to 7th December because the housing coop in Bromley-by-Bow I am a member of is fighting the latest round of our battle with the London Borough of Tower Hamlets to:
(a) survive;
(b) do an eco-build using the "Community Land Partnership" model;
in which context we actually have support from the LibDems, Conservatives AND Respect Councillors...

Not bad eh?

So on 5th you'll find me having my 5 minutes of fame before the Council's scrutiny committee...

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:49:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you think we could meet while you're in London?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:39:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But Chris, if you live so close, how come we never see you ?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:24:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, you are seriously off message! However, there are a couple of interesting points that might be discussed.

First, one feature of public transportation is that you are forced to confront the actual public. It's easy to sit around in our private studies and write great theoretical treatises about how the perfect world of cooperating, like-minded, sensible adults would work, but at some point one must confront the fact of the obnoxious mob.

Also one might discuss the effect of the long-term stability of the London bus route numbering system and its effect on the global diaspora of Londonophiles. Some routes have been amazingly consistent for almost a century. Consider Route 7, which has been in use since 1908. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Buses_route_7

People who visited London even in the 1930s or 1950s or 1970s might be familiar with the route, and if something happens, like a terrorist bombing (e.g., the events of July 2005 on a number 30 bus, with route established in 1911 but significantly modified since), there is an instant global community of people who identify with the event.

In years to come you will look back fondly on your familiar London bus routes. However, they won't be memories of the now-retired Routemaster bus you have illustrated, but something more along the lines of this:

by asdf on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:02:07 PM EST
snigger. Well don't travel at school kid time is my best piece of advice. Looking back on my own adventures from when I boarded the 34c twixt billericay and Chelmsford back in ...whenever I pity any adult that had to endure it.

Remember, it was only 20 years ago that our dear esteemed Leaderene said that a man who was found himself travelling on a bus at the age of 26 could consider that his life was a failure. So buses in the UK are not really intended for anybody but the feckless and indolent. So if you're going to slum it, you really have to take it as you find it.

sorry, but we're a mid-atlantic country, we have the worst of both worlds.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:32:14 PM EST
Helen, I have a one school-kid myself! How do I avoid getting on crowded buses without getting him kicked out of school before he even enters year one? ;)

"If you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it." Lord Brabazon
by Barbara on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:15:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Non-payers that try to slip in through the back doors

Ah, am I lucky Budapest has controllers rather than ticket validation on entrance. (Something I discussed with poemless.)

smoking behind the seats to hide from the CCTV

Wow, they don't do that here, even though there is no CCTV at all.

Fellow passengers are often anything but fellows.

Funny, I just wanted to write a diary about that. I'll do it anyway, still tonight.

It is virtually impossible to convince them to make an extra step aside when you need to get out or get in.

Doesn't happen here. Or if it does, the violater is insulted so strongly s/he won't do it next time...

people gasping for air is clustered by the doors, while the middle parts of the bus are virtually empty?

Not here either. For the same reason: if people leave just a small space, new passengers will shout insults at those failing to move inside.

Public transport passengers are experts in ignoring each other.

How true. It happens that some rural people not 'aware' of this are on the bus, and talk at 'normal' volume, and everyone else feels like in a soap opera.

public transportation the way I experience it in East London doesn't have the most positive impact on the way I think about others.

Well... when some middle- or upper-class acquitance wonders about where poverty and misery is, or just claims that the state of affairs is rosy, my favourity retort is that they should step out of their cars and look at reality on public transport.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 05:48:12 PM EST
Funny, I just wanted to write a diary about that. I'll do it anyway, still tonight.

Done.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:57:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Seriously: recently I put up here a proposal for semi-public transport. I think it is commercially viable, ecologically effective, and attractive to people, especially those who might wish to drive their cars less often.
by das monde on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:13:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Give up the yoga and start writing diaries! Or then become schizoid - lightness and grace by day, invectivated by night!

Or combine the two in 'Rude Yoga' - a little known branch of the meditative and flexible art founded by Arthur 'Punch-up' Singh in 1927. "I don't have 19th century bicycle pumps in my classes - inspire or expire, you wheezer!"

More please...

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:10:12 PM EST
I think this diary allows me to enunciate the "law of conservation of ETness", basically when I am less active on ET, Barbara hates it less and so contributes more, keeping traffic constant and increasing the quality and diversity of the content.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:14:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do you have an equation for that, oh Mastermind? ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:26:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nope, it's just hand-waving.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:27:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL - or, for the Pners, an excellent pun on the essentially prestigital nature of mathematical esoterica.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:41:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has been hand-waving ever since!

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 09:05:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So how do we change this zero-sum game into a win-win one?
You're in the land of freedom and opportunity, after all!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:28:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is room for improvement, I think, through comparative advantage.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:30:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is certainly a more easily attainable configuration.

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 09:08:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm... I don't think he is on ET any less... it's my desperate try to be a good girlfriend and share the interests of my "bloke". No need for coming up with a formula for anything.

"...increasing the quality and diversity of the content."

Do you really mean it or is this a provocation? Don't forget you're sitting only a few meters away...


"If you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it." Lord Brabazon

by Barbara on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:34:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you don't believe me about the quality we could take a poll...

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:36:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am seeing this scene in my mind's eye right now. Luckily the small one is asleep already

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:03:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That was brilliant, Sven :D. (May I send you a flyer for Rude Yoga for your evaluation? Maybe it could be called Survival yoga... anything but doughnuts, right? LOL) In spite of being a yoga teacher, I don't hug trees and I do have a sarcastic streak, as is obvious here (not the most PC diary I have written, I guess). But I only reveal it to those that can handle it, you see. I spare my students my sarcasm as I already make them suffer enough forcing them to do splits in the air. Expiration in some cases becomes a real possibility.

"If you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it." Lord Brabazon
by Barbara on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:27:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am always happy to offer my advice whether accepted or not. I just thought I had offended you with my last private comment on the semiotic implications of 'behinds'.

But this wonderful and funny diary convinces me that yoga has much more joy than I thought.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:52:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You did? I wasn't offended, I found it quite funny and had to agree with you. I deleted the "behind" and I think it's better that way, too. Thanks again for taking a look! And spending your time on it.

There is a lot of joy in yoga, why do you think I'd be doing it? :) It makes you feel good, better than just ordinary exercise. And if you're not compelled to get down on the mat right away, maybe this guy will convince you... (hope you have sound')

"If you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it." Lord Brabazon

by Barbara on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:03:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, nutters always make me laugh. With, not at.

I was just arguing with Colman about defintiions/categorizations, and the fact that without misunderstandings there is no laughter. We laugh at how puny we are in this cosmos.

It wasn't a very good argument on my side, and predictably the anally retentive brigade were on me like hyenas round a wounded wildebeest. But I am a big boy, and Jérôme slips me the odd backhander for provoking comment and traffic.  I'm a wrestler in a boxing match.

But give me a good feeling any day, over the aesthetic of an equation. We are who we are. We have to love with it.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:19:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this is shaping up to be the funniest blog-duo act i have ever found in yonks...

ladies and gentlemen...may i present....

the internationally infamous answer to lucy and ricardo....

trumpets, with spanish flourish...

the barbara-migeru show!!!!!!

roll titles-

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:53:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is there this idea that French people smell bad? The difference in that respect between the Tube (where I regularly had to be near smelly people) and the Paris metro (almost never) is staggering.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:30:05 PM EST
I think it is not about the French smelling worse than the English, but about Europeans smelling worse than Americans, and that it has its origin in Americans' abuse of deodorant, whether people usually take their daily bath or shower in the morning or evening, and the fact that Europe is 3 times as crowded as the US so Americans are 3 times less able to smell each other than they are to smell foreigners when they are abroad.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:35:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am just working with a sauna-making company. so any feedback will be used for commercial advantage ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:44:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I miss saunas, and diving into the cold lake afterwards.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:11:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bring the family next summer ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:20:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has a much more specific reason, I read. I read it originated at the end of WWII, when US GIs travelled around France and in Paris, and had their only real experience of people who lived under occupation for years. For, soap was rationed, with the German Army carting off production for itself; to boot, many people couldn't buy many new clothes and water for washing was also constrained.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:45:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, when I was in the US I encountered the prejudice that Europeans (or just foreigners) smell, and also the specific factors I list. Bodily odour, whether it is pungent/offensive or not, has been banished from the American "standard".

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 07:09:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I completely buy your morning/evening shower argument and I'd add that the social pressure to smell "nice" begins in middle school and is so intense that you have to be Brad Pitt to dare to smell bad. But living in a city that is a lot more densely packed than most European locales, I can't agree with your "3X the nose distance" theory. Except for the homeless (and every once in a while, a recently immigrated cab-driver), New Yorkers almost never smell. And this is a city where a huge proportion of the population is foreign-born!
by Matt in NYC on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:41:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Pheromones, J, Pheromones...there is a difference between soiled bodies and sexual signals. The former is offensive, the latter is oooh la la.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Nov 23rd, 2006 at 06:55:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ok, basta!

you are taking this 'french victimisation' too far, jerome.

what's next, prejudices against gauloises and berets?

i'm sure you can dig some up and whine about them, too...

you're right, you're right, maybe we should model the planet on french civilisation, then this constant french-bashing is BOUND to stop!

once we all passed the soignee test, we will realise the full gloire of savoir-faire, nuance and eclat, not to mention the all-important je-ne-sais-quoi!

it's really that we're all jealous we didn't invent crepes with grand marnier, f--- the lemon juice...

snarkarola

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:49:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The first time I took my overly evolved American nostrils to Europe, I braced myself for gagging smells in Paris in particular (that's just someghitn all Americans are raised to expect).  Well, on that trip and half a dozen subsequent ones, I have yet to have an upleasant olfactory experience in Paris.

But actually I don't think London is that bad -- not compared to Scandinavia and Germany. Those are the countries where, imho, being in a confined space is pure Nose Purgatory. (And really, this is not criticism, but rather a recognition that Americans, with our mandatory morning showers and full-body deodorants, are the odd ones out.)

by Matt in NYC on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:26:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Funny, I don't remember either Germany or Scandinavia as land of smelly people.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:34:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, to the American mind, Germany and Scandinavia are "the Land of the Women with unshaved armpits", too. Who knows?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:45:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aha!

The classic joke

Q. How can you tell the German plane at the airport?

A. It's the one with hair under the wings....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 07:08:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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