"The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits." G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All aboard!

This is an oldie that I dug up from the desperate literary attempts of mine. The style is a bit awkward at times, but nevertheless remains a fun read...I hope:)

"The morning bus ride", whether destined for work, school or college seems to be a rather unique phenomenon, in a category of its own among commuting experiences. The actual means of public transport is irrelevant and in order for the trip to qualify to that special category, it needs to fulfill two conditions; it must take place early in the morning, and on a regular basis.

Having lived in various places around the world and having frequently participated in the morning ride "ritual", I can say with the confidence of a globetrotter that its unique character is perpetually common to suburbia worldwide. Taking those morning trips anywhere; whether it be Melbourne, Warsaw or Surrey in British Columbia, one cannot possibly fail to notice the obvious similarities.

For instance there is always at least a quarter of passengers on board to whom getting out of bed, having a shower and possibly managing a quick breakfast doesn't actually mean waking up. This becomes obvious as they nod off during the trip. They don't even need to be sitting in order to do that mind you. To the amusement of some, their heads bounce up into a quasiconscious state with every more abrupt movement of the bus. That occurrence is not reserved solely to the morning bus ride however. It does also take place in movie theaters and opera houses alike.

One of the hallmarks of early morning commuting are people who obviously hadn't had time to have a coffee before getting on, and probably won't have the time once they get off, yet crave the feeling of alertness. The shapes and sizes of those portable coffee mugs people carry are endless – its almost as if the bus plays a secondary role of a venue for some mobile home-ware design fair, where the representatives of participating manufacturers had been recruited from Catatonics Anonymous. Last but not least there are the students and eager employees with sleepy dazes fixed on the pages of their text books and laptop screens. If their belief is that our brains actually are at their receptive peak in the morning, which of course may be true, then certainly their faces don't reflect it.

Basically the atmosphere aboard the morning bus, with its vivid presence of sleepiness and a kind of passive absence, magnified by the routine factor, creates an air of suspended animation. Yes, the monotony of the trip adds to the detachment of the self from the slow motion nature of the surroundings.

Taking part in the early ride, being to most just an extension of the morning routine, possibly its final stage, one generally moves about in an automatic and absent minded manner; as a sufficient example of this may serve the mouthful of a mantra recited mechanically to the bus driver which encodes within it the full description of the ticket we desire. Attending to some business in West Vancouver on a daily basis, and therefore taking the bus to Surrey Central in order to board a westbound sky train that's exactly how I treat it - as the opening sequence to my day.

Now that I think of it, the routine-induced detachment is so profound in fact that I can't seem to recall a single bus driver's face. Even though I've seen them countless times, in the end they all just seem to blend into this one, vague and featureless, uniformed figure in my mind handing me a ticket over the coin dispenser. All the drivers faded from my memory, but one. Yes, that particular one who is the sole reason why I'm writing about the "commonly known and exhilarating experience of the morning bus ride, bursting with a myriad of inspiring subjects and events just begging to be made a mention of".

"All aboard!” announced in a summoning manner by the smiling bus driver, is generally the first hint for those entering the bus that this is not going to be just another ordinary ride. There's also the effect caused by the driver's personal remarks; referring to random boarding passengers as a "young lady", or "young man", which proves to have nearly spell like qualities. It almost always makes the kids beam with smug satisfaction, as they take their places. After all they had just been promoted to a more mature status by the "Captain". Passengers beyond their upper thirties, on the other hand can't help but smile upon receiving such a spontaneous compliment.

What struck me as delightfully unusual when encountering that cheerful character for the first time wasn't actually his giddy invitation, but something that took place during the purchase of my ticket. It happened once I got on the bus, probably because it was only then that I actually entered his domain of magical influence. In order to get to West Vancouver, I asked for a three zone fare. It was then that I discovered just how far such a ticket in fact entitles me to travel. "All the way around the world!” the driver enthusiastically confirmed my request, handing me the suddenly precious three zone pass.

Observing the driver and the way his behavior influenced all the passengers, I realized that surely this can't be your typical "morning bus ride". All of a sudden the cliché seemed to fade away, disrupted by a new kind of activity permeating throughout the entire bus. The ride ceased to be a part of the compulsory morning routine. Seeing the children peer through the windows with a somewhat more eager than usual curiosity while the adults immerse themselves in lively conversations brought to mind images comparable to those seen on school excursions or sight seeing tours.

Overwhelmed by the surrounding atmosphere, I soon realized that it's not a bus I'm on anymore, but a cruise ship. Surrey Central suddenly ceased to be a Sky train station, becoming instead some far away port on one of the distant Pacific Ocean islands, serving as a stopover on a journey to some yet further exotic destination. The asphalt visible directly outside transformed into a calm surface of the friendly sea.

In all my travels I have never encountered such a display of creative spontaneity on the part of a public transport employee. Well, maybe except a certain tram driver in Melbourne who sang for two days during work hours, the reason being, which he gladly shared with the bewildered passengers, his approaching marriage date.

What's extraordinary about this particular driver of line 320 is that his behavior doesn't seem to be influenced by the weather, time of the year or any other external conditions for that matter. He just seems to be enjoying his job and the way his original aura brightens everyone's day. For that I'm grateful to him. So if he ever wondered if his commitment was worthwhile, I'm sure most of us traveling in his presence would have a ready answer: "Aye, aye Captain!”

Surrey B.C. January 2006.


Raymond said...

That was a really excellent story - and very astute observations of the driver and passengers that I'm slightly envious of. My memories of Brisbane Transport consist mainly of cranky middle-aged men who reprimand me for being "inconsiderate" because I showed my card the wrong way, amongst many other things.


Mariusz Popieluch said...

Yeah, i know what you mean - the drivers in BC weren't actually all that different from the Brisbane ones...except for that...one.

Zegarnek said...

That is superb story. The first thought I had was why you are not writing a bigger piece? It seems to me that your persona is similar to the unique bus driver that you noticed...

What is interesting is the fact that long time ago (still in Poland) i wrote (poorer in quality but similar in content) little text about one, 171 line bus driver. What is, of course, much more important is that it happened in Warsaw (my amazement will be understood by those who ever lived in this troubled, then, country)

Thanks and do some more.

Mariusz Popieluch said...

Thanks zenon, this story remains as one of my favourites, but expanding it may be a forced an uninspiring task. I'm planning to make the L.I.F.E story a longer and more involved piece.