Travels with a Bus Pass

As a serial bus passenger, I do find it is often better to travel than to arrive. Bus stations rarely proclaim a sense of arrival. Most are constructed of corroding concrete in a neo-Stalinist architectural style. They occupy backwaters which lost out after planners’ budgets had been blown on railway forecourts and shopping malls. Judging by their cafés and toilets, they also lurk beyond the radar of environmental health officers. When re-branded as Transport Interchanges, their new amenities typically comprise a deserted taxi rank and a sign to the railway station.
If I wish to continue my onward journey, information is minimal. Occasionally I might find a network map, but it is so topologically unrelated to the real world that it offers scant help in selecting a route. Stances display service numbers that are incomprehensible to anyone but the most loyal commuter. Timetables, and even digital display monitors, contend for the Booker fiction prize.
When a plausible looking bus finally arrives, my enquiry to the driver elicits a reply in an accent as unfathomable as a doctor’s handwriting. I scan my bus pass, guiltily aware that I can better afford to pay the fare than most of my fellow travellers.
Ah, but then the adventure begins! The frisson starts with the knowledge that I am possibly on completely the wrong bus and will end up stranded in an anonymous suburb bereft of shops, food and cash machines.
The bus pulls clear of the station and immediately I am forbidden territory, where car drivers are no longer permitted to venture. I sweep through unfamiliar streets with hidden architectural gems. I veer away from the gallerias and tinted-glass office blocks and head through unfashionable, but low-rent, districts where small businesses nurture their green shoots.
The bus picks up speed, largely unconcerned by the possibility that passengers might wish to board or alight. It penetrates inner suburbs where halal butchers vie with discount shops and nail salons. I race straight ahead through traffic lights where other vehicles are forced to turn right; eye level with windows, I peer directly into the goings-on of shops, offices and sitting rooms.
Then once more I emerge onto the open road before turning into a peripheral housing estate. Slowing for speed kerbs and veering round chicanes, the bus describes tortuous semi-circles through interminable avenues of cookie-cutter housing. Then, just at the point of maximum disorientation, when I finally accept that I am definitely on the wrong bus, I emerge unexpectedly onto a main road and accelerate confidently into the countryside.
I finally see my destination named on a reassuring roadsign. My composure restored, I can now enjoy the view from my elevated seat – down side roads, across hedges, into gardens – and survey secrets that lie hid from the motorist’s gaze.

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