|Illustration by Lia Hiltz|
It was the dead of winter, a dark early afternoon. A hard day's work. Blizzard.
I had waited so long in the cold for my first bus that when I caught the 85, I knew I'd be late for massage therapy. I love Tina, but my tendonitis was really lousy back then, and so her lovin' was the kind that comes with thumbscrews.
There were 80 people on the bus, no standing room left. It was Rush Hour, and everyone was angry. The bus pulled away from Mackenzie King Bridge, carrying low.
And the bus driver started singing The House of the Rising Sun.
Now, I think you can agree that no one gives you credit for getting through your commute without killing anyone. It's just what you do. Suck it up, Princess. No elbowing, no dirty looks. You even have to suffer the indignity of being polite. It's a little much to be expected to stand on a fishtailing bus for an hour while the only guy with an armchair practices his high Cs. To a captive audience.
But I got over it. He had a really nice voice. And though cheerful people can occasionally make you homicidal when you're not at your best, this wasn't one of those times.
He sang a verse in English and then another in French. By the time the young man met his demise, I'd lightened up. Other people, too, I think, but I couldn't see that far down the bus.
The snow dropped from the skies. There might as well have been no city, no streets. The bus sweated through the windows. Just a song, and bodies. No talk.
Eventually, our fedora-and-falsettoed driver turned off the Transitway, and onto Bronson. He might've started in singing Homeward Bound by that point, but I forget. I wasn't keeping notes back then.
Next, Laurier Avenue.
I'm told they don't have the money for winter tires over at OC Transpo. Who knows what the reason might be. As a public servant myself, I am extremely familiar with how often a good explanation never makes it way to the kitchen table. Just not sexy enough. Maybe nothing can get an articulated bus up a steep, ankle-deep snowy hill. Anyway, the bus, the street, and the slush had a little discussion, and after a few lurches and shudders, it was clear that she wouldn't do it.
Our driver stopped the bus where she was (diagonal across two lanes). He begged us to get out and walk, and the doors slammed open.
The mob looked at itself. It cocked its head to the left, it cocked its head to the right. And then we jumped out, and trudged up the hill.
Once our grateful driver and his faithless steed joined us, we filed back in and flew across Carling, late for dinner, late for everything, sopping wet, and serenaded by that joyous voice.
Just past Preston our driver gave the bus her teeth, and put the gas to the floor. Do you know the hill at Civic Hospital? It's pretty steep, eh? Yeah. I clutched the pole above my head the tighter.
By now we knew she was a sweetheart, our bus. She had tried her heart out on Laurier. But it's the tough, slow ones you want in the bad weather, not the high-strung thoroughbred with her delicate knees and flighty ways. Give us a donkey, long silky ears and all.
Oh, the jokes our driver told us, the cajoling and the courage, as we slumped out the door! He put everything he had into propping his mustache up with a smile.
We were ready for a scrap. Our priority seats were full of the elderly and pregnant. Our aisles were teeming with the tired. But we held it together.
The bus driver and his raft of hill-climbers reunited at the summit once more. A mile more and I made it to massage by the time my appointment was over, with a good story to make up for Tina's lost time since she wouldn't take my money.