Catching the bus is no joy ride.
You can pretty much tell what kind of bus driver you’re going to have from the time you get on board. If you’re greeting to the man (it’s usually a man) sitting in the big chair is returned, you’ve probably encountered one of the vast majority of these essential professionals: even-tempered souls who will very likely transport you to your destination without incident. Some of these might even wait for you if they see you heading towards the bus stop.
If your “Good morning” is met with a grunt, you’ve come across that selection of drivers who probably see their vocation as akin to the transportation of toxic waste: irksome but necessary.
Then there are those who don’t respond at all. Beware this small sample, and make your way to your seat as quickly as possible. The driver won’t wait for you (and secretly I wonder if there’s a competition among these thousand-yard starers to see who can take down the most passengers in a day), or perhaps they’re simply in a hurry. It’s best not to ask.
Of all the methods of facilitating getting from A to B, doing so via bus must surely be one of the least glamorous, for all concerned.
For suburban passengers, the convenience of having a stop outside your door is countered by the fact few routes seem to run in a straight line anywhere, very likely skipping down several side streets, stop every 100 metres, seldom run on the weekend, are usually late but sometimes frustratingly early (and of course don’t stop at all in this instance if no passengers are waiting), and frequently don’t run at all. Coordination with other forms of public transport is ad hoc.
Some routes seem to have little logic; from Box Hill in Melbourne’s east, buses issue forth to Altona, Mordialloc and Chadstone. If you so desire you can catch a bus from St Kilda to Sunshine, and from Hampton to Berwick.
It’s rare to ride a bus where at least one piece of equipment isn’t faulty or out of commission. There’s a very good chance the AC has stopped working. Early in the morning or late in the night, you’re usually riding in the dark, which makes it harder to read, and on those occasions, underlines the interminable time this form of public transport can grindingly consume.
For drivers, the hassle of dealing with traffic and misbehaving passengers is a constant. Little wonder they often look frazzled.
I suspect those who live in rural and regional areas might think of buses more affectionately than city folk, providing as they do an essential form of transportation in places where others don’t run at all.
My own relationship with bus travel has become far more intimate than I imagined it ever would. Having lost the use of my mostly reliable Magna sedan a while back – and taken some time to come to grips with the price of used cars – I’ve gradually (but not warmly) learned to accept (but not embrace) its usefulness.
I guess I should stop my grousing and either buy a car for those five to 10-minute trips to the local train station, or accept the reality of bus travel. And the truth is, we need our buses to take us where trains and trams can’t go.
Alas, the bus hasn’t earned the cachet of other transport modes.
For instance, its place in pop culture has never captured the romance of other forms of mass transit, such as submarines (The Hunt for Red October, Das Boat) ships (Pirates of the Caribbean, Titanic); motorbikes (Easy Rider, The Great Escape); balloons (Around the World in Eighty Days); cars (any Bond film) or trains (Some Like it Hot, Murder on the Orient Express).
Planes, Buses and Automobiles lacks a certain something. Ditto for Throw Momma from the Bus or Runaway Bus – although of course, that’s basically what Speed is. And Speed is admirable, if not awesome.
The Italian Job (original version) made the bus pivotal (bad pun intended) to its plot.
Yet when I think of the bus on screen, it’s not in the depiction of a grand cross-continental journey, but rather the prosaic and the everyday: the bad jokes and casual racism of On the Buses, Otto’s suspect driving and social skills in The Simpsons, or Principal Rooney forced to ensure a bus ride with his students at the conclusion of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, not by choice, but because it’s the only option. That’s how it rolls.