online: 7 january 2003
modified: 10 january 2003

5 january 2003 on the 73 bus

18:10 Crossing London from Victoria with luggage, I decided to avoid negotiating the stairs to the underground in the rush hour - by taking a bus which could take me nearly all the way home on the same level, but more slowly.

I found that the 73 bus started from there so I could be sure of a seat - near the entry, from which I could see my luggage (it filled the small luggage space on this old type of bus with a jump-on-and-off platform)... And noticing the liveliness of the people getting on and off I began handwriting notes immediately. Here is an expanded version of what I wrote:

...what a joy to see and share this trip with a dozen or so happy laughing people with Indian accents, and others with London accents, mostly carrying bags, some people quite obese and hardly able to move, one wielding a walking stick, and all struggling to get on through inadequate crowded spaces... and some unsure if this is the right bus please?...

I'd spoken first to the driver (he has an African accent and sense of humour) and then to the remarkably pleasant conductor. I feel glad to be travelling in amongst the adaptive liveliness of all these people - though the conditions are dreadful.

As soon as we move off the conductor opens a small secret cupboard from which he takes a plastic cup of tea or coffee from which he drinks and puts back.

A young woman with a large back pack and larger trolley-suitcase (which is too full to close properly) struggles in while carrying in one hand a take-away pizza (which she is trying to keep horizontal amongst all this). She sits next to me and dumps the suitcase in the narrow aisle, almost blocking it to everyone. Later she moves to two empty seats on which she could surely have put all of her luggage but no, she still leaves the trolley-suitcase in the aisle while filling the two seats with her backpack and herself, eating her pizza, and then calmly sending text messages - oblivious, it seems to me, to the inconvenience she is causing to dozens of people, some with two to four shopping bags, who try to get past her suitcase so as to 'move down the bus please' as the conductor keeps asking them to do... though none of us know what wondrous or terrible or mundane thoughts may be blinding her to the needs or wishes of others...

But the conductor is marvellous in all this confusion. He mostly says nothing, letting people adapt as they may. But now and then makes a well-timed and friendly remark such as 'it's full up there' (to someone who began to go upstairs) - but mainly he lets people find their own way through the awful conditions - that they seem to be accepting as normal.

And to the woman whose suitcase seems to me to be causing half of the difficulty he says nothing (as he too struggles to get past her - to collect fares)... I sense that he knows what he is doing and is experienced in the management (if such it can be called) of people who are forced by poor conditions to invade each other's body-spaces and to obstruct each other's movements... As I left the bus I said I liked the way he was doing his job, despite everything - and he smiled.

I could have written much more about the largely cheerful complexity of this little sample of life on the buses - of the wisdom of the conductor, the adaptiveness of the passengers, and the insensitivity of some. But there it was, more evidence, it seems to me, of how most of us can be relied upon to react sensibly and wisely in bad conditions - and also of our near total failure to make conditions better when we are in jobs such as 'accountant' or 'designer' or 'manager' in which we are paid to create such conditions in the first place...

This (I've believed all my life) is 'the problem' - our over-adaptiveness 'as people' and our rigidity 'as workers' or 'as officials'...

'Don't blame me, I only work here' we say - and that is the problem. But what we do in adapting to the resulting conditions can be marvellous. Our industrial morality's misguided - what would put it right?

To answer that question is my purpose.

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© 2002 john chris jones

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