October 21, 2003
6 Month Revue
A good time to reflect on the last six months of Route 79. Reflections on a bus journey home. Some of which have been a story already told - some of which remain but memories recalled …
Morning journey to work. At a time when Route 79 was a crowded single-decker - the young Afro-Carribean teenager at the back of the bus who didn’t make it to the front in time before the bus started to pull away from the stop he wanted to get out at. Me, immersed in sounds of Walkman, standing at the front of the crowded bus having just got on a stop before. He: blood boiling shouting at driver to stop. Driver shouting back “Too late - next stop!” He: You f*cking c*nt - let me off!”. Driver: “Too late! Next stop!”. He: “Let me off you f*cking c*nt!” - jabbing at the door emergency open button. Driver speeding dangerously around roundabout in rage brought about by obstinance and foul-mouthedness of youth. Me: sensing conflict - stops Walkman and puts calm hand on shoulder of boy and proclaiming “Stay cool - it’s not worth it.”. Boy: gives me grim look but calms momentarily. 30 seconds later. Driver: pulls up at next stop braking sharply. Door opens. Boy: “You f*cking bastard! You f*cking c*nt!” and spits at driver - saliva streaming down over perspex shield. Driver pulls open his cabin door and makes movement towards boy. Boy jumps off bus and and picks up a half-brick lying on floor by bus stop. Driver gets out of seat and shouts at boy: “You f*cking bastard! Go ask your mother who your father is!”. Boy: “F*ck off you f*cking n*gger!” and makes arm-movement with half brick as if to throw it at bus. Me: gets off bus rapidly and approached boy with intent to calm him down and prevent throwing brick. Boy reads my body language and tosses half-brick on floor and walks off - looking back and cursing loudly. Driver shouts “F*ck off! And go ask your mother who your father is!”. Boy - walking off backwards making obscene gesture: “F*ck off you stupid f*cking n*gger!”. Bus driver gets back in his perspex cabin - composes himself for a moment, closes door and drives off. Rest of journey uneventful - but for a few minutes after incident, elderly passengers gaze at me as if to say “Thank you”. I put my Walkman back on and lose myself in the music.
Evening journey back home. Get on bus at Alperton. An ordinary-looking person-turned-preacher boards at the next stop. He stands in the aisle at the front near the stairway to the upper deck and pulls a Bible out of his carrier bag. With Bible in hand and opened at somewhat random page he starts to chant out loud: “Jesus came to forgive those who sin! We are sinners! Sinners will go to Hell - but he preaches forgiveness! Hail to Lord Jesus!”. And so on for a few minutes and a few stops. Everybody on bus stares at the audacity of preacher as he daringly proclaims against sinful living and affirms the forgiveness of Jesus Christ our Lord. He gets off at next stop. Everybody on bus returns to what they were doing before the interruption.
Empty bus on way home. She gets on at stop on Wembley High Road. Me sat at back of bottom deck. She has a universe of empty seats to sit at - but she comes and sits right next to me. Why? I will never know. She pulls out a disgusting half-eaten Burger King burger out of her bag and starts eating. I was enraged. This is a story already told. Click here for the gory details.
On the way home again. Bottom deck. Commotion on top deck - and then “Smash!”. The unmistakable noise of breaking glass. Bus driver brakes sharply to a stop. Gets out of his perspex cabin and makes his way upstairs. Shouts at teenage kids to stop messing around. Gets a volley of abuse in return. Makes his way back to driving seat. Pulls off - and then “Smash!”. Another glass bottle seemingly smashes against the window of the upper deck. Driver stops sharply and gets on radio to controller requesting Police assistance. Youths upstairs sense that they are in trouble and make make their way, cautiously at first, downstairs - before charging as quick as they can off the bus and onto the street - whereupon they sprint into the night.
Journey home. Interesting looking lady. She looks like Tracy Chapman. She smiles at me as she makes her way to a seat the back of the bus - just a couple of seats away from me. I spy on her through the corner of my eye. And then she does something quite unbelievably shocking: Click here for the full story.
The fly that attacked me - and then followed me into my home.
Alperton. Journey home. Long wait for bus. Lady in front of me in queue gets on bus and mutters some curse under her breath at the driver as she waves her bus pass. Something about being late. Bus driver shouts “What did you say madam?!”. She ignores him and makes way to seat. He shouts again: “What did you say madam?!”. She ignores him - having sat down. He gets out of his perspex cabin and walks over to woman: “Could you repeat what you just said madam?”. She ignores him. He says “Get off my bus! I am not taking your kind of f*cking abuse madam! Get off right NOW! This bus is going nowhere until you get off MY BUS!”. She ignores him with smirk on face. After a minute of cursing - he walks back to cabin and pulls out a wad of “compensation forms” and starts handing them out to everybody on bus. Everybody else on board sighs and moans at lady. One passenger cries out: “Get off the bus you stupid cow! We all wanna get home!”. She sits there motionless - refusing to budge. Bus driver continues to hand out compensation forms - until everyone has one - then goes back to his cabin - gets his bag - pulls out the ignition keys - gets off bus and walks off. Everybody on bus is bewildered - and eventually all get off bus and go stand at bus stop to wait for the next bus.
And then there’s the whispering girl.
Morning journey to work. Me on top deck. Listening to my Walkman. Just an ordinary day. And then: a half-full can of diet coke comes whizzing past my ear and smashes onto the back of the seat in front of me - diet Coke splashing everywhere - just missing splashing all over me. I tare off my earphones in rage and turn around. There is a girl standing in the aisle about a metre behind me - grinning stupidly. Me enraged shouts “What’t the f*cking problem?! Did you just throw this can of Coke at me?”. She stands there grinning. I shout louder: “Did YOU just throw this f*cking can of Coke at me?”. She is startled by my rage and cowers slightly. She replies: “I didn’t mean to do it! I just meant to throw it over there”. “OVER WHERE!” I shout back. She points and shouts desperately “Over there!”. I quickly ascertain that that she has some sort of learning disability - and she is standing in the aisle when any “normal” person would be sitting - but I’m still angry - so I shout at her: “SIT DOWN! Just f*cking SIT DOWN!”. She is frightened at this point and does as I command and sits down in the nearest seat. I continue to assert: “Just sit down and don’t talk - and don’t move - OK?”. She nods subserviently. I calm myself down - and sit down and put my earphones back on. The rest of the journey is uneventful. Except for me occasionally hearing one of the other passengers behind me repeatedly shouting at the girl to “Sit down!”.
Journey home. Nearly home. Bus pulls in at an ordinary stop. And then “Crash!”. Click here to read the story of me taking control of the ensuing incident.
Journey home. There is a girl sitting a few seats away from me at the back of the bottom deck of the bus. She is crying. I can’t help but notice. She notices that I notice. I fumble around inside my rucksack and pull out some Tempo travel tissues. I pull one out and offer it to her. She accepts gratefully and thanks me. I ask her if she’s OK. She nods vigorously whilst wiping her eyes. I smile at her and get on with the rest of my journey home. She gets up a few stops later and says “Thank you” as she makes her way off the bus. I smile and say “No problem. You take care.”. I never saw her ever again.
There are many more stories like this. Too many for me to write about. Probably too many for me to even remember. But each journey beckons a story - some told, some banished to short-term-and-then-forgotten memory.
Posted by jag at October 21, 2003 10:38 PM
Great post(s) jag. I rarely trvael by bus (in London, that is), and whenever I do I’m surprised how very different an experience it is from travelling by tube; it’s a very different social space; people talking on phones, people in groups, kids mucking about, etc. With the exception of rowdy Arsenal fans, saturday night drunks and buskers, the tube is so dull in comparison. Personally I prefer it that way, although it is rather strange, as though there’s an unwritten social code about how to behave (one that inebriated day trippers from the north revel in breaking). I usually read on the tube, as it’s otherwise deadly boring. On the bus, I enjoy looking out of the window, and there are too many distractions to concentrate on reading. The chewing gum story (fabulous!!) reminds me of stories which have appeared (second hand, as it were) in books and films by Paul Auster; (supposedly) true stories that are so fantastic you’re never quite sure whether they’re real or not. Everyday life can be pretty surprising (and shocking, disturbing, amusing…)!
Stu, spot on: I travelled for years before on the tube exclusively - to the City. It was only after work relocated to Hammersmith that I decided to start travelling part of the journey by bus: Route 79 - that I discovered a totally different world. A world where commuting was less like being a “zombie” in a world of suits, ties, newspapers and self-imposed silence - but more like a world of real people, schoolchildren, conversations and a world outside the window just passing by. This is what inspired this Route 79 journal. In switching from the tube to the bus I entered into a world of daydreaming - of real people and real places - combined with a fantasy of whatever occupied my mind at the time. Something that simply wasn’t apparent or possible when travelling the tube.
It’s funny - because ever since I started riding Route 79 - I have always preferred riding buses rather than tubes. Buses do that to you. Well - they did it to me anyway.
All my stories are real. But when I go back over them - they seam unreal. Or even surreal, perhaps. Whatever. In any case - the bus journey provides much more fuel for my imagination than the tube ever did. I sometimes wonder to myself - even if the journey by tube would be quicker - I would still go by bus as much as I could. Perhaps not always for the journey to work (where time is often the essence) - but definitely for the journey home.
OK Jag, you know I’ve got to reply to this (BTW chewing gum story, ewww yuck)
I don’t think there’s less to fuel the imagination on the tube than a bus. I hate bus travel. I always get lost when I’m on them (unless I’m on ones I’m really familiar with), basically cos they have no map.
There’s certainly real people on the tube - granted fewer kids, fewer pensioners but interesting, sad, mad and funny real people nonetheless.
When would you ever see a busker on a bus?
When would you ever hear the driver making an annoucement over the tannoy?
When do you have such close eye and body contact with people on a bus?
When would you ever get a couple of hundred people on a bus, which you can “easily” get in the carriage of a tube?
When do pigeons ever travel on buses?
True you don’t get great views out of the window but to me the tube tops the bus, although your bus blog is great and you make the most out of your bus journey.
Great stories, Jag! I had missed a couple of those somehow.
Good counter argument Annie. On thing we’ll probably all agree on is that, preferable to bus travel or not, the tube is in a terible mess at the moment!
Hi Annie - yes, I guess you had to respond to this. :-)
And I know you’ll understand if I may respond to your points:
On bus routes having no maps: Well if I were to be a pedant for a moment I would say that there are London Bus maps. Perhaps not as institutionilised in the same way as the Tube Map - but they do exist. They are known as “spider maps” - and can be found at:
But I have to admit that these are in no way as accessible or as “burnt in” to the London psyche as the famous Tube Map. And I doubt that they ever will be. But this partly plays to my point; the Tube is a national, if not international, icon. Much like the image of the London Bus is itself. But the type of person who rides the London Bus is not your speculative traveller - no - he or she is a much more “savvy” (can’t think of a better word) traveller - someone with a definite plan and purpose. A sort of premeditated traveller. Someone who doesn’t need a map. Never will you see a bus traveller with a map. It’s in this way that I posit that the London Bus rider is much more likely to be a “Londoner” than your typical Tube rider. I am in no way suggesting that the Tube rider is not likely to be a Londoner - just that there are probably fewer irregular, non-commuters who ride buses than tubes. The tube experience is a glamour to behold as well as the default public transport method for the Londoner or non-Londoner to make the occasional non-regular trip. (e.g. if I’m visiting a customer or supplier in London on business - the default question is: “which is your nearest tube?” - not “which is your neearest bus stop?”. Anyway - I think you get my gist.
I don’t doubt that there are “interesting, sad, mad and funny real people” on the tube. It’s just that in my experience - the “polar distance” between “normal” and “interesting” is a lot greater on the tube than on the bus. What I mean by this is that the gap between “uninteresting” and “interesting” is a lot smaller on the bus than on the tube. Again - I can only go by my experience - and I’ve done many years on the tube: it may take several days before I encounter something/someone of interest on the tube - whereas is might take much less on the bus.
I have to agree that I’ve never seen a busker on the bus. This is very much a tube thing. Not even a train thing - but certainly a tube thing. Is it interesting? Yes. But is it any more interesting that the sort of thing unique about bus travel? I don’t think so.
Similarly - I’ve never heard bus driver make announcements over tannoy. It’s just not typical. But again - it’s just different.
Re close eye and body contact. I will have to disagree with you here. Although the body contact is not as close on the bus - the eye contact most definitely is! On the tube it simply isn’t done. As you have pointed out in your etiquette - it’s a tube rule to not persist eye contact - but on the bus - (again in my own experience) I have smiled, talked and made eye contact with people much more often than on the tube. As Stu points out - it’s a different sort of social space - and I would go so far as to say that it’s more intimate than the tube. On a bus you are in a much more common “bond” with other travellers than on the tube. I think this has something to do with the fact that the bus reflects much more the persona of the driver and the passengers than the tube - which runs on fixed rails and doesn’t vary as much in its “character”.
I’m not sure that the number of people on a tube train vs the number of people on a bus plays in favour of “interesting” for the tube. On the contrary - the smaller number of people on a bus makes for much more of a “community” and intimacy that you just cannot experience on a six-car tube train.
I’ve never seen a pigeon on a bus. Thank goodness! I’ll have to side with Mayor Ken on this one: pigeons are an irritating menace! As far as I’m concerned: the tube can have’em all! (Except the bits of tube that I use thank you!)
I have to agree though that the the tube and the bus are simply just different. I’m a fan of the bus - and you the tube. Actually - I’m a fan opf the tube as well. But one thing I’ve noticed is that the bus also varies greatly between routes. I have ridden many different bus routes - but I have a fierce loyalty to Route 79 - all other routes I’ve travelled are different in character and people make-up - much more so than the tube. e.g. the difference in “social ambience” between the Piccadilly Line and the Jubilee Line or the Bakerloo Line is much smaller then say the difference between Route 79 and Route 83. The contrast is very noticeable. And this is probably due to the “premeditated” travel pattern aspect of the bus when compared to the tube: each different bus route is a different community as such.
Thank you for your positive comment re my blog. Your blog deserves equally a reciprocal compliment. We all have interesting stories to tell! And I hope we can share such stories for a long time to come!
Wow, thanks for the long reply, after the night I’ve had on the tube I’ll just say public transport sucks in general.
hey jag, ur blog getting better and better. it seems i missed lot here as i am not visiting lately. will try when ever time permits. have fun. enjoy…music.
That was a great post, Jag. The Tracey Chapman lookalike.…..ewww…but I still find her intriguing, nonetheless :-). I kinda like the fact that she did that, in full view of you and others, so unconcerned about what you thought of her. Wish I had a bit more of that sort of .…well, I don’t know what it is…nonchalence? confidence? self assurance? minus the alarming lack of regard for basic hygiene, of course ;-)
I LOVE your blog…haven’t had a chance to read it for a week because I’ve been busy, but I’m ‘back and regular’ (!) now.
Take care! Keep writing
JustZen: thanks for the compliment! And I certianly will enjoy the music!
Sue: yes - Ms.Tracey Chapman lookalike was very intriguing - before* and *after the chewing gum bit - and there was something about her that I found quite aspirational. Nonchalence, confidence, self-assurance - or perhaps all three combined. Whatever - she was “cool”!
And thank you for the compliment re the blog! Not good for my ego though! :-) I love yours too. It was the name of your blog that got me there - and your photos are superb. You keep up the good work too!
You should check out today’s Metro (27th October) as there’s a couple of chewing gum discarded on streets and public transport stories in there. Including a letter from The Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate & Confectionary Alliance ;-)
Hi Annie - once again: thanks for tip-off. Unfortunately I had to drive into work today as I needed to be in the office before 7am and didn;t want to chance it on the bus and tube - so I didn’t get the opportunity of getting hold of a Metro at all today - but I have asked someone in the office to keep hold of one - and I should hopefully have a good read of it tomorrow! Intrigued …