On The Road To Nowhere

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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.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. tell u what, i’ve always told myself that i wanna move to france (Paris) when i grow up. and u’re moving to canada from france. LOL. dont u like france?

    and btw, ur english is good for a frenchperson! from what i reckon, french people r reluctant to learn english or feel embarrassed to speak english with tourists in France due to the French-accented English.

    i hv to take bus from my dorm to my university. else walking is such a pain under a burning hot sun here!

    U’re living in Ontario? I thought most French people will choose to stay within Quebec due to cultural affinity. Heh.

    kyh’s last blog post..My diva on Youtube!

  2. buses are in fact always late!

    it’s so true!

    sirjorge’s last blog post..Guru featuring Common & Bob James – State Of Clarity Music Video

  3. That is so crazy. Similar to you, I love walking come rain or shine – but to have to walk and stand outside in those sub-freezing temperatures is a severe health risk.

    I walk to work fairly frequently (it only takes me 20 mins across the fields). The trouble is, I have to walk past a pub on the way home – and it always seems soooooo inviting. A 20 minute walk can suddenly turn into an hour or so….lol!

    It is frustrating that all of our western governments are trying to encourage us to use more public transport. Yhey raise the fare prices each year but we never see an improvement in the standard of the transport itself. No wonder people still use their cars – they’d rather sit in a traffic jam for an hour than catch a bus that may or may not arrive on time.

    Graham’s last blog post..Graham’s Signature Dish – Hung Shao Pork

  4. Can’t help chuckling while reading this entry! You seamlessly put your brand of humor in this rather poignant everyday happening in the life of a commuter! Share your sentiments…

  5. I also live in a very walkable city. Well, it would be walkable if I lived in a safe neighborhood. Which I don’t.

    I had a car once. Now I also take the bus. My job is right here in town … 6 miles away. I’m not walking.

    “putain” … oh, yeah, Canadians eat that. Potatoes and cheese and gravy, heart-attack-in-a-bowl. Or are you referring to something else? 😀 *ducks for cover*

    Ghosty’s last blog post..I’m Not Pretty Anymore

  6. Oh girl, oh my!
    Well, I used to take the bus and the metro and all kind of public transportation when I lived near Paris, first as a student then after. The only good point was I loved walking when it was possible and yes, Europe is more pedestrian friendly than North America on that point.
    Still, I have to admit I couldn’t wait until I could afford my own car. Even in the traffic jams I still had a feeling of freedom compared to what I had to endure in those public boxes. I think things have improved up there now.
    Hey you could make a fortune and stop working for the rest of your life if you could find a way to collect the winter cold and recycle it as summer AC 😉

    FroggyWoogie’s last blog post..VERY important question

  7. Hi Zhu! Is funny how I chose to write about public transportation and then come to your blog and read that you did the same thing xD but with a different point of view.

    I haven’t used buses yet, just the subway, but I’m sure I won’t have anything against buses since I’m used to buses with no time (you can wait between 1 minute to 90 minutes for one to arrive) and they are ALL old, dirty and big accidents about to happen 😉

    Aiglee’s last blog post..Metropass

  8. When I was 12 and standing at a bus stop in Ottawa in -35 temperatures, I swore that when I grew up, I would leave Canada for warmer climes. As it happened most of my adult life was spent in the UK and Europe. Ironically, I now live in Norway, not quite as cold as Canada, but many similarities. Luckily, I am only 2 hours from away from most cities in Europe!

    Beaverboosh’s last blog post..Confessions Of A Virgin Blogger

  9. At first I thought I red: ‘On The Road To Norway’ 🙂 and reading your post I actually think you should. Oslo with its suburbs has excellent public transportation. I take the express bus every day back and forth to work and since we also have separate public transportation lanes, no way I’ll take the car (and its hard to find a parking lot too).

    Btw: Haven’t I told you, you won my second year of blogging contest, so I want to send you a Norwegian Troll. Please get in touch!

    And since I’m at it: Have a great end to your week.

    RennyBA’s last blog post..Historical charm in Brussels

  10. We need cars to get around in my suburb, which is only 30 minutes from center city Philadelphia. It’s not pedestrian friendly here at all, although I wish I could walk or bike everywhere. I think that towns need to be restructured completely to make them cleaner and safer for vehicles that don’t need gas.
    I always pass bus stops and feel thankful that I don’t have to wait in any kind of weather. I feel bad when I see people shivering. The buses here are slow, too. And dirty and full of stupid ads.

    Jessica’s last blog post..Smile!

  11. text :

    text :

    Jay Cam: in F, Canada is actually quite warm! But unfortunately, that was celcius…

    Kyh: I think French can actually speak English… but this was true for a very long time. However, it’s now compulsory to learn at least two foreign languages at school, so most people can understand and speak English, even just a little bit. That said, Parisian ARE rue to foreigners… I saw it.

    I know most French end up in Québec, but for some reason, I like English Canada way better. Nothing personal against Québec, just a culture thing… I like to visit but wouldn’t live there.

    Graham: oh yeah, I find it stupid too! I mean, the only way they promote public transportation in Ottawa is by cutting off bus roads and raising bus passes’ price… We live in a car culture. Definitely. And I have nothing against cars, but I wish we had a better alternative sometimes. Just to have a choice.

    Larry: yep, I can totally relate. North America is a car paradise… I sometimes wonder if walking is legal! Nice blog BTW, I subscribed 😉

    MogLI: thanks! I’m often a bit too cynical though… say my friends. 😉

    Sir Jorge: indeed they are! Annoying, isn’t it?

  12. Ghosty: nope, sorry, another kind of “putain” — “putain”, not “putin”! These Americans… 😆

    Froggiewoogie: Good idea but… I ditched physics and technology for Chinese in high school, so I doubt I could come up with a good prototype!

    We do have a car otherwise… but parking downtown is a problem too, hence me taking the bus 😉

    Keshi: don’t laugh, don’t laugh… you never know, might be cold in OZ too! Yeah I know… probably not 😆

    Aiglee: I actually love public transportations in TO! Having a subway makes a lot of difference.

    Beaverboosh: so you can totally understand me! 😉 Well, I stay in Canada anyway, it’s a nice place. But I’ll keep on bitching about the lack of buses and the weather!

    Art: I got used to it, but yeah, I hate the bus too 😉

    RennyBA: I take the bus to work mostly for the same reasons. I just wish people would realize that even though having a car is a must in Canada (and we do have one), it’d be nice to have a good alternative. Maybe I should move to Norway?? 😉

    Jessica: you’re absolutely right, it all comes down to city planning… and unfortunately, pedestrians weren’t included!

  13. 🙂 HI
    Ho are you doing ha! Zhu, when I red your post , which is wonderfully GOOF written! You are really talented, so I recognised a lot about the ,general traffic’ here all traffic is quith good, but when I go by bus-tran or lane, there is always a delay, or when we wnet to PARIS , there was a strike! YES!!!! So I understand what you mean , but don’t worry yu are not alone in you meaning about this subject 🙂

    I Just want to let you know that: I POSTED TODAY (FRIDAY) again 3 more HUGH works of the LOUVRE on my blog, a slide- show with 34 photo’s and 8 collages, also a close-up of the MONA LISA, so please watch it 🙂

    Have a great weekend! 🙂


    JoAnn Digital eyes from Holland and NOW Paris!’s last blog post..PARIS, Today: 3Th-3 THE LOUVRE 🙂

  14. $73 for a monthly pass? Goddamn that’s expensive, here in Australia, it’s ok I think…

    Around $40 for me every month waiting in sun light and the buses are always on time 😛

    The buses isn’t exactly very good smelling but I figure it’s better than what you’re experience lol…

    P.S. What’s going in France? Crazy…

    Shan’s last blog post..Exam – Again

  15. Loved to read the post! Actually for French (or old European, I should say) people the cruelty how pedestrians are treated in some New World cities must be appalling!
    Anyhow, enjoy a nice pedestrian weekend, Zhu!

    Trotter’s last blog post..AMSTERDAM BY NIGHT

  16. Very interesting post! I can identify with it in more ways than one. In India a lot of people travel by public transport because they are very cheap (prices are regulated by the Govt). However, the condition of the transport and the crowds can make the experience far from comfortable. Therefore, the moment you make enough money, you stop using them!

    Also, your point about pedestrain-friendly Europe vs. North America is spot-on. I think this is also because in North America everything is so spaced out. Maybe because there is more open space and less population. Therefore, you can’t really walk between places unless you are in a downtown area (which are actually quite pedestrian friendly even in America).

  17. I never used to take the bus in California, doing that could be risky. Here in Spain I do it all the time. I put money on a bus card that has an electronic chip, and only pay 38 eurocents, since we are a “familia numerosa” with three kids. I usually only take the bus to get to the city, and once I’m there I walk everywhere. I must say I prefer Spanish cities to the ones in the U.S., because you don’t need a car to get everywhere, and you feel safe walking around.

    Theresa’s last blog post..Doble Anniversary!

  18. NorthBayPhoto: exactly! Hard to promote walking as a form to exercise when there are so sidewalks around…

    JoAnn: finally got a chance to catch up with your posts… I’m a bit slow sometimes, blame it on the snow! 😉

    Shan: I know! The price raised so much the last five years, it’s not even funny. It was about $50 when I first came here.

    Froggiewoogie: how about that: go on the bus and bump into someone. See and observe the reaction… and you’ll get the translation! 😆

    Trotter: it is one major difference with Europe!

    Chen: we have a car too, but I still rely on the bus to go to work.

    Shantanu: I can imagine the bus in India, I took a lot of buses in China… 😆 You’re right, the distances in North America is one reason why public transportation isn’t as quite as it should be, but I think governments should look into it anyway.

    Theresa: wow, that’s quite cheap! Buses are more expensive in France… even in Canada, I wish the price were lower.

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