Hail To The Bus Driver

The bus system in Mexico is off the chain. 

I’ve been sitting in the bus station just outside Morales in Guatemala awaiting the ironically named Clase Oro (Gold Class) bus to cross the border to Honduras for about four hours now, having been told it leaves at 5.30am only for it to be revealed that it’s actually leaving at 10am. Sat in the cafeteria batting away the flies I find myself dusting off my rose-tinted specs and gazing fondly over the greener pastures of a more Mexican time, when buses went where you wanted and timetables were actually a thing. 

The R1 in Cancún starts from the ADO terminal in the city and takes you on a round trip to Zona Hoteleria and back again. It’s the easiest way to get to the major touristy bits with the clubs and the best beaches and it only costs you eleven pesos (about 40p) for the pleasure. 

On one of my days in Cancún I decided to stretch my eleven pesos a bit further for a couple of round trips, and for once it wasn’t because I was lost or asleep. 

Cancún sign
Wild letters congregate on the beach during mating season.

The captain of this intrepid voyager was the main reason for my extended ride along. His name I never found out but he looks like a Clive to me – if you’re thinking that Clive doesn’t sound like a very Mexican name then you’re a racist – and his approach to being a Bus Captain (I’m pretty sure that’s their title) is nothing short of admirable. 

Clive takes great pride in his job and to him the bus is the only way to get around in style. He wages a personal war on walking and keeps a keen eye out for anybody along his route foolish enough to be using their legs. Once he spots one of these foot-powered-fools he will pull over immediately, regardless of traffic volume or road position, open his door and whistle through the window. It’s not a cat-call, builder’s whistle though, it’s a powerful, valley-sheep farmer’s whistle that slices through the tyre squeals and horns of the cars he’s just cut up. It’s a whistle that says, “Hey guys, what you walking for? Come take a ride on the Winner’s Express”.

Who doesn’t want to be a winner? 

Once on the bus he dishes out the always awkward amount of change from his chair-mounted change rack with the mental arithmetic speed of an East-End fruit stall owner. On busier roads where it is wiser to keep moving rather than sat parked across three lanes, he employs his force-powers and what I’m sure are many years of Bus Captain school training, to weave his way through the traffic blind as he turns around in his chair, gives out tickets and makes sure everyone is comfortable.  

Clive takes a deep swig of what I’m telling myself is a Mexican energy drink and scans the pavement for more potential passengers. He calculates, like Robocop, the speed and trajectory of the walker’s paths to see if they will cross close enough to his route for the old stop-n-whistle. If they’re on a different path to us, he dutifully continues on his way. 

Clive is a masterclass in customer service; jauntily greeting passengers, dropping people off where-ever’s most convenient for them and flouting fuck-you levels of traffic laws for passenger convenience. As I watch him, with a quiet reverie, my mind wanders back to London and the prolific yet soulless bus system that runs throughout the city. Clive could definitely shake up the TfL for the better. 

I remember once on the 88 back to Clapham after a few beverages with the gang, I decided to stand at the front of the bus because it was a little too crowded to struggle to the middle and, like riding the DLR, sometimes it’s fun to be at the front and pretend to drive. In my slightly inebriated state I forgot that the doors at the front open inwards and at one stop I was slowly crushed against the windscreen as the door opened in on me. I remember first being confused and then quite panicked as the air was squeezed out of my lungs. I looked over at the driver unable to form the necessary words to indicate my plight and pleaded to him through my tear-filled eyes, the handrail crushing my pelvis, feeling like a goat caught in a fence. Our eyes connected for a solid ten seconds as I wordlessly struggled against the door before he finally closed it, turned back to the road and continued us on our journey. 

I still remember the cold indifference in his eyes as I struggled like a wounded animal and often wonder what kind of military-style training they must go through to achieve such levels of detachment. I guess that’s why they sit in a plexiglass cage; it’s not for their safety, it’s to contain the overwhelming cloud of self-despair that emanates from them, lest it affect the rest of us passengers like a dementor.  

If I got stuck in Clive’s door I bet he would stop immediately, give me a swig of his beer and let me sit on his lap and work the steering wheel for a bit, like your dad used to do around the emptier carparks when you were a kid. Sans-beer hopefully but I’m not one to judge. 

My bus to Honduras is now over an hour late of its secondarily quoted time and I can’t help but wonder how Clive is doing and if anyone’s given him a Gold Class award yet. 

Morales Junction
Morales Junction, where punctuality goes to die.

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