Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Busses

My trip to Malta began Thursday morning at 4:30—not because I had to be on an early flight, but simply because I like getting up early. My flight to Heathrow was at 11:30. At Heathrow I would take a bus to Luton airport to meet up with my travelling companion, Josef the Hungarian Steel worker, where, in turn, we would fly to the windy group of islands called Malta, which gained its ultimate independence from Great Britain in 1964, the year of my birth. Everything is so connected.

London. First Bus, First Driver: Heathrow > Luton

Somewhere in the middle of that paragraph above is where our story begins. I’ve just taken my seat on the bus to Luton when the busdriver makes an announcement.

“Sorry for the awful smell, ladies and gents,” he says.

I sniff but don’t notice said awful smell.

“But,” he continues, “I did notify the company, and I did try to get another bus.”

Continuing to sniff like a puppy, I survey the peoplescape of the bus. There are the few, cliché elderly couples, an attractive woman behind me (who will speak on her cell phone the entire one-hour ride to Luton), and a single man near the front of the bus (he’s already hit on me, and this has made my day). But I cannot place the source of the promised stench.

“You see,” the driver continues, “When the passengers use the lavatory, they miss when they go to flush”—he demonstrates flushing with the foot—“causing the bowl to fill up.”

Everyone is listening to the driver’s speech politely—except the cell phone-addicted woman behind me of course.

“And when the bus goes around a curve,” he continues, “the contents of the bowl—”

I give the audience a sharp sideward glance, hoping for a few oh-for-goodness-sake faces, but everyone is still listening quietly.

“—begin to slosh . . .” He uses a litre bottle half full of orange soda, which he’s just drunk from, to demonstrate the sloshing motion of a bus lavatory. Totally unnecessary. I will never drink orange soda again. “. . . until the contents of the bowl splash over the sides of the loo and onto the floor. So, I do apologize for the inconvenience.”

For what inconvenience? The stench that wasn’t or the description that was?

As it turns out, our driver to Luton is a talker. He lets us know right up front that he hates his job, that “it just ain’t no fun no more.” As we lurch onto the motorway, he announces, “Keep your fingers crossed that we don’t hit no heavy road works.”

I cross my fingers and hope that he won’t decide to end his miserable life and drag three elderly couples, two youngish men and an attractive woman yapping on her cell phone with him to his death.

As we’re sputtering through the delightful little town of Hemel Hampstead, he takes a call on his speaker phone.

“Whatever the question is,” he says in lieu of hello, “the answer is no.”

“Hallo, mate,” the caller says.

“No,” the driver repeats.

“Oh, all right, mate.” And the caller gives up, as I’m sure so many people have before him. As we go around a curve, I finally get a whiff of the lavatory. No wonder the driver is tetchy.

Malta. Second Bus, Second Driver: Mellieħa> St. Paul’s Bay
On the second day of our Malta trip, Josef the Hungarian Steel worker and I decide to take the bus from Mellieħa to St. Paul’s Bay. Mind you, I’ve ridden in the kamikaze busses of Rio de Janeiro, so I can tell the difference between a busdriver on cocaine and one who’s just having a good time.

When we board the bus, I see the driver hand a woman a CD case. She grabs it and starts shuffling through the CDs to find the one he wants. She’s his DJ, and he’s much more interested in getting his groove on than selling tickets to the boarding passengers.

Once we’re on our way, whipping around curves and plunging down hills, the driver starts singing into a microphone. He’s also smoking and trying to drink orange juice from a carton. The passengers who can’t see this look-Mom-no-hands feat are laughing and whooping as they’re knocked from one side of the bus to the other.

What the hell. I join in: “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole!”

“Shut up,” says Josef the Hungarian Steel worker. “You are embarrassing me.”

But I will be heard. I sing louder. “With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?”

The roller coaster to St. Paul’s Bay is only about forty minutes, but by the time the driver deposits us on the side of the road—after we've requested the stop by shout-singing the obligatory “Stop! In the name of Love! Before you break my heart!”—we are exhausted and, quite frankly, a bit weary of the UK hit parade. We are also a bit giggly. Josef, it turns out, is an ABBA fan.

St. Paul’s Bay is a fantastic place to walk along the torrid sea, letting the wind blow through your hair and sandblast your face. Be warned, though. Horse bathing is not tolerated. When I’m eighty-six and British, I might consider returning to Malta for a holiday, but until then . . .

I must be off,