NB: What follows is not meant as an indictment of all Translink bus drivers. Many are professional, courteous and skilled and do their best to move the public to their desired destinations as efficiently as possible. Sadly, other drivers are strangers to such traits.
The events related took place some seven years ago, before policies promoting density strained our public infrastructure and the scam had yet to burst its seems. A time when catching a bus on a spring morning was a reasonable proposition.
The 135 Burrard Station was my preferred ride. An express for its home stretch through Vancouver along Hastings, it made but six stops between Renfrew and my desired disembarkation at Pender & Howe. This self-powered option was ultimately preferable to the various trolley incarnations of the slow-boat-to-China -the #14 and the #16, particularly in the frequent circumstances when one of these were stuck immediately behind the other in an interminable public transport hell.
But with one driver in particular, the trick was getting on the 135. He was old codger, but built like a brick shithouse with a shaved head, graying mustache and aviator sunglasses. He looked every bit a sadistic drill sergeant.
The first time he drove past me –those mirrored eyes focused on some distant point far down Hastings- I stood there, dumbly watching the backend of the quickly retreating vehicle. Was it possible he could not see me in the clear light of a sunny spring morning? Was it possible it was out of service, with passengers? Was it full? Not even close.
The next morning: I spotted it cresting the hill at Lillooet. As it approached I detected no flagging of speed and brought my arm up in the universal sign for “Hey!” But it roared by with such force that I had to step back from the curb. I flash-registered the stony profile of the driver -my newfound nemesis, Sergeant Shithouse- before shutting my eyes against an induced windstorm of dust, cherry blossom petals and exhaust fumes.
A few days without incident gave me hope that the matter had been an aberration. I was wrong.
I started strategically varying my commuting routine, with the hope of finding purchase on some more welcoming sprocket of the local transport infrastructure. As often than not, however, I instead found myself standing at the curb, passed over by the 135, dismissed by its bald pated and impassive pilot.
I would try to attract his attention. I would wave semaphore-style, or raised my arms palms-up in a “what gives?” gesture: nothing; not so much as a turn of that taciturn head.
Another morning, with no change in the sound of the engine as the 135 came up the hill towards Renfrew, I played the only card left to the resigned-yet-fucked-off: I focused squarely on those mirrored lenses and gave the Sarge a salute -of the one-fingered variety. As he drove past, he turned to look at me.
A week had passed without incident, when the 135 pulled to a stop and I alighted and I found my friend at the wheel. Up close he looked like a slab of beef. Three other men, younger skinny guys in maybe their early 30s, stood clustered around him.
I paid my fare, and the bus pulled from the curb.
“You look familiar to me,” said he.
“Yeah. You look like somebody who flipped me the bird. You flip me the bird last week?”
He turned his head towards me, a big, round heap of granite, with a hairy lip. I saw myself reflected in his sunglasses, looking calmer than I felt.
“Last week?” I said. “It couldn’t have been last week.”
The guys standing there start laughing. Sarge turns his attention back to the road and I take a seat near the front.
Sarge is talking -brakes, speed, stoplights.
It hits me: he’s training them! Jesus Christ!
As we pull up to the stop at Nanaimo, Sarge announces, “It looks full back there. I’m giving this one a pass.”
One of the trainees looks around and sees what I see: a few empty seats. He passes this crucial bit of information along.
“Well,” says Sarge, “it looks full to me.”
And on we went.