Dedicated to Maggie, of course, because she made all this possible.
Say what you will about London — and there's plenty to say, starting with the fact that even the cheap day-travelcard costs what I pay for a week's bus pass — but once you have that travelcard you can get on anything going anywhere in the alloted area.
On first visiting London I had a moment of panic when I saw all those made-for-TV (and the movies) red buses, as I'm used to the color of buses mattering, a lot. Here it's cheaper to get a pass for only one company's kind of buses rather than the any-bus passes, and that means you have to care about, say, whether you can get the blue-ish ones or the white ones.
A week's pass for the white ones costs me about half of the blue ones' price. The white ones only do a couple of routes, but since their route goes by our house, the hospital where we work, and the city centre, they're good enough for us.*
The white buses are also not as frequent, so I can wait a long time for a bus (= 20 minutes, which still makes me feel spoiled because for my whole life until I got to Manchester, if I got in a car (which of course I'd have to find a driver for) and drove very fast for 20 minutes, I still wouldn't be anywhere interesting).
Tonight, after a long day at work that got far too exciting just seconds before I would otherwise have been able to go home, of course I waited ages for a bus. It was 20 minutes before I even saw a white bus at all, and of course it was the much-more-popular 42 and not any of the other numbers, all of which go closer to my house. Sometimes I get the 42 anyway and walk the extra ten minutes or whatever, convinced it'll get me home faster than waiting for a better bus and that, even if it doesn't, it'll make me feel better to be moving, but today was the complete opposite of those times.
A mere (ha!) five or ten minutes later I saw another white bus and, as always, my hopes soared. (It takes me a lot longer before I can see the number on the bus, which more often than not dashes said hopes, of course.) Except I could see problems here right away: the white bus was behind two other buses. The bus stop is in a little lay-by that's long enough for about two buses. I have seen this scenario enough to know what usually happens: the third bus unloads its passengers who want that stop, if any, and takes off as soon as possible. This one had a few people who wanted off, at which point I was running toward it and realizing it was in fact a bus I wanted.
Usually one can scamper on while people are getting off, of course, but in this case the bus had stopped far enough behind the proper bus stop that it was next to a railing that's put on some corners of intersections (which this is) between the sidewalk and the road, to keep people from jaywalking across the street at those points. There was no way I could get down to the end of the railing and back to the door of the bus in the very short time alloted in this suboptimal situation.
I waved frantically at the white bus anyway, hoping it'd move up when one of the buses ahead of it left ... which sometimes works, but I wasn't surprised it didn't now. I ran between the other two still-stubbornly-stationary buses to try to flag my intended down as it zoomed past, which also sometimes works, but I wasn't surprised when it behaved as if I weren't even there.
I stomped angrily back to the bus shelter, wanting to kick it or swear or burst into tears of frustration and exhaustion, but violence is not the answer and I always knew crying in public was a bad idea, and cursing my rotten luck would be not just useless but redundant at this point. Instead I flopped down next to the one other person still at the bus stop, a lady who looked like the kind of forty-year-old who's actually in her early thirties, who said something about how it was never going to stop. She knows the standard operating procedure as well as I do. I sighed and said something about how I'd already been waiting 20 minutes and... She nodded sympathetically.
Then I realized that she was busy realizing that the second of these two buses was still there. No one was getting on or off. Its driver was looking at us, though we were clearly not interested in a 143 Magic Bus.
Magic Buses are called that (as I'm sure I told setharoo
when he commented upon them during his visit) because if they hold together long enough to get you to your destination, it'd be magic. They are owned by the blue-ish bus people (obviously old decrepit squealy-braked versions of their regular buses), the people with the expensive tickets and the CEO who donates money to schools that teach creationism, so even though the Magic Buses are cheaper than the other blue-ish buses, we don't use them. (This might also have something to do with the fact that their route stops not far before it'd go past our house.)
Even with my crapness at discerning stuff like body language in the murky dusk (boo! it's getting dark noticeably earlier now) after a long and tiring day, I started to notice that this guy was not just looking at us but beckoning to us. With the help of the lady, I realized that he was telling me to get on his bus, so I could catch up to the bus that had just passed. Though I'd barely noticed him when I stepped between the two buses a couple of paragraphs ago, he'd clearly noticed me waving and then stomping off with a deep desire to throw a tantrum.
I got on the bus gratefully, with renewed faith in the Magic Bus and thus all of humanity ... for if these rattletrap contraptions have a redeeming feature like compassion, all good things are possible again. It was quickly dissolved, though, by the realization that I was stony broke. I could probably get home for 70 or 80p from here, but I'd spent my last 90p on a cake for lunch, at least five of which p were indeed pennies. If I hadn't gotten the Tesco clerk who always tries to flirt with me, I probably wouldn't have been able to buy anything at all because it took too much patience on their part to count out the handful of 5p coins (with a 20p or two for good measure).
I weakly held up the white-bus pass I'd been brandishing at the white-bus driver, which is a trick Andrew and I have learned to say "no, we really do want your bus, not the one in front of you/just coming up/etc, now stop
!" Like the other good bus-conjuring tricks, it works — occasionally. Obviously it hadn't aroused a mote of pity this time, which was why I found myself in this situation at all: "This is all I have," I apologized, waving my white-with-orange-trim pass, for the buses that matched it and not for this blue monstrosity. "I don't have any money..." If he said anything I didn't hear it, but he smiled and that was enough for me to scoot back to an empty seat before he changed his mind or something.
Despite the long day and the stress, I was smiling too at this point, grinning like a loon in fact. I was so happy I couldn't stay still; I came back to the front of the bus to look out through the windshield in case I could spot my bus. But my surrogate bus was still just behind the one it'd been following when it got to my stop, my alleged bus having of course zoomed around them already.
Soon I went back to sit in my seat in case the bus driver realized what a subversive thing he'd done. I realized that this was indeed the route that would take me nearly all the way to my house, so I was content with not catching my real bus. The walk wouldn't be so long as the from-the-42-bus one that I had refused a few minutes earlier. Besides, walking didn't seem so bad now that I was nourished with the lovingkindness of the Magic Bus driver. I did not pull out my book, as I usually would on a bus, but I did sit demurely with my hands in my lap, accepting my new fate.
Then the reason I didn't start reading, the thing I was hoping would happen, happened: I saw us pass a white bus and wrenched around in my seat to verify: yep, it was the one I'd tried to get on before. It stopped right there, and I flew to the front of my bus, not bothering to ring the bell, not noticing if anyone else wanted off or on, but it worked out anyway as either my lovely bus driver noticed the same thing I did, or he just noticed me rushing like a linebacker to the front of the bus, because he stopped (and I don't remember anyone else getting
in my way
on or off the bus as I made my exit, and thinking that he stopped just for me makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, as well as very slightly conspiratorial, both of which are fun).
I rocketed out of the bus, jumping over the steps between bus floor and pavement and landing on both feet at the same time, like a little kid jumping in a puddle. During my air time I pondered what I'd do if the white bus took off at this point. I heard (didn't bother to look) my Magic Bus pull away as soon as I was clear of it and suddenly I could picture my rotten public-transport luck continuing, leaving me stranded with the same do-I-get-the-42-or-do-I-wait-all-night dilemma, but with the added unpleasantness of being in Fallowfield.
As I sprinted full tilt boogie for the second time in the last half-hour, I figured the white-bus driver might take off just out of spite. Maybe he'd recognize me. Worse, maybe he wouldn't recognize me but would do that anyway just because he's like that. (Personally I'd rather be right about paranoia; I'd rather think the world is out to get me because the other alternative seems to be that it treats everybody else just as badly.) But someone else was already getting on the bus and had to buy a ticket, which bought me more than enough time to scamper through the doors.
I held up my bus pass with all the aggressive defiance such an action can muster — not much — and hoped at this point that he did recognize me: the girl you thought you left behind, probably with a smirk on your face, back there by Tesco. I bet you laughed at me,
I thought (though it seems unlikely now ... but he did look grumpy; perhaps he sneered at me), but I have the last laugh!
I bet he did recognize me. I was wearing my hat. It's not like any of your hats. A co-worker noticed it as I was leaving. "Nice hat! Very French chic," he said.
I don't even think he was being sarcastic.* Until I started making friends in Levenshulme ... but that wasn't a concern until two weeks ago! And I can walk there. Yesterday I even made it across Kingsway without dying; I was proud.