Archive for September, 2020

A Change of Tune

Bus Replacement Service.

If you’re living in a place where trains aren’t a major method of transportation this may mean nothing to you. If you do, then you know as well as I do, the mere painful mention is enough to elicit the heaviest of sighs. What’s so bad about a bus you wonder? It’s not even that the bus is particularly bad, in fact, sometimes it’s even a coach, which given the slight boost in comfort should make up for the lack of train service- but it doesn’t. When you’re used to life in the fast lane on the rail, the legal limit of the road can feel like a lethargic crawl home. To make matters worse it’s usually on a Sunday, which for a teacher who  already feels guilty for not doing something work related on a Sunday, you’re even more behind and the week hasn’t even begun. That carefree fun version of yourself quickly disappears as you chastise yourself on the extra long road home. 

There’s also a shared atmospheric camaraderie of regret on these buses. People become strangely territorial on buses. On trains there are so many carriages, the leg room- endless, promises of warm beverages and snacks, scenery off the beaten path, people are relaxed.  On a bus, as you lug your overpacked suitcases onto what is essentially one carriage, it quickly feels like the school bus scene from Forrest Gump. People cannot contain their disappointment: with you, with themselves, with everything. If being on a train is like having roommates, being on a bus is like sharing a too small room with your sibling and not in a nostalgic way. 

This was me on Sunday crammed into a seat with my nearly 7 foot tall boyfriend. 

Now to be fair, I knew ahead of time this journey was going to be a Bus Replacement Service when I booked my ticket, which, strangely, makes me one of the fortunate ones. To the others (and we’ve all been there), rocking up to the station, the platform eerily quiet, the silent row of buses stretched before you with makeshift paper signs lazily taped up in the windows, the bus drivers glaring. It sinks your heart in a way few things can. Normally, I don’t have any problems with bus drivers (or any other drivers of any other transport) but Bus Replacement Bus drivers ooze bitterness. Maybe that’s just us projecting our disappointment onto these moving messengers but they certainly don’t improve matters. This has been particularly true during COVID. You can’t even fake a smile as you get onto the bus to pretend like it’s fine, who’s going to see it behind your sad mask? Misery loves company. So you can imagine my surprise when my bus driver leapt onto the bus maskless with an air of arrogance, I was not prepared for this annoying peppy change in tone, nor was I impressed. This guy was not my cup of tea. 

We rode in sullen silence (which is pretty average) along the soulless motorway losing all sense of time. Had it been 10 minutes? An hour? Did it matter anymore? I was lost in my non-bus day dreaming when I heard a low melody. At first, I was irritated, in true bus style, at a fellow passenger playing his music too loud, as if I was a crotechty neighbour. But then- I heard his voice- unmistakable- a Mr. Phil Collins. It’s was not coming from around me but from above like some heavenly proclamation 

“How could you just walk away from me?”

I was entranced. 

It didn’t stop there. The oh so familiar hits kept coming, increasing in volume, one after another, like a beloved radio station, like the days of yore. In a day and age of being able to curate and select my own music all the time, I had missed the random nature of pleasant and safe unpredictably. Songs that had genuinely not entered my ears in at least a decade but that I knew every word to as if I had written them myself. By about the fourth song there was a small group of passengers joyfully singing along as if we were in a shared karaoke. It wasn’t until I heard the beginning and prompt switching past Spice Girls’ ‘Wanna be’ that I realised that this was no radio station. This was the driver’s personal playlist. Beneath my masked face spread a grin, that’s why this driver was so arrogant, he knew he was going to turn (not literally) this bus around. 

On the hilariously random topic of Spice Girls ‘Wanna Be’, the last time I heard this song was no joke, coincidentally on another coach in recent memory. Now when I say coach I mean a Tour Coach which although the exact same kind of vehicle, the vibe is its polar opposite. A holiday coach is one of laughter, napping, and is really the height of luxury. The driver is beloved, the bestower of knowledge, heavily re-bestowed with tips. Again, I repeat, the same kind of coach. On that particular coach, we were journeying through Ireland, soothed with Irish harps, fiddles and gaelic lullabies as the sun set. As we neared Dublin, the end of our journey, our bus driver bizarrely switched musical lanes over to

 ‘“Soooo I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want”

To which his sleepy passengers were jolted awake, not unhappily I might add. The 70ish year old set of Italian couples across from me whooping and clapping loudly as if we were all heading to the club. These same people who had insisted on loudly shouting Italian phrases at the bus driver (who could not speak Italian)  the whole 12 hours earlier with no knowledge of English, inexplicably knew every single word to the song. I could not hold back my genuine laughter and then tried to explain to my deaf mother what was so funny about this change in tone although the loud clapping by the elderly Italians gave her some idea. 

All this bus and Spice Girl talk to say that sometimes, even in this time, maybe even particularly so, there are still some lovely aspects of unpredictability. That sometimes it’s nice to not be in control. Especially the musical kind.


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