Posts Tagged ‘buses’

When the gallery owner in Terrace told me he could have a friend deliver my purchase to the South Terminal of the Vancouver airport, it sounded like an adventure. I imagined a scene out of Casablanca, with me standing on a fog-ridden runway as a single-prop plane descended out of the gloom. Or maybe I would sidle up to the bar in the terminal, wearing my trench coat and saying, “Got the bird, sweetheart?” out of the side of my mouth as a mysterious woman handed me the parcel under the table. So, naturally, I agreed. I’d never been to the South Terminal, and it sounded like a mild adventure, or at least a change of pace.

My first hint that my expedition would be more surreal than adventurous came when I board the airport bus at the 22nd Street Skytrain station. The shuttle from the main terminal didn’t run except in peak hours, I was told, but I could easily walk from the last bus stop.

Feeling concerned but already committed, I walked to the back of the bus and endured the long and winding fifty minutes of the ride – to say nothing of the fat woman who boarded on Granville Street and sat beside me devouring a Big Mac and fries, letting me hear every oversize mouthful she chewed and making me almost gag with the rancid smell.

The things we do to avoid passing through three transit zones and spending a little more money.

Eventually, just as reading one more page would have sent me nodding off to sleep, I reached the end of the line. Just to be sure, I consulted the driver again. “You can easily walk the distance,” he assured me. “It’s about a kilometer.”

For some reason, I forgot that no middle-aged North American except me had any clear idea of how far a kilometer was. Instead of taking a taxi, I started walking. I wasn’t wearing the shoes for serious walking, but I figured I didn’t need them for such a short stroll.

The better part of a kilometer down the road, I came across the BCIT Aerospace center. Aha, I told myself – the terminal must be on the other side of the embankment on the far side. It must be great for the students to be so close to the runway. I decided to cut through the school and maybe ask some likely looking official if I were on track. But I didn’t see anyone to ask, and by the time I blundered out into the back lot behind the school’s hangar, I realized that the South Terminal was nowhere in site.

I continued plodding down the road another half kilometer. I saw a sign and a traffic light that would allow me to cross to a turnoff. I did, glad to get away from the highway whose shoulder I had been traversing and arrive at my destination.

Only, it wasn’t my destination. The signs – so far as I could make out (and, frankly, I had to guess the direction) – seemed to indicate that the South Terminal was 1.5 kilometers to my right.

At this point, my spirits and my calf muscles were starting to sag, but I noticed that the signs seemed to point to a curve that went along two sides of a large grass field. I thought I’d save time and cut across the grass.

Unfortunately, I forgot that the shoes I was wearing had low, half-open panels on each side. Before I had gone thirty paces, my socks were soaked from the puddles concealed in the grass.

This must be how the knights on the Grail Quest must have felt after wandering around for months in the wilderness, I told myself. I grimly plodded on, feeling ridiculous and half-convinced that someone must be watching me from one of the distant hangars and doubling over in laughter. But I had gone too far to turn back now, I told myself.

The road turned into a smaller one, lined with two-story buildings that looked like they were put up in the early 1960s. That road wound around to a smaller one, and suddenly, beyond all hope, I had reached the terminal, nearly three kilometers from the bus stop from which I had started.

My shoes squelching, my shirt sweaty and me feeling more than a little dishevelled, I staggered into the terminal.

I regret to confess that there was no sultry dame to greet me – only a bored clerk at the airline’s desk, who interrupted her conversation about the weekend with another employee long enough to pass me the parcel and look on disinterestedly as I checked to see if it was intact. Much to my surprise after my long walk, it was.

Only then did I take the time to look around. The terminal was drab, almost empty, and as romantic as a turnip. I quickly downed a scone and a bottle of juice, and started back. I could have taken a cab, but I was determined to play my folly through to the end. After all, I might not otherwise have time to exercise today,

This time, though, I took the long way around the grass.

Knowing what to expect, I found the return trip less traumatic. It was, however, deadly dull. The side of a highway isn’t the place to walk while reading a book, and the only way I could amuse myself was by singing, secure in the knowledge that no one had the faintest chance of hearing me over the cars.

I arrived at the bus stop limping and cursing my choice of shoes. When the bus finally came, all I wanted to do was get home, so I splurged and travelled through three zones to get there. Suddenly, my usual day at the keyboard didn’t seem so bad after all.

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The first two days of this week, I left the house at 8AM to get to the Open Web Vancouver conference at the Pan Pacific Hotel. By doing so, I revived all the memories of commuting that I had almost forgotten, working from home for the past three years.

Understand that I have no particular problem getting up early (although I don’t see any virtue in it, either). By the time I start work at 9:30AM, I have shaved, read The Globe and Mail, run, done several exercises, bathed, and cleaned four bird cages, so I’m well-accustomed to functioning first thing in the morning.

What I’m not used to any more is the company of strangers first thing in the morning. The local bus that takes me to the Skytrain is tolerable; once past the high school a block away from our house, it is half empty as often as not anyway.

But once I climb to the train platform, I’m submerged in a crowd, which takes some getting used to. Moreover, some of the people on Skytrain can be – well, eccentric would be a polite term. For one thing, when you’re pressed shoulder to shoulder with people, you quickly learn that a surprising number either smoke so heavily that it must sit like starch on all their clothes, or else have an active fear of water, considering their personal hygiene.

Then there’s those who carry on their private cell phone conversations at the top of their voices in a crowded Skytrain car. I once heard a young man begging and crying for his lover (whose gender was never clear) to take him back, while those of us around him squirmed in embarrassment. It was, as humorist Kate Clinton, once said, an invasion of my right to know.

But, usually, I’m the only one who apparently finds it surprising that people would have personal conversations in the crowd. This observation that makes me think that if all those mentally troubled people who argue with themselves in different voices on the Skytrain would only be given a cell phone to hold to their ear, they would immediately become integrated into society. They would never be stared at again.

Then there’s people like the intrepid shoplifter I saw once, who boarded wearing three or four shirts and carrying their hangers in one hand and all their wrapping and labels in another. The supposedly deaf people, some of whom carry cards illustrating sign language and want you to buy them and one of whom sold elaborately folded and brightly colored origami that he arranged on a branched stick. The self-important men in three piece suits who try hard to maintain their dignity. The painters and maintenance workers coming home in soiled overalls and looking seemingly pleased at the way that everyone else keeps their distance (I suppose it gives them some personal space). The trusting innocents who actually sleep on the train (quite aside from possibly being robbed, how do they avoid missing their stop? And why, knowing they have to be up early, don’t they sleep the night before?).

And always there’s the Skytrain police, whom – I learned from the newspaper this morning – have a nasty habit of tasering fare evaders (And what do they do to vandals? Suffice it to say that long-term employees at Gitmo have been known to pale when they hear). One or two of them seem to take sadistic glee in hectoring teenage Chinese Canadian girls. All of them seemed to enjoy holding up the entire system while they do fare checks. They always travel in pairs, if not in groups of four or six, no doubt because to do anything less might put them in danger from the innocent commuters whose travel time they’ve just prolonged in their paranoia that someone, somewhere, might actually be riding for free.

With all these people playing out their dramas before the audience of commuters, there’s only one rule that can help you cling to even a shred of sanity: Read a book, carry an MP3 player whose playlists you can endlessly adjust, look out a window if you can see one, but, whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.

However, even this policy doesn’t work with the people who regard the delicate art of squeezing on to crowded car as an invitation to create a mosh pit. Inevitably large and overweight, these people wait until the second before the doors close to take a flying leap on to the train, trusting to the crowd in the car to cushion their fall and keep anyone from actually falling over as they land.

The worst of these people used to be a large woman on a scooter. Don’t ask me how she got the scooter airborne, but she was merciless in crushing your toes as it landed. If you complained, she would lecture you about respect for people with disability in such a loud voice that everyone would stare at you as though you picking your noise and describing the process with a gourmet’s delight.

Even on the rare occasion when you meet none of these types, the average commute still you feeling jagged and unsettled. I can’t believe that I endured similar commutes for years – and thank luck or fate that now I usually don’t have to.

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