On the Buses: The Shared Journeys of Life

Sometimes I’m a passenger, sometimes a driver. My mode of transport varies from place to place and when staying in Canberra, I prefer to use my bike or take public transport which means a short bus trip into the city. Participating in a shared journey with others can be a an opportunity for a snapshot of the community, its cohesion and divisions. Waiting for a bus in Canberra, you could find a socio-economic melting pot with people suffering from a range of disadvantage lining up alongside high paid corporate and government executives to take the short journey to or from the city. The bus stop is also where you meet “characters”, individuals of differing temperaments, outlooks and convictions.
Buses vary f4om the elongated , modern “bendy” buses 6o the old fashioned chug a lugs 2ith poor or non existent air-conditioning which can make it difficult in both summer and winter given that Canberra has one of the worst climates in Australia.
“What’s that man doing? Why?”
My four-year old grandson, Jack wants a very public explanation of a person’s habit of scratching then shaking and muttering under his breath. Hmmm.. my best efforts at tactfully explaining his behaviour are called for. One thing is for sure traveling on a public bus in the National Capital is a great social equaliser. Its the smells that confront too, with varying levels of personal hygiene infusing the interiors. But humans are complex creatures, rarely what they seem and everyone has a story, which is often surprising, to tell.
The woman who gets on the bus has gnarled and brown bare legs and wears open toe sandals even in winter. She gets on at one stop and alights at the next, spending most of her day getting on and off the buses. Everyone knows her as “Maria” an older Greek lady with a clear obsession.
But falling into easy conversation with  a fellow passenger one day he adds more background to Maria’s story.
“She’s actually a very wealthy woman who owns houses all over Canberra.”
Its hard to believe from her grubby appearance but then anything is possible.
When I think of the characters on the buses, I am reminded of someone from my childhood.
“Johnny” was the downs syndrome brother of a high flying local politician. He had two loves, tools and buses and the longer the bus journey the happier he was. But he could only fit in theses excursions at the weekend because, you see, he worked five days a week at the local water treatment plant.
His work was ‘unofficial’. At first he was a local ‘pest’ hanging around, asking questions, imitating their behaviour. But after a while, being a friendly, good natured soul the men took him under their wing and taught him how to do simple tasks. At the end of each week, the team all chipped in and made up a pay packet for Johnny. After a while, it became an official thing and Johnny lined up at the end of each week with his fellow workmates. When he went on his bussing excursions on the weekend, he proudly paid for the ticket with his own money. Just like all his fellow passengers

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