chatting, life, travel

Why I would not recommend the overnight bus

Dear bus,

I suppose it wasn’t really your fault. You are a machine constructed of interlocking metal pieces, stuck with your place in the world, whether you asked for it or not. Maybe you could have been something nicer, like a toaster? I’m not familiar with the differences between toaster metal and bus metal but they can’t be THAT dissimilar. Silver in colour and cool to the touch, that’s the metal motto.

But you aren’t a toaster, are you. You are a bus. A bus that advertised a luxurious sleeping service, like it was some sort of royal treatment. You boasted of hammocks and bunks, of luxury linen. Sat at home in front of my laptop, my credit card in hand, I was excited. It seemed too good to be true, to pay the price of a night’s accommodation but get free travel to boot.

Maybe a bit of this is on me. Six weeks in Europe backpacking and I still haven’t learnt that if something seems too good to be true, it’s because it’s secretly terrible. It is worse than the thing that seems just ok enough to be true. It’s probably about as good as the thing that seems like a bad idea.

This was the view from a too-good-to-be-true hotel room.
This was the view from a too-good-to-be-true hotel room.

Avoiding giving customers allocated sleeping quarters – why not, because that would take someone an extra ten seconds and save a lot of hassle – resulted in fierce bus demand. Instead of schlumping around the coach station, we joined our fellow passengers in two queues to make sure we got a good bed. No, not one queue, but two. Why? Well, why not. It gave us the competitive challenge of aggressively merging together at the ticket collection, girls in ugg boots shoving elderly men out of the way to get to the front.

We boarded, eventually, and were directed to the bed at the end of the bus. Now, I just used the word ‘bed’, but only because you’ve got me on a technicality. It was technically long enough for a human person. It technically had linens (though I’d argue that a fleece blanket on a starched sheet isn’t “luxury”, unless you’re using third-world standards to describe your features). The small shoulder pad placed at the head of the bed was probably intended as a pillow, and it did technically raise my head slightly off the hard pallet. If you held a small focus group, participants would look at the arrangement and label it ‘bed’, but I would imagine most would add “but only technically”.

Due to the fact that my high water consumption has me scrambling up early for the bathroom, I picked the outside with TJ on the inside. I won’t lie, bus. Watching him fold himself into a tiny bottom bunk was a treat. One foot went up, one went down, and his body tried to follow both legs at once. He was mostly on the floor when a fellow passenger pointed out you could pull the barrier down to climb in.

My entrance was no more graceful than his, but at least no one was watching by that point. We lay down and tried to arrange the bags at our feet, with our feet. We were only able to bend our bodies at a very slight obtuse angle before our foreheads came into contact with the bed above, so dexterity of foot was required (as a note, maybe you should mention this in your ad?).

My view. Not quite the scenic experience I'd wagered on.
My view. Not quite the scenic experience I’d wagered on.

The bags shoved against the wall, we turned our attention to the blankets, attempting to wiggle them into the right place. Exhausted and sweaty from the worm-like manoeuvring, we were happy to find the refreshments arrive – a bottle of water labelled “special price 29p!”. The lights were turned off and we settled in to sleep.

I hadn’t quite considered that a bus with sixty passengers would be like being in a dorm room with sixty roommates. We heard every cough, phone beep and whispered chatter. It took ten minutes but I managed to kick the bag of earplugs out of my pack and get them up to my face. Now all I could hear were slightly muffed coughs, phone beeps and whispered chatter.

I lay back and closed my eyes as you wove your way throughout the dark city streets. Corners resulted in my bed moving sideways, causing me to smack into the barrier between TJ and myself. I tried lying flat on my back. This didn’t work either, as the provided sheet was tucked in tightly enough to create a smooth plane. When you went up a hill I slid with you. Luckily my head was there to break the momentum.

At some point I managed to assemble myself like a mangled paper clip in such a fashion that I remained still. And I fell asleep.

A human paper clip, a female figure of eight knot.
A human paper clip, a female figure of eight knot.

I only woke up ten or twelve times, something I’m sure is some sort of bus record (if you have an awards ceremony I would be delighted to attend). One time I woke up as the driver announced that the toilet was broken. Another time I woke up from a particularly bumpy jolt. But the most memorable wake-up was probably the driver announcing that you had broken down, and we were on a motorway, and help would be an hour away. We lay in our beds, on a bus, on the side of the motorway, feeling our teeth rattle everytime a large vehicle went past.

And that’s where our time together came to an end, bus. Your replacement arrived – a traditional chap, with seats and a working toilet. As we staggered towards it, passing a line of men urinating into a clump of trees, I did not look back. It wasn’t that I was mad at you, bus. It wasn’t really your fault. But next time? I’m definitely taking the train. And with the time I’ve got spare, I’ll make myself a lovely breakfast. Of toast.

Yours sincerely,

Kate

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