The bus came roaring around the corner and screeched to a juddering halt. The Oriental driver welcomed us aboard and Sally bought two rides. Then we shot off down the street. I was somewhat bemused to notice that the oncoming traffic appeared to be suffering Lorentz-Fitzgerald contractions and all the red traffic lights were Doppler shifted to green so we didnt have to stop anywhere. We shrieked around a corner.
"Driver," said Sally, in a worried tone, "shouldnt you have gone straight on to Owairaka there?"
"No worry!" said the driver, reassuringly. "Go to depot. Bus is broken."
I wondered about his definition of broken as we hurtled through the depot gates and shrieked to a stop in a cloud of rubber and tarmac vapour. The driver pressed buttons on his radio.
"I are here," he announced proudly.
"What?" The radio sounded peevish. "Why have you come here? Your replacement bus is waiting for you at Owairaka."
"But I are here." The driver sounded bewildered.
"All right, all right," said the radio. "Ill tell him to bring the bus back. You go and choose another one."
The driver closed down his ticket dispenser and took it off to another bus. We saw him poking around inside for a while and then he came back.
"OK. We go now."
We all trooped over to the other bus and the driver strapped himself in and started the engine. The bus rose on its suspension and then settled down again. The driver looked pensive and switched the engine off. Then he returned to the original bus. Soon he was back with a thermos flask and a brown paper bag which he packed carefully away. He started the engine up again and we bounced thoughtfully on the suspension for a while until he switched the engine off and hurried back to the original bus again. This time he returned with a rabbits foot which he hung carefully over a convenient switch.
Vroom, vroom. Time to go.
We crept sedately out of the depot at an arthritic crawl. No doubt about it; this bus wasnt broken.
I have an ambivalent relationship with transport mechanisms. My favourite airline has recently introduced electronic ticketing. No paper is required, you merely front up to desk, say, "Lo! Here am I." And they give you a boarding pass. Well thats the theory.
"Never heard of you," said the lady behind the desk.
"??????" I said.
"Honest," she said. "You arent on the list. What was the name again?"
"Heres my confirmation fax"
She poked keys on the keyboard and frowned at the screen. It frowned back. "Ah yes," she said. "Here you are. Your ticket was cancelled."
"!!!!!!!" I said. I could guess what had happened. Id been booked on a flight the following week, but the course I was due to teach had been postponed and the flight had to be cancelled (I checked - yes it had been cancelled). Obviously a key had slipped and this weeks flight had been cancelled as well. What to do?
"Help," I hinted.
"The planes full," she explained. "No seats left. Weve actually sold eight more seats than there are on the plane. Heaven knows what well do if the people all turn up."
"Ive got lots of plastic cards," I offered. Real life isnt like TV, she didnt offer to let me rub her tits; but she did disgorge an incredibly expensive ticket. I bet I was the only passenger on the plane who paid full price. I wondered about the eight people (nine now, since Id jumped the queue) who couldnt get on. What were they feeling about the situation?
Once I broke Europe.
I was in a train heading for Rotterdam, but the Transport Gods were determined not to let me arrive there. There is a rail bridge across the Maas leading into the Europort. Cargo ships ply their trade up and down the river. When they reach the rail bridge the trains are stopped and the bridge is raised to let them through. But on this day the bridge was down and a Captain, driving his ship up the Maas, misjudged the room available to him. Convinced that he could get through, he crashed into the rail bridge, breaking much of it (and much of his boat as well). Now nothing could get across, and that included me.
The Europort is the busiest port in Europe. Trains leave it almost every minute, and others arrive. Sooner or later they connect with every major rail system on the continent. Except on that day (and for about a fortnight afterwards). The congestion spread outwards in concentric circles over most of the continent. If I hadnt wanted to go to Rotterdam it would never have happened.
It isnt everybody who can say that they broke Europe.