The Revolving Bus Door

5 Feb

Bus travel is tolerable. A ‘necessary evil’ as Bane (Dark Knight Rises) would call it. Much like the doctor’s office or the middle child (kidding!). Like all methods of travel it does have some virtue. In its defense it is quite inexpensive and fairly convenient. And when one is in the planning stage of travel, something’s virtue has almost complete influence on decision-making. ‘$26 for an 8-hour, cross-country ride? Yes, please!’ The vices, however, reveal their less-than-pleasing identities the moment you climb those yellow-edged stairs. Right on cue. First, the surprise of who will be sitting next to you. Then, the new friend coughing on your lunch. And, of course it isn’t a true bus trip if there isn’t a slight scent of blood or urine wafting through each passenger’s nostril and out the other. Unfortunately, the old manwith scraggly long hair is nearly always the culprit.

20130204-204557.jpgIt was I, the great decision maker, David Ballard, who elected to take the bus. The responsibility of my demise falls squarely on my shoulders, but like I said, cheap and convenient. Auckland (northernmost and largest city in NZ) to Taupo (Adventure town sandwiched lakeside and mountainside) leaving at 9 am. I began my trek, three bags balanced perfectly on back, front, and in hand, from my hostel at one side of the highway valley, down College Hill into the trough of Victoria Park, and up again to downtown with 15 minutes to spare. Sweating, happy, ready to leave, I tossed my bags against a concrete wall and swapped some coin for an overpriced Gatorade to restore some of the electrolytes which were now a dark spot on my t-shirt.

Departing the terminal, the journey seemed promising. Half bus load, one person to every two, maybe three seats. Then, we picked up another group. And then another. The bus was full, and everyone entered toleration mode. Don’t get me wrong, there are people who enjoy close quarters in the get-to-know-you scenario. As if the closer you are to someone more you can know about them. Relationships by osmosis? We call these happy people ‘Social Butterflies.’ I do not claim membership to this group, rather I accept my role as conscientious observer of others’ strained and telling interactions. The people-watcher at the mall. The psychologist of the office. The merry-go-round operator at the fair. However, that day I was feeling particularly open to whosoever the divine bus coordinator (Because when it comes to buses, God has to be delegating this stuff, right?) would give to me. Lemme teya ‘bout it.

Allie, a cute blonde from Minnesota is my first seat companion. She sits down, smiles. We exchange names and a stunted handshake. Our conversation lasts well into the first hour and then drifts away slowly due to the inevitable combo of my awkwardness with girls and the short list of commonalities. I bid her farewell at Hamilton, her transfer point. My next guest is Kane, a hulking, dark man about my age. We talk military and philosophy, kiwi beer and kiwi slang before a seat opens up behind us, and he accepts the relief both of our knees have been begging for. I am glad for the new room for my ten-foot-long legs and my break in decoding Kane’s mumbled kiwi words. My last and most quizzical friend is Maka, a Samoan man. Strandy beard and lacking most of his front teeth. His first 50 words to me after we met were a singular utterance of the word ‘choice’ accompanied by an exaggerated, pumping head nod and a toothless grin. Apparently ‘choice’ is something of a kiwi affirmation. It became clear that Maka had recently smoked a lungful of cigarettes, which exhausted my interest in our prolonged conversation about forestry and his mother. I felt guilty not continuing our talk, but lo! a reassuring calm came over me as I looked out the window at the rolling hills and pine forests of my new home. My exhausted mind was at peace again; glad to be sitting next to Maka, glad to be on this God-forsaken bus, and most of all glad to be amidst the natural beauty of New Zealand.

…..And here I sit behind a plate of eggs and toast, looking at Lake Taupo and drinking a long black, waiting for my 12:15 to Wellington. (Sigh)

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