OPINION: Life in the Bus Lane

Written by on November 21, 2011 in Features - Comments Off on OPINION: Life in the Bus Lane

Life-long Brixtonite, Esther Webber, is a bus obsessive. Here, she talks about the joys of South London buses

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love buses. I ride them every day to work, and every other opportunity I get. There is something about buses quite unlike any other form of public transport. I think if I had to define it in a word, it would be intimacy.

On the train or the Tube, passengers try to isolate themselves. Even when they are jammed, faces in each other’s armpits, on the 08.55 from East Croydon, they are all desperately trying to distance themselves from one another. Plugged into iPods or reading The Metro, the aim is to disengage as fully as possible from the rest of the carriage.

On the bus, it doesn’t work like that. You can try to seal yourself off, but you will not be successful. For one thing, the cosy nature of the seating, where you are coupled side by side with a merry-go-round of strangers, makes for a certain unavoidable closeness. Your neighbour’s elbow is in your ribcage and his conversation is in your ear. He is close enough to read your book (or look down your top, if you are particularly unlucky).

On the bus, as nowhere else, people believe in sharing. The rudeboys on the back seats practise a modern kind of evangelism: they are convinced their music is so good that they have to share it with the rest of the bus, blasting it from mobile phones and singing along. The rudegirls need you to know about who they slept with last night and why they will not be sleeping with them again.

One morning recently, on the number 3 from Brixton to Westminster, the bus was nearly empty. This has its own pleasures. The journey is faster and you can spread out across the seat. I entertained myself by trying to work out what language the man behind me was chattering into his phone. He, in turn, entertained himself by scuffing his trainers against the back of my seat periodically.

Several people have told me this is precisely why they hate buses. If hell is other people, then the number 29 in rush hour must be one of its outer circles. If, on the other hand, you happen to quite like other people, then buses are a good place to get to know them.

The bus, after all, is not as much of an anarchic place as it might seem at first. It has its own set of unspoken rules, a peculiar etiquette, which help keep the whole thing in motion.

So when I finally ran out of patience with the seat-kicker, I turned round and glared. The other language he’d been speaking gave way to a perfectly contrite “Sorry, hadn’t realised I was doing that.” On the bus, it’s easy to get carried away.

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