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On The Road To Nowhere

Rideau on a Snowy Day
Rideau on a Snowy Day
I once lived an happy life without taking public transportation.

I grew up in an apartment, downtown Nantes in France. Remember: this is Europe. Downtowns aren’t crack markets and drive-by-shooting places — downtowns are peaceful places where everyone wants to live (unlike suburbs, which are usually the bad districts), only disturbed by the traditional weekly demonstration. This is France. There are bound to be demonstrations.

I rarely took the bus since I walked everywhere. Once again, remember it’s France. You can still walk to places, there are such things as streets, pedestrian streets and squares with fountains in the middle (they usually happen to be demonstrations gathering point). When I was really lazy, there were a tramway crossing the city. Two lines: North – South, East – West. A couple of stops later, I was where I wanted to be. For free, of course, cause in France, you don’t pay for public transportation. You sneak in and don’t pay the fare, like everyone else. Each user is responsible for punching his ticket (bought ahead of time) in one of the three of four ticket-puncher machines in the bus/ tramway. You can enter or exit by any door and you certainly don’t have to show the driver you have a ticket to hop in.

Occasionally, a bunch of dark coats men wait at the next station: tickets collectors. Upon seeing them, weird things would happen: people of all age would run towards the nearest doors, some would pull washed out tickets out their bags and pockets and punch them quickly, some would distribute extra-tickets around them and the consensus would be “putain!*“.

*I’m not gonna translate that. Ask your nearest French person.

I then moved to Canada. In the suburb.

My suburb isn’t the far far away suburb. We even have a supermarket nearby, a convenience store and the ubiquitous Tim Hortons around the corner. It only takes minutes to drive downtown, where I work. But I don’t always drive. Like most office workers (let’s face it, even though I’m a teacher, I’m just like an office worker), I take the bus to work.

Any bus trip starts with the same question: do I have tickets? Cause if I don’t, if — God forbids — I forgot to buy a sheet of five tickets for $9.50 at the convenience store, I’m fucked. I can just hope I have $3 on me, cause the bus driver doesn’t give change. And by the way, he hates it when you put your change in a change box. He usually also hate when you put your ticket in the same box. He likes monthly pass better.

I used to have a monthly pass. Till they raised the price to $73. I then made the decision to walk everywhere downtown and only take the bus from home to work, where the same trip by feet would take me several hours. The decision was supposed to make me richer (from the money saved), healthier (from the walk) and thinner (from the walk as well). So far, I achieved none since I seem to buy more tickets every week and I smoke when I walk. And I notice every chocolate shop/ bakery on my way. Yet, I stuck to my decision.

However, I still have to take the bus in the morning. So, assuming I have tickets, I walk a few meters (well, really, I walk for about 10 minutes – but a 10 minutes walk in Canada is said to be “meters” — distance are huge, ya know) to the bus stop. There are two bus stops, one on each side of the road, a real road that it takes forever to cross, since the green light seem to favored cars rather than walking humans. One bus stop has a shelter. Not mine, of course. So most morning, you can find me freezing my ass by the experimental farm where the cold north wind blows non-stop.

  • Lesson 1: buses are always late.
  • Lesson 2: during rush hours, oldest and smallest buses will be used.
  • Lesson 3: still on rush hours, there have to be a few women with strollers in the bus (inevitably parking the stroller right by the door).

Upon entering the bus, I drop my ticket in the box and then beg for my transfer, which, as yesterday’s bus driver pointed out nicely, “I have to ask instead of standing here like an idiot” (sic.). The transfer, a small square of the cheapest paper ever, will usually end up in one of my pocket or worse, the bottom of my bag, since I’m too busy making my way to the back of the bus to care. Of course it will be a struggle to find it later when I’ll transfer to the Express bus (besides, remember my bag?). “Move to the back, please!“.

I’m usually a nice person but in the bus, I show no mercy. If you and your bag or your coat take two seats, be sure I’ll move it to be able to sit down. Did I also mention I wasn’t a morning person? Anyway, I need a sit cause I want to read my book. And also because the trip can take anything from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the traffic, on the weather and on the driver’s ability to run through red lights.

Buses drive me crazy. They are fast and early and I end up wandering downtown waiting for my classes, or they’re late… very late, usually when I have an important class fist thing in the morning. But I have no control over it, so I usually bitch silently.

Or I observe my fellow passengers. In North America, you don’t take the bus, unless you’re poor, a student, old, or a mother with young kids (hubby has the car, hasn’t it?). You don’t get to see to many executives with Blackberry in hands there… they don’t take the bus. They drive to work. Cause honestly, taking the bus isn’t the first choice here in Canada.

Waiting for the bus when it’s cold can be painful: just imagine standing for 15 min. outside when it’s minus 20C (regular winter temperature here…). It’s almost dangerous, to the point that if the bus isn’t coming soon, most people would rather walk to the nearest station than stand in the cold. In the summer, there’s no AC in most buses, and temperature can easily reach 40C with the humidex. Distances are huge and cities are quite spread out. While the Express buses which runs through downtown are really quick and efficient, suburbs buses routes are not convenient and can take forever to reach destination.

North American city planning isn’t very pedestrian-friendly. I used to walk to the bus in the middle of the winter, my hands frozen and my toes numbs, mouthing very very bad words as I was tripping on the ice and the snow piled-up on the sidewalk. On the bus shelter was a big government-sponsored poster: “today, treat yourself to a 30 minutes walk!“. I wish. I love walking. But cars come first here… and us, walking people, don’t have many options. Inexistent sidewalks, no small shops but huge shopping malls everywhere, drive-through stuffs… Nope, we come last.

Meanwhile, I have to run… I have a bus to take.

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