Today, for what I sincerely hope was the final ever time in my wretched life, I took the number 27 bus.
I despise the 27 bus.
Now, I despise many things - children, Canadians, the guy who wrote "The Alchemist", bloody Abba and the Beatles obviously, the working class, Rangers F.C., and the list goes on - but above all I despise the no. 27 bus. The no. 27 bus serves what should be a simple function: transport people from the city centre to the airport and the industrial estate nearby. But somehow along the way, this lumbering anachronism manages to right-royally screw this up and generate contending waves of despair and outright fury with its desperate human cargo.
I've been one of the lucky ones. I started my job just last May, but have only needed to use the bus for a period of about three months in all, as I've been away on jobs much of the time. But it's the faces I always see on that mobile hell, the worn, weary faces that have obviously been using the bus for years and are pathetically resigned to an ongoing future without escape: these are the faces that I pity. There's the desperately nerdy guy in his perennial anorak, shuffling nervously along the aisle in the forlorn hope of not having to share a seat; the chunky woman of unattractive middle-age with wrinkles forming a menacing frown and jaw contorted in ceaseless chewing action; the young girl of attractive potential but with rabbit-in-headlights eyes which are beginning to grow empty. Permanent fixtures, all, and many others.
Some escape, or seem to. I've only used the bus twice this year, but several regulars from last summer appear to be missing. Most upsettingly is the strikingly beautiful girl, like a South American model, but shorter, spoiled only by the opening of her mouth to reveal common local origins. She has disappeared without trace. The near-Goth purple-tinted hair girl seems to have vanished too, thank God. She occupied the front seats of the upper level of the double decker; when alone she played drum'n'bass loudly on headphones, but was usually interrupted the following stop by her friend, a deeply unappealing girl to whom any accurate description would appear an insult. I will offer you only two words: whiny, fat. They would chat, but as the summer wore on, were joined by a gang of up to three boys and they would together all cluster in these front seats, chatting loudly about their student lifestyle and crazy antics, and upset the muted balance of the miserable bunch of people sharing a bus at 8am. Of these three boys, one was the focus of my ire. Wearing a long, black coat and trying hard not to show how uncomfortable he was with his inadequacies, he had a disastrous mess of hair on his face that he was trying to pass off as a "cool" "beard". He was the loudest of all five, but his words were mere noise, and his laughter a klaxon of irritation. It got so much worse though, something I could not believe possible, when one morning he and the whiny, fat girl sat together, hand in hand, arms round each other, evidently now a couple after a presumed night of passion (which to this day I try not to think about). Whispering sweet nothings, they frequently leaned their heads and kissed. And this was a mere two seats in front of me! I was almost physically sick! And believe me, if I had been, it would have been over them. Thank God, some other unwitting victim got on the bus and sat in the seat between them and me.
There were other, now-departed regulars, such as the quiet Indian girl who sat near the front, the sunglass-clad woman who got off at the Rowett Institute, and the handsome black guy who always spoke to a young white guy for the journey; but all these people were respectable members of the no. 27 bus, and I almost grew to like them. Indeed, for the bus's many shortcomings, a feeling of community was fostered there. Nobody ever actually spoke to each other, of course, but you could sense an unspoken empathy as everybody endured their misery together.
So why do I hate this bus so? There are many reasons, so many reasons, but ultimately one reason overrides all: it is LATE.
Never have I encountered such a late bus. It confounds my expectations as to what late is. Sometimes it has been so late as to not even turn up, other times I've simply given up waiting for it and gone home instead. It has never yet been on time. I am an extremely punctual person and to have anyone and anything frequently late infuriates me. Standing in the cold, ten minutes, twenty minutes, an hour has gone by with no sign of the bus. Then, of course, if I decide to take action and try to find an alternative bus to a less ideal destination, the no. 27 will promptly appear and drive off without me. It is not quite so bad on the way to work, but the way home is so dreadful I have given up even attemping and usually just walk for fifteen minutes to the airport and catch a better bus there.
The bus, in its double-decker form, is either far too cold with misted-up windows, or uncomfortably hot as heaters from the 1970s pump out sickly warmth; streams of water run up and down the central aisle on the upper level during wet weather; if stuck on the lower level it is dark and claustrophic and with fumes that leave me nauseus after the forty minute (plus) ride. It judders, it shakes, it imprisons. The seats are too narrow for two people to sit without rubbing legs.
I suppose I can't directly blame the no.27 for always being so slow, because the extremely heavy traffic on its route does grind vehicles to a halt - but I do anyway. The no. 27 is so goddam pish that it forces people to use cars, and thus more cars means slower traffic, and a slower no. 27. Even if it was on time, the no. 27 is so infrequent as to be useless for anyone not working 9-5 Monday to Friday (it doesn't operate at all on weekends), and even for those on that schedule it brings them to work five or more minutes late. What somebody should do - be that the bloody useless council, or the bus company - is have three buses running every hour, and for free, or at a fraction of the cost (paying a one-way fee of £1.60 to be punished is a farce). It probably wouldn't be economical, but at least it would be an attempt to promote public transport and reduce road congestion, and least when it inevitably failed the council could hold their limp wrists up and say, "Hey, we tried, but the general public have let themselves down."
Fortunately, as I have said, my days of riding the no. 27 are over. I bought a car last week (in fact, I bought it in October but only got it last week as I was working abroad during the interim) and it has reduced my daily travelling time in one direction from 1 hour 20 minutes to a mere 20 minutes. The only reason I had to take the bus today was because my car was in for its MOT.
Life goes on, and surely the no. 27 will do too, but life also moves on, as mine has. While I pity those I leave behind on this twice-daily punishment-in-a-can, I have to also scorn them as rejects who have not the money or ability to drive. Now, when I drive past, in my deluxe 1995 Ford Escort with the screechy fanbelt, I can look over and smile - maybe grin - for there is no joy like that of watching others suffer. And truly I have earned this joy, for I have certainly suffered enough.