Although many citizens complain about it, a lot, Winnipeg actually has a fairly decent transit system. Sure, it’s not perfect and has its problems, but people from other cities like Calgary, Toronto, or Vancouver look at our transit and say “Pffft, what are you complaining about?”
Because it’s useful, I end up taking a lot of busses; to and from work, downtown, to the mall, grocery shopping, etc. and because I work at a theatre, most of the time, I’m traveling in the opposite direction as the rest of the populace. I’ll be taking a bus into downtown to go to work at 5 or 6pm while the rest of Winnipeg is scrambling to get out of downtown and get home at the end of their work day.
There are a bunch of different choices in transit for me too. I have one bus that I can catch a block away that runs every 10 minutes and drops me off right in front of the theatre. Another bus is a little farther away but goes to the airport and the biggest shopping mall in town, and there is one that has its rest stop directly behind my house, so not only is it close, but the bus waits there for 5 or 10 minutes before it goes on it’s way, meaning I rarely have to wait in the cold for that bus to come, it waits for me. The problem with that one is that it only comes every half an hour and doesn’t run at night or on weekends.
But it was that latter bus, the #68, that I decided to take one Friday afternoon. I was meeting a friend for coffee and grabbing a bite to eat before work, so I needed to take a bus that was earlier than I was used to. I looked at the online schedule and found that there was a #68 that would be behind my house at 3:28pm and leave for downtown at 3:36 pm. I’d never taken that particular bus before, but it was perfect. It would get me downtown in plenty of time.
I skipped down my back alley and boarded the 3:36pm #68 and instantly knew something was wrong. The bus driver was a mountain of a man. At least six foot six, muscular arms the size of tree trunks filled with tattoos of skulls and dragons, shaved head, several piercings, and an Ultimate Fighting Championship ring on his finger. If he didn’t have a transit uniform on, I would have walked the other way out of fear. He was a fierce looking scary dude… except for the expression on his face. He had a look of dread, wide eyes and trembling lip, as if he was waiting for something horrible to happen.
I said good afternoon and showed him my transit pass. He returned the greeting under his breath while staring off into space, looking as if some unavoidable horrendous event was right around the corner. I took a seat beside a window, and proceeded to read my book, not thinking anymore of it, and enjoyed being the lone passenger on the bus.
I was so engrossed in the story that was unfolding in my chosen manuscript, and wondering whether Sam I Am would ever be able to eat the Green Eggs and Ham, that I didn’t notice the bus come to a stop a few minutes later. There seemed to be this strange noise coming from outside the vehicle. I looked up and out the window and saw we were stopped in front of a school with an endless sea of children waiting to board the coach. The tough looking driver, who had obviously survived the brutality of an Ultimate Fighting ring, gave a whimper and opened the door to the leviathan that waited outside.
The hordes of wintery clad pubescence poured onto the vehicle in a never ending stream of backpacks, personal electronics, and noise. GOD THE NOISE! A cacophony of gossip, insults, and expletives that would make a porn star blush. These kids, from the ages of 8 to 14, were fuelled by the end of a school week, over sugared, in close contact, unsupervised, with various smartphones blaring competing music and budding hormones bubbling to the surface.
I caught the sound of the driver, racked with fear, screaming “Please move to the back of the bus”, but it was drowned out by the hundreds of young voice boxes excited about the freedom of the weekend and the injustices of youth.
“Mrs. Taylor is such a cow! I hate her! She gives too much homework!”
“I know, and did you see what she was wearing today? Ugliest dress ever!”
“You girls are stupid!”
“Shut up Brad! You smell like barf!”
“Who’s playing Taylor Swift? Turn it up!”
“Taylor Swift Sucks!”
“Shut up Brad! You Suck!”
:punch slap crash:
“I’m telling my Dad that you hit me, and he’s a cop. He’ll shoot your face!”
“Oh ya? Well my Mom’s a lawyer, she’ll sue your face”
Two hundred and fourteen other similar, very important and very loud conversations occurred simultaneously as various objects were hurled down the aisle; a book, a shoe, a retainer… and still more youths were getting on the bus, squishing the entire student body of Obscure Local Public Figure Junior High School into the limited space of the Winnipeg Transit vehicle.
The suspension gave out an alarming groan as the weight of the students, along with their textbooks filled every crevasse of the New Flyer D40 Motor Coach. Kids were piled on top of one another, three to a seat, and still more got on the bus.
Eventually, with a final shove, all of the children were loaded like sardines, and the bus started its laboured lumber down the street…. and still the screaming and yelling continued.
“You stop pushing!”
“Your backpack is crushing my neck!”
“No you smell!”
“Hey look! Michael is sitting beside some weird old guy! Hey Michael! Watch out for lice!”
I laughed a little, and looked around for the poor soul they were picking on. I wanted to see the weird old guy too!
Then I remembered that I was the only adult on the bus… I was the weird old guy. Why did they think I had lice?
I looked down beside me at a young boy with overly large thick glasses who was reading Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. He looked up at me with magnified eyes and blinked.
“You must be Michael.” I said.
“Don’t worry kid, I don’t have lice.”
“Good, I’ve already had them once this year and I don’t need to go through that again.”
From somewhere in the back, a kid with a Snickers bar buried in his gob yelled “Oh My God Guys! Michael is talking to the whino! He is so stupid!”
Michael looks up at me and asked “Mister, is it always going to be like this?”
“Naw, you look like a smart kid. You’ll go on to university and become a doctor or a scientist or something important, and most of these kids will drop out of high school and flip burgers or pump your gas for the rest of their lives.”
An evil smile spread across Michael’s face at that thought as the bus came to a busy cross street, an obvious transfer point, and the sea of young people belched out of the doors, spreading mayhem into the city street. I looked out the window into a convenience store and the horrified proprietor that looked on helplessly as the wave of juvenescence swept into his store about to ravage the slurpee machine.
The bus, mostly empty now, continued on its way, the new silence only broken by the occasional sob of the driver.
I made it to the coffee shop, dazed and bewildered, then on to a nice meal in a restaurant where I might have been the youngest person there.
Later, I went to work, and entered the greenroom of the theatre, eager to tell my harrowing story and complain about the horrific etiquette of today’s youth. The greenroom, filled with actors and theatre staff was a cacophony of conversation…
“I hate this director! She gives us way too much homework!”
“I know! And did you see what she was wearing! Ugliest track suit ever!”
“She needs to stop pushing me!”
“Oh My God guys! Janice is talking to that weird old sound guy! Ha ha ha ha!”
I’ve done a terrible thing…. I lied to a child.