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Down to the Big Black Smoke 07/02/2010

Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
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There's No X in Espresso

It was time to go. I finally got to see Pete’s mum at her volunteer run charity book shop and took one last stroll, in flurries of damn snow, through the heart of Chorley. Pete walked me to the bus station and we watched the bus sputter while failing to start. No one seemed to know if this was going to be a problem, but as I had a connection to make my concern level was high. Turned out the actual bus I was boarding had yet to arrive.

After the driver laboriously counted out my change I watched northern England pass outside the window. My pack was crammed from becoming the depository of Pete’s books past; carried a couple sandwiches, some mince pies and assorted snacks. Chorley faded from view, then the moors became the city of Preston.

Shivering and stamping my feet in the bus terminal trying to blend in with the stained concrete, tired travelers and overwhelming state of decay. A girl in a skirt, oblivious to the wind screaming through open doors, confirmed my gate number. The police dismantled a locked toilet stall while I stood trying to ignore them at the urinal. Alarms, sweeping, ineffective schedule boards, an hour passed. I tried to appreciate the architecture as Pete suggested.

I didn’t understand why I traveled north to catch a southbound bus, but the tickets were supposedly cheaper. I settled into my bus routine, developed over years of Greyhound rides through the Dakotas or up and down the west coast. My stomach ceased functioning, hunger held at bay by atrophy, my iPod became the anchor of my existence.

I have logged an unfair amount of days on coaches, but British transport isn’t exactly the same as back home. There were no ex-cons making friendly conversation, their eyes focused on some oblique distance. No fourteen-year-old runaways to share Pepsi with, no Marines heading to the base, no pit stops in Butte, Montana with slot machines and whiskey, no five minute breaks every forty-five minutes with half the bus smoking two cigarettes a piece. There were mostly older folks, quiet and reserved, staring forward at nothing.

Hungry, Cold, Wet

Somewhere in between West Bromwich and Birmingham a woman slipped into seizures. The two person bus crew system had puzzled me at first, but now the beauty had an opportunity to shine. Our driver pulled off the highway looking for a landmark, phone pressed to his ear as he alerted the station to hold connecting lines. The co-driver discussed the woman’s condition with her seventy-year-old companion, phone pressed against his ear as he talked to emergency services. Paramedics arrived, first one lorry than another, and people were displaced for seat removal. The seventy-year-old companion kept getting in the way so I asked him if I could help collect their things. We stood chatting about their return to Coventry after holiday, his hands shaking so violently he couldn’t hold a coat.

Rain began to fall as I watched the outlying roads of a sprawling metropolis pass. Street after street of lights, traffic, Turks and curry houses. Pubs, pedestrians, narrow sidewalks and narrow homes. Our journey ended at Victoria Station and I collected damp with a paper cup of expresso wondering where the supposed Tube station could be found. The British are not big on combined transport hubs.

The reason I ended up on a six-hour cross-country bus ride is because a train ticket would have cost £60. The tube demanded £4 for the pleasure of riding halfway across London on the District Line. Managed to catch a subway headed in the right direction but headed to the wrong endpoint. Stepped off and onto the next metro. While studying the map, attempting to hide my touristic behavior, I realized I was possibly going to be in a zone I had not paid to be in. When I arrived at East Putney Station my eyes darted about for transit cops, preparing some lame excuse for whichever employee was going to issue me a fine. The exit gate was swinging open, no authority in sight. Stepped into the freezing rain to find my friends’ house a block away.

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Comments»

1. crowhouse - 10/02/2010

seizures on the bus is way too reminiscent of greyhound, though it sounds like the british reaction to such a serious situation is very much not.

you made me slightly nostalgic for my own greyhound ramblin’ days. then i came to my senses.

2. blaark - 12/02/2010

You know, come to think I never had any sort of medical crisis on any of my trips. That’s amazing. My friend Pete did say if I crossed my fingers I might get a beheading.

But Canada’s a different bird.


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