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.