Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A Tale of Two Buses

When I first moved to Edinburgh from the darklands of Bodmin’s Arse, Scaborough, I loved the wall of silence erected between bus drivers and passengers.

Buses in small villages involve informing the driver of your destination so he can decide the travel costs. Which means: COMMUNICATION. In Edinburgh, travelling anywhere costs
a mere £1.20, and doesn't always require a verbal exchange. Or so it may seem.

My first year riding buses in town involved me slipping my quid into the coin-sucker gizmo, ignoring the doom-laden baldie at the wheel and scuttling to the back with the weirdoes. Later, I acquired a travel card and my attentions could be directed entirely onto hearing that BLIP sound which permits you access to Lothian Buses’ festive Butlins-themed interior. There was no communicatory tension between driver and passenger.

Then, drama struck one December when taking the No. 5 to the Royal Infirmary. I had the squeak-pop of Pinky & Perky on my headphones when the driver thrust his hand over the cash-sucker and fixed me an evil grin. Before he allowed me to proceed, he made me spit out my destination and ticket type. Well, my world of bus driver shunnage had been ruined! Was I now expected to give EVERY driver my destination and ticket preference?

For months, I became hyper-conscious of sliding change into the sucker sans speech. To appease my terror, I began to request ‘single’ tickets and ‘day’ tickets, rather than allowing them arrive at a decision based upon the coinage slotted down their chutes. Sometimes I would pause at the ticket machine, waiting for them to compute my change and dreading the callback – “Where are you going, MATE? What ticket type, PAL?”

Since attending Napier, greater traumas have developed. The No. 41 has created minutes of indecisive torment. Craighouse Campus is the last stop on the 41 route, and often the drivers like to stop and have a fag or make a phone call before hitting the road again. So the question is: to board or not to board? I am forced to stand there, awaiting the driver’s decision. Sometimes the driver is fiddling with his coat or opening his driver door. What if I slip my coins into the machine when the engine is off? Does my money vanish?

I have had to back away from buses when rude drivers make no outward signals to me. My coins hang limp like question marks in my cold fingers as I stand by the door, blocking the path, waiting for this now-human creature to cease his faggage and get back into action. It hurts.

I have also suffered at the hands of the No. 23. The driver once processed me a single ticket instead of a day ticket, and I was required to make a ruckus about this misallotment of travel time. He was none too pleased as I held up a raft of eager travellers with this slip of vexation. It was MY FAULT of course for having the mousiest voice in the universe and favouring a series of hand-shuggling gestures for communication over dragging endless words from the cobweb of my larynx and mashing them into sentences. Yeah RIGHT.

Another disaster struck when I pulled yesterday’s ticket from my wallet while ensconced in the music of LA designer hipsters The Muffs. Not hearing the driver’s protests, I sat down as he lumbered towards me, kicking up a stink about my apparent violation of ticket expiration protocol. I retrieved the correct ticket from my wallet and we chortled. Inside, though, I was writhing on fourteen thousand floors of embarrassment.

So for now, to avoid any humiliation, I declare which ticket type I want CLEARLY. I have practised saying the words ‘single, please’ and ‘day ticket, please’ into the mirror so I can engage with this genus of creature on a more harmonious footing. I must remember: bus drivers are almost human too.


  1. We have a song reserved for bus rides (preferably the really long ones for school trips or band camps) in Norway. It goes a little something like this (pardon my mal translation):
    "A bus driver, a bus driver, it is a man in a good mood. And if he isn't in a good mood, he is no bus driver. A bus driver, a bus driver, it is a man in a good mood" (repeat indefinately, or so it seems) Of course, in Norwegian it rhymes. Which helps. A little.

    Anyway, it appears that either the song is faulty or it does not apply to British (or perhaps even exclusively Scottish) bus drivers. Come to think of it, the song doesn't really apply to Norwegian bus drivers either. I'm guessing that has to do with the endless repetition of this song, though.

    Where was I? Oh, yes - this is my stop: You have my sympathy.

  2. My worst bus fear is the older ticket machines, which thankfully seem to have been phased out. If you pulled the ticket the wrong way, it wouldn't tear. Instead, it would follow you, and whenever you tried to remedy the problem, it would mock you by continuing to follow you. Nightmare.

  3. Mari: That is the best Norwegian song I have ever heard. It's also the only one, but still... if Scots bus drivers sang that every morning surely their dour moods would lift? Or they'd kill themselves?

    Babs: Oh yes, I forgot about ticket machine torment. Sometimes the ticket rips in half and you are stuck trying to prise it from the endless roll of ticketness. Or worse, someone fails to take their ticket, and you pocket two. The LOOKS from some people!

  4. Great. You've got me started on "Oh the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town." Just what I need. My children have reached adolescence and I thought I was free of it forever!

    In Ann Arbor, my University ID works as a bus pass. I just flash it and they let me go anywhere, any time. *flashes* see?

  5. Love the title. hee hee

    Don't they offer a monthly ticket in Edinburgh? That would save you having to communicate with the busdrivers, wouldn't it?

  6. Tart: Ah yes. I see. You can flash me anytime.

    Chris: They do, but I don't travel enough to justify the cost. And thank you for the brilliant title.

  7. I once worked as a bus conductor, in the days when that didn't also mean being the driver.

    Ah, the friendly chats we would have as the bus trundled along the Scotswood Road in Newcastle, after the pubs closed.

    Those steelworkers were big laddies, so "Can I have your fare please" was a mild suggestion, whereas "F*ck Yous" was a command.

    On my first day in San Francisco, a decade or two later, I tried to climb on a bus. With a growled "Right Change", the driver threw me off.
    I really wished that the driver was transferred to the Scotswood road!