Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Buses

Now that Spring is approaching, it’s a great relief that the mornings and evenings are starting to lighten up. One of the unfortunate consequences of being without a dog over the winter has been the need to travel by taxi far more than I would like, as even very familiar routes become too difficult without some natural light. It’s not that I have anything against taxis, but I was always told not to get into cars with strangers and I think this advice is still basically sound. I find most taxi drivers likeable, hard-working and generally very helpful, but there is something just too intimate about sharing my journeys to and from work with them.

I much prefer the anonymity afforded by the local buses, although this form of transport presents its own, sometimes formidable, set of problems for the VIP. The first task is to stop a bus and, assuming you’ve managed to stand at the correct bus stop, you might think this should not be too difficult. However, I have found that the sight of a guide-dog and his owner waiting anxiously at the roadside has little effect in stopping most buses as they charge towards their destination. I have considered holding a sign displaying the number of the bus I need but I suspect that even this would not be enough, and that a banner reading “Yes, I know it’s inconvenient and it might make you even later than you already are but I am not doing a charity collection here and would like to get to work before I and my dog die of boredom so please stop counting your change and let me on you ignorant git” might be required. But then again, it’s easier to ask a fellow traveller to assist in stopping one for you.

Once successfully onto the bus, the next hurdle to negotiate is paying for the ticket. Helpfully, drivers are now largely encased within a protective plastic shield. Before the days of concessionary passes, handing over the dosh involved a quick Marcel Marceau impression as I struggled to locate the breach in the driver’s armoury. Thankfully, most drivers spare me an encore performance and kindly retrieve my ticket from the machine for me.

And then the real fun starts. A VIP’s arse isn’t easily parked onto a spare seat and represents a real danger to fellow travellers. In self defence, the more astute (in reality, this is often the older traveller) will offer directions to try to guide the VIP, but in most cases are incapable of translating left and right to someone coming towards them. Mindful of the potential consequences of blindly following such guidance, I resort to groping around to establish whether there is indeed a spare seat, and in which direction it’s facing. It’s amazing how quickly an otherwise silent passenger will offer you more accurate instructions when you start groping around their lap.

The worst over, I now have the simple task of trying not to block the aisle with my guide-dog, or fold up my long cane without putting someone’s eye out, although there would be a nice irony in the latter. Finally, all I need to do is negotiate a successful exit at the correct stop. Not the most relaxing way to start the day, but I find it a lot less stressful than driving.

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