Oh, the joy of a bus trip

19:08, Jan 05 2013

A few days before Christmas my car began making funny noises so I decided to take the bus to Auckland.

It was a logical choice for two reasons. Firstly, it would ensure I got to Auckland and as I had committed to spend the festive season with my girlfriend's family, my presence was necessary.

Secondly, and because I am of the belief that all mechanical problems fix themselves in time, it would give my car time to recover.

There were other reasons why the bus made sense,  one of them being that the last time my car went north it was involuntarily mixed-up in an incident  with its hand brake, a barely noticeable downward gradient and an uncharacteristic forgetfulness on my part.

Also the bus cost just $45, which is how much I would usually spend to get the car to Te Kuiti.

For those who don't know, a bus is just an extremely long van in which about 60 people or so can travel.

Back when walk shorts and knee socks were experiencing an inexplicably popularity, so were buses.

However since then the proliferation of privately owned automobiles has seen passenger numbers on buses dwindle and bus users are now  predominantly people who can't drive; that is, hyperactive children, the elderly and crazy people.

If you drive a bus you don't call it a bus.

You call it a coach.

The term coach is a throwback to the era when a small cabin on big wheels was pulled rather violently by horses from tin-pot town to tin-pot town.

They were quite expensive and so coaches were generally used by rich people, which effectively makes them the opposite of buses.

Despite this, bus drivers continue to call their vehicles coaches just as they continue to wear walk shorts and knee socks and and demand a level of respect you might normally reserve for someone able to control six feisty thoroughbreds.

My date with the coach to Auckland left at 7.15am and I was told to arrive at the New Plymouth bus station 15 minutes before this time.

As a 36-year-old man I am slightly embarrassed to say my mother dropped me off there but she was already awake and a taxi ride down would have ruined the economics of taking the bus anyway.

Getting to the bus 15 minutes early was a mistake even if I was just following the rules.

This is because the New Plymouth bus station does not seem capable of handling any more than three and a half people.

And because there were significantly more than that we milled around wheeling our bags between each other in a gut wrenching state of early morning confused anxiety - there was no order!

None at all.

The problem with this is that even though I got there early that did not mean I was among the first to be checked on the bus.

It was dog eat dog and those who pushed and shoved got their bag checked first and were the ones who got the best seats, regardless of when they arrived.

When using a bus, getting on as soon as possible is of vital importance as you want to secure a seat and then set yourself up to look as menacing as possible so no-one sits next to you.

While sitting next to someone on a plane is expected and acceptable, the same cannot be said for a bus.

Without a TV screen to bury yourself in or an attention diverting hostess offering peanuts, the experience of sitting next to someone you have never met is about as awkward as seeing your mother-in-law naked and then trying to involve her in polite conversation.

Veterans of such encounters will know it induces an obscene amount of sweat and a gnawing sensation that you have to use the toilet.

Luckily, I didn't have to sit next to anyone until Te Awamutu but then a family got on and decided their 2-year-old son should sit next to me.

He was a good kid for about 10 minutes.

Then he began crying and vomiting into a plastic ziplock bag, which is possibly the most disgusting combination of sounds you are likely to hear.

I felt sorry for the kid. I really did.

But I would have chucked him out the window if I could.

The sick kid had a strange effect on time, slowing each second to a minute, each minute to an hour so that it wasn't until three days later that I arrived in Auckland. 

One week later, after the Christmas festivities, I repeated the bus exercise in reverse.

It hardly needs to be said I checked my car into the mechanic's the next day.


Taranaki Daily News