- A guide to bus etiquette for the socially enfeebled
Buses are not for people like me. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of public transport; any economically viable alternative to private car ownership can only be a good thing. In years to come, our descendants will look back upon vehicle ownership as a strange and decadent anachronism. The cars of the future will be owned by the rich elite and will be today’s equivalent of owning a yacht or helicopter.
But I don’t have what it takes to be a good bus passenger. Bad things happen to me on buses and I have a long list of bus related traumas that have scarred me physically and psychologically.
Here is one that happened on my birthday not long after I moved to the pre-apocalypse city they once called Vancouver:
There were no seats on the 99 so I stood by the back door. I grabbed the pole next to the exit in preparation for some white knuckle Translink maneuvering and a woman came and stood next to me. The woman appeared normal. For the purposes of this article we will call her Chanterelle.
The bus was full and we were packed in tight. Chanterelle leaned into the pole, inadvertently pushing her breasts against my hand.
Time stood still.
Her breasts. My hand. In… them, what?
Dread shot up my spine like an embarrassed squirrel and my stomach turned as I imagined the awkward exchange that was about to go down.
It would go like this: she will realise that a part of her body which carries sexual connotations in our culture is in contact with a part of my body. Society has dictated that physical contact between two people is wrong unless sanctioned by a complex and lengthy series of rituals. Since we have not performed these ancient rites, the situation will deteriorate rapidly. A wrong has occurred! She will jump away as if she has just seen a horrible looking insect or disease carrying rodent. She then wonders whether this reaction has offended me, which, on a basic instinctual level, it has, since the last thing any sane male wants is to scare or repulse a female. It’s a primordial thing.
Everyone is sorry. The world is sorry. And each sorry will repeat in our thoughts long after spoken words have ceased. A cycle of pointless scrutiny begins. Had I apologised enough? Had I apologised too much? Did I seem genuine? Did I try too hard too seem genuine even though I was genuinely being genuine? The words spin around and around, eventually losing all meaning, reduced to stupid sounding syllables.
A long and uncomfortable silence will ensue until one of us leaves the bus in shame.
The pantomime of human interaction is a strange phenomenon indeed.
But it didn’t play out the way I had expected.
Chanterelle didn’t move. Nothing. There was no discernible reaction. Why? I couldn’t figure out how she hadn’t noticed our inadvertent liaison. It wasn’t like she had just brushed against my hand – I had practically disappeared into her cleavage. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. I am adverse to other people in general and I was raised in Britain – a country where a high five is practically anal sex. Yes, this is probably what people do on buses in North America all the time. I’m just being normal like everyone else here.
No! My hand is on her tit and no clever arrangement of words is going to change that!
And now it was too late.
My hand had been there too long. If I moved now it would be an admission of guilt. Questions would be asked: Why didn’t you move sooner? Were you aroused? Did you really think you would get away with it? How long do you think someone like you will survive in prison?
No going back now. The way out is through.
The bus started moving so I decided to play the long game – keep perfectly still and avoid all chance of eye contact. No sudden movements. Remain calm. Nothing to see here.
I would wait until either the bus made a sharp right turn or Chanterelle moved to use her cell phone or some such, which would shift her weight away from my hand, creating a short window of opportunity to slip away unnoticed and we would all live happily ever after.
About five minutes passed, which is a really long time in a situation like this, and she hadn’t moved an inch. I was trapped. I started to panic. How am I going to get out of this? What am I going to do?
The answer is nothing. I am going to stand here like an idiot and watch all hope quickly drain away. There was no way out. I am Aron Ralston: my options are limited.
Another five or possibly six minute eternity passed. By this time people had started to get off the bus. Quite a few seats had opened up and the aisle was now empty. But Chanterelle’s breasts remained firmly squeezed against my hand. My fingers were beginning to go numb from lack of circulation and I was gripped by a cold, terror fueled sweat.
How did I get into this situation? How did I let this happen? And why was it still happening? It was like an absurd comedy sketch and I’m Mr fucking Bean. I began to grow suspicious. Most people, normal people, don’t enjoy sharing personal space with strangers and there was no reason for her to be this close to me. She had to have known that my hand was under her tits. There was simply no way she couldn’t have noticed. She was pressing her chest against my hand and even kind of rolling it around a bit.
Since I felt it unlikely that she would be some kind of deviant bus nympho, I was left with only one plausible hypothesis: she was testing me. We were locked into a brutal game of chicken and only one of us could survive. How much could she embarrass me? How badly would I handle the situation? Just how far could she push it?
It was a standoff. I wasn’t going to move until she did, and she wasn’t going to move until I did. But she had the upper hand because I was dying inside, mortally wounded by etiquette. I watched my stop go by as I stood there motionless, still paralysed by embarrassment.
This is the worst. This is a new low. What a pathetic excuse for a human being I am. Buildings and street names that I’ve never even heard of fly by. My stop is long gone and I have no idea where we are anymore. I am trapped. I am a fully grown adult and I am stuck under a woman’s boob.
Like most stories in my life, this one ended in anticlimax.
Chanterelle eventually got off the bus without incident and I was set free. But my liberation bought with it no euphoria. There was no moment of epiphany, no lesson was learned and the world appeared no different from before. I think that perhaps she really hadn’t noticed my hand after all.
I waited until the next stop to get off. I glanced around the bus before I left – no-one else was looking.
I was now deep in the shit side of town and hopelessly lost. I crossed over the road and waited at the bus stop for the next 99 going in the opposite direction.
There was a man pulling empty bottles out of a bin. He looked up at me and called me a prick.
He was right.
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