Friday, 5 November 2010

No exit: hell is public transport

I try not to get all snippy about public transport, since, deep down, I deem it a noble endeavour. Sadly, and with increasing frequency, my happy thoughts are being kicked around by newer, meaner, and altogether angrier ones. Why, you ask, could this be? Let’s break it down:

First of all, whilst in transit, you’re pretty much being held hostage (albeit in a mostly voluntary way). Younger people often capitalise on this by sharing their atrocious ‘musical’ choices with the captive commuters. Their motives must be sadistic, since surely they can glean no genuine pleasure from the pitifully tinny echoes of their current top 10. Even the vaguely considerate pod people (the ones who utilise headphones) sometimes turn their mind music up to a level that must hurt them even more than it does us.

Then there are the compulsive phone freaks. There are two camps: the texters and the talkers. I’m not sure which are more irksome. Sure, the chatters are more invasive, but there is something distinctly wrong about people staring at a little screen for the duration of their journey. Clearly, they are so unsettled by the bus and the other people (hideous as we are) that their only escape is to chain-text vapid missives to everyone in their phone book. Lack of imagination is a sorrowful thing to behold.

Let’s not gloss over the talkers. For some unfathomable reason they cannot spend a single moment alone (especially bus moments) without being hooked up to some idiotic acquaintance. I’m not sure if the recipients of these calls even speak; all you can hear is the desperate dialler wittering on about their various woes: their job (but of course), assorted offspring, boring health issues. On and on and on. This is how they prepare for their day.

I was recently privy to a delightful girl who bemoaned her sore throat to a friend for a solid 15 minutes (I shouldn’t be going to work but they won’t let me have time off…). One can only assume she was scheming to hasten her illness in order to better her chances of bussing it back home before 9:30, no doubt treating a fresh batch of commuters to a new joy-laden monologue. And then there are those who engage in fully animated gesticulation, even though the listener (or silenced screamer) is not around to appreciate the performance. This can be especially irksome if you happen to be perched within striking distance of flailing arms.

It’s not just the passengers – oh no. The bus itself comes with certain trappings. Like the omnipotent woman’s voice telling us where we’re going and – repeatedly – not to stand on the upper deck or stairs. Sometimes the drivers get bored with pressing the voice woman button and give the intercom a whirl; these are often special moments where, granted, the distance is still there, but the driver is at least trying to reach out to us, telling one of our number to come back down and pay their fare. If I had access to the mic, I’d use it to inform the other passengers that no, there are not any seats upstairs – if I’m standing on the stairs it’s because my mission to sit down has failed, leaving me stranded. Absurd as it may sound, some people really do seem to think I’m standing there for the hell of it.

Other messages are silent, like when the writing near the front of the bus informs us that we are now on diversion, and that our destination has changed, without ever getting around to letting us know where this mysterious place is. Other bits of communication – the best kind – are usually screamed. Like when the driver needs to override the Voice: one is telling us that the bus Terminates Here, the other tells us, ‘No, she’s lying! It’s okay; I’m going to Tottenham Court Road – please don’t get off the bus!’ But it’s too late. The trust has already been broken; we have been wronged too many times before.

The bus is hard on us all, pushing us towards a special type of madness. I recall one gentleman who didn’t have a phone, but that didn’t stop him muttering into his hand for a long, long time. (To his credit, his use of the hand appeared to be a failed attempt to mask or even stop his outbursts). I discovered a delightful audio story that kept me occupied for a while. It was an open letter to a doctor who engages in an inappropriate phonecall whilst on the bus. I also have a nice recording of The Yellow Wallpaper for especially perilsome journeys.

So what are the rest of us to do? The tube? I think not; the atrocities that occur on the bus are all the more harrowing underground. Walking would involve waking up hours before daylight happens, which leaves cycling. I must admit I have become quite tempted – think of all those jaunty, joyful folk you often see, or perhaps just imagine, astride their bicycles. Sure, I’ll most likely end ending up mangled, perhaps beholding one of my beloved buses from a whole new angle – assuming, of course, that I actually see it coming.

Our lovely London buses are so very apt of dispensing with misguided cyclists – this much has been told. And yet it shall happen: I am crossing over. Today I cycled to work for the first time. Perhaps I got lost more than once, and perhaps my accidental detours meant it took almost as long as the bus, but – for now, at least – it is more fun. Albeit in a not-finding-the-right-roads-and-trying-not-to-get-broken sort of way. Read more by Sam.