On the buses

When you ride on an  Auckland  bus, there’s no such  thing as a typical ride – not if you’re looking.

The entertainment is  not so much in  the city’s  sport  – that  never-ending version of  upmarket stock cars. A U-turn  perhaps – just in front  of the car speeding towards them? No worries. Drivers  career  backwards out of driveways into busy traffic lanes,  or  exit out of  entrance ways to  shopping centres.  Quite a few fancy  they can beat traffic lights too, often  with  predictable  results.  It’s  Auckland.

On  a  bus you’re free from all  that, free to  settle into your  seat  with  a satisfying  sense of entitlement. You’re a senior. You’re eligible for free bus and ferry rides. Yippee!

But back to our fellow travellers.  On  inner city routes Pakeha have taken a back seat, outnumbered  by Asians, and it’s usually  chatty  Chinese women who board.  At one  bus stop you  think the three  women who just shoved past as you checked  your destination with the driver,  have no sense of manners,  no idea of  the  local art of waiting your turn.  But again  that’s not the case.

They’ve  simply figured out that  there’s just enough  space between you and logging-on.  And so when you’re seated, and   after you’ve stopped huffing about getting the  Asian heave-ho, you realise that what they’re  doing is  purely  functional. They just want to get on board, their way.

And  their way can sometimes be quite charming.   When another  group of  Chinese  was about to  board, the women stopped and ushered me on first.

“No, no” I insisted, waving them on.  ” Women first. Custom“.

“Ah…”  said one nodding as she just plumbed the depths of this cultural convention.   They  had waited for me because, well okay,  age….It’s theirs to respect.

It’s a strange feeling. When you  feel young but obviously  look old, it’s  humbling   to be  honoured as such  by  newcomers.

Sometimes though it’s not the passengers but the drivers who are  interesting. They range from the  downright surly to  apple-cheeked cherubles who wait until you’ve   finished what you consider a run –  and others as a comic lope –  to the bus.

And then there  are  bus drivers  whose  mission is not  just to get us to our destination,  but to enlighten us along the  way.  Coming  back from the  city along Mt Eden Road a few days  ago,  our driver stopped his  double decker  to pick up a passenger.

Then he turned and called out to us. For a minute or so  none of us understood for  he had a strong Indian accent. The less we understood the  louder he shouted.  The incomprehensible calling the  uncomprehending.

He  seemed to concentrate most pointedly at me  because I sat in a raised aisle seat.   I thought he was asking me to get off because I hadn’t paid enough so,  into this confusion I  added: “Three Kings”.

He  shook his head, looked tragic and told us all  over again.  And once more nobody understood, so I  got up to find out what he  was saying.  He pointed to a staircase  running up the  western slope of  Mt Eden from the bus stop.

” You  can start climbing from  there!” he told me.

“I   returned to  my seat pointing to the stairs and  shouting to  my  bewildered  fellow  passengers:

“He says you  can start climbing. There!”  They looked and  turned away, uninterested in enlightenment,  or the stairs.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.