An Ode to the Bus
Updated: May 6, 2020
There are plenty of absences right now; things we never thought we’d lose. The mid-morning hum of an office, the smell of a neck in a dark club, lying upside down on your friend’s sofa with a hangover. One thing I really miss is the bus. Those mad two-story beetles full of interesting smells; BO stiffening under armpits, fried food, flemmy hands on poles. Careering round corners, throwing passengers around like loose pennies, buggies rolling over feet, old men tumbling out the open doors. The brushes with death, the cacophony of noises, the mysterious stains - what I wouldn’t give for a ride right now.
The chaos of the night bus brings back powerful pangs of adolescence; an assembly of bobbing drunken heads throwing chips, kissing in the back and tracing wistful words in the steam of the windows. The camaraderie - we were a band of bus troops travelling home from the sweaty, tequila-fuelled front line of victory. The folkloric golden triangle of transport hope; the knowing deep in your bones that if you managed to get a bus to somewhere within range of a 24hr McDonalds in zone 1 you could always, ALWAYS find your way home from there. This inverted commute was a cornerstone of our ‘Coming of Age’ teen experience; moving in packs through the city as the grown-ups slept, learning survival skills, orienteering and team-work. Leaving our parents house, our lame existence and returning home ten hours later glowing with the triumph that comes from new-found independence and resourcefulness. As we got older and wilder (before we got tired-er) there was the insanity and hilarity of waking up in the bus terminal; your body stiff with chilly morning air, waiting for the drivers to change over so you could begin the long journey back to bed.
The red bus is a design institution - a rare moment when the best talents in design poured their energy into public amenities. It has advanced with soothing, incremental slowness and the icon remains reassuringly the same; same problems, same spirit - avoiding computer cannibalisation. The rush of endorphins when your bus pulls into the stop - seeing those rounded, glowing digits like the triple cherry rolling onto the slot machine. Those dreamy rides in empty top decks full of blinding autumn light - the contemplative, rhythmic nature that lulls you gently into a stupor as you watch your city race past you. The best parts of public spaces in Britain; the comfort of strangers, the freedom of anonymity.
There was that wonderful blip when bendy buses stalked our streets. For a short time mad centipedes took over London, with the back half regularly swinging up onto the pavement, unbeknownst to the driver sitting approximately 2 miles ahead. The bendy bus wreaked havoc on our roads, leading to a 170% increase in cycle collisions - around five accidents a day. TfL claimed bendies had more accidents because they "encountered more road users" than non-bendy buses….you’re not wrong there sonny. It was like motorising a slinky and setting it loose on Hyde Park corner.
Apart from that temporary digression into total road-based insanity - the buses reign supreme as a mode of transport in our city. Loyal, mildly dangerous, beholden to no one but their own erratic schedules and whims. To see a bus going about its business right now is to feel a sense of home amongst the chaos - and a pang of longing to be taken somewhere.
Written by Jess Bird