Adventures On A Sydney Bus

The bus that takes me into the city is a very quirky bus.  It has a meandering route that traverses narrow streets built in the Victorian era. It cuts directly through the inner city badlands where you can see people drinking beer on their front porches at 9AM or brazenly dropping a bagful of garbage onto the street.

Women who get on at the badlands bus stop are all named Britney or Tiffani, sometimes Shontelle. They all wear Adidas tracksuits with gold chains and really tight ponytails. Their silver eyeshadow makes them look like drag queens. Often they have a child or two in tow, eating hot chips for breakfast. The children have names you would expect from the children of Rappers or American basketball players – Aaliyah, Amber Rae, D’Shona. They constantly open and close the windows or jump on the seats. The busdriver gives the silver-eyeshadowed mothers warnings which are ignored. The other passengers avert their eyes and tightly clutch their handbags.

The silver-eyeshadowed crew always get off at Broadway – destination K-Mart. The other passengers collectively exhale but flinch as a large group of Asian university students get on, brandishing their iPhones. The tap tap tap of their texting is like water dripping into a sink at midnight – it seems like it will never end. Their ringtones are designed for hipness – Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, a police alarm. They giggle like schoolchildren whenever their phone rings.

I am exhausted by the amount of texts they send in fifteen minutes, the number of calls they take. I cannot imagine knowing that many people who want to contact me all at once. I feel the weight of my mobile phone in my bag – a model from the Mesozoic era. I am the dorkiest girl in the class – the only one who cannot afford Converse high tops. I pray my phone doesn’t ring. The sheen of the hundred iPhones would cause it to disintegrate in my hands.

A family of Chinese tourists clutching bags that say I ♥ Sydney ask me where a street in Chinatown is. It is inevitable they should ask because I get asked for directions wherever I go. I must look like I know where I’m going. I know the street but don’t think they understand my directions of First on the left, second on the right. They want me to draw a map but there isn’t time. I see them stumble off into Haymarket like four year olds lost in a supermarket. I feel briefly responsible for their fate.

A bag lady gets on. She smells like wet doorways. She is wearing a green cardigan with holes in it. She catches me looking. Moths, she says.

She starts to sing. Camptown Races. It surprises me that she can carry a tune. She taps her feet at the doo dah, doo dah. People change seats or stand at the back of the bus.

A little boy claps when she has finished. I was a choir girl, she says.

I liked your song, I say.

I get off at Martin Place and watch as the bus pulls out from the kerb. The bag lady has her face pressed right up to the window, waving at me like I am a long lost friend.

Another narrow escape.

Riding the buses in Sydney is quite the adventure.

29 thoughts on “Adventures On A Sydney Bus

  1. Moths. Yeah. They’re pretty much my excuse for…well…everything.

    I gotta say, I’m gonna be pondercating “She smells like wet doorways” for a good long while. Yeah. I’m smiling.


  2. Hi JONAS:
    Yes. That image conjures up all sorts of things – not all of them good. Could be a doorway paved with marble though and smelling of jasmine… never know!


  3. I have ridden my share of buses. I think anyone who has the where with all to break out in song on a bus deserves some applause. Now I am fantasizing of riding a bus and singing “Transmission” by Joy Division. Just me and my little portable drum machine.

    and we could dance.

    Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.
    Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio…


  4. 🙂 this is lovely. sydney buses have always been quite an experience – good, bad and ugly. but those two hours on the busy every single day were probably some of the most reflective times i have had in those busy busy two years. 🙂


  5. Love it.

    I suspect people ask you not because you look like you’re more aware of where you’re going than others – but because you look more likely to share what you know.


  6. Sounds like adventures on the No. 2, that runs up and down Wellington St. here in our ‘hood. It’s a massive route that seems to hit all the ‘hard done by’ sectors of the city… a Walmart, Chinatown, etc.

    I had a guy offer me a massage. He told me he was finishing up his license, and needed people to practice on. He also smelled of stale beer and sweat. Needless to say I declined and was VERY grateful he didn’t get off at my stop.


  7. This is so funny I’ve been laughing like an idiot 🙂 I was transported right next to you on the bus. The lady who smells like ‘wet doorways’ – what a great description; and those young people Arghhh. I know why people ask you for directions Selma – you emanate good vibes.


  8. Great. I used to take a bus to work every morning when I still lived in America. My workmates would wait for tea break and say-“Okay Lauri, what’s your bus story?”

    I met a very famous Egyptian writer here this weekend and he’s written a book about taxis, I think Selma you must write a book about buses.


  9. What a lovely “slice of life”! I felt like I was sitting right next to you!


  10. Great post Selma – what a colourful picture you paint. Public transit is rich with people watching opportunities. I feel like I know exactly what “wet doorways” smells like.


  11. I love Sydney buses … the way they zap down the T-way, passing all the log-jammed cars. And, of course, you remember my post about the Bear Lady. Unfortunately, she works for Hills’ Buses, and I don’t think they operate round your way.


  12. Sounds like it’s the same the world over! I live in Mississauga Ontario, fairly big city at 750,000 and your story reads the same as riding the bus here! I rode every day for 5 years before I finally broke down and bought a car. The only downside is the drivers out there are 100 times worse than the people on the bus! lol


  13. Top post Selma !
    I liked what you had to say about the bag lady and the way that despite her circumstances you depict her as still having some wit and charm.



  14. Hi LISA:
    I do love to people watch. I prefer buses to trains because it’s usually a shorter trip so people don’t settle into reading or something like that. There is always plenty to see.

    You would be an immediate hit, I suspect. What an hilarious image you’ve just put in my head!

    Hi SAN:
    As you say – they capture the good, the bad and the ugly of Sydney life. The trips are always interesting, that’s for sure.

    Hi DAVID:
    Thank you so much. And great to hear from you. I’ve been wondering how you are. 😀


  15. Hi BRITT:
    You are lovely to say that. I realised the other day that most people don’t make eye contact with others any more. I grew up at the end of that generation where people acknowledged one another in the street, even if they were strangers. I guess that has stuck with me.

    Hi NAT:
    That’s the thing, isn’t it? Sometimes being nice can backfire and people can end up following you around. I haven’t had the offer of a massage yet, but I have had my fortune read!

    I hope I do. I try to keep the good vibes going. I find riding the buses to be very funny. There is always something to see.

    Hi LAURI:
    I can imagine you would see stories everywhere on your bus trip. Taxi stories would be a lot of fun. Hey, maybe I should do some stories about buses. What a great idea!

    Hi ATTILA:
    Awww. Thanks. That means a lot to me because I always strive for a sense of realism.

    Hi MAMA ZEN:
    I know you would love the bus trips around here. They really are a lot of fun!

    I agree. There are so many things going on. I thought of you when I wrote this because I know how you like to observe people on public transport.

    Yeah, that bus lane gives them a lot of power. I’m assuming the Hills buses must operate round Baulkham Hills way. They’re probably similar to the buses in the Sutherland Shire, which are like country buses. I haven’t been on one of them for years.

    Hi CATHY:
    How lovely to hear from. Welcome. I know exactly what you mean about driving. There are just as many stories as a motorist but most of them aren’t quite so funny. I think driving is getting more stressful the world over. I’m so glad you stopped by!

    Hi LIBBY:
    She probably would have. I’ll ask her if I ever see her again!!

    Hi IAIN:
    She had a twinkle in her eye. I have seen that in a lot of homeless people. Not all of them are a threat. Many just want someone to talk to. Glad you liked the post!


  16. I thought I commented. Obviously I forgot to hit the send button. *sigh*

    I think people akin to the lost family and the bag lady are attracted to you because you’re a kind soul that pays attention. Most people are so wrapped up in themselves, they are inaccessible. For instance, in your post it’s hard to approach someone who’s constantly getting calls or is making a nuisance of themselves with the windows. The sheer fact that you’d tell the lady you liked her song, although it was simply a courtesy on your part, was probably the kindest words she’d heard all day.

    “Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.” ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

    As for your phone – honey, pull that thing out, wear your sunglasses and be the rock star that you are!!! iphones are so cliche. It’s cool to be retro! 😀


  17. Hi TEX:
    I love your attitude. Oh yeah. Retro is chic – although my phone is so retro it is comparable to shouting into tin cans linked by a piece of string. I do pay attention because I want to see what’s going on out there and I do like to help people. I hope I made that lady happy. I would be really pleased about that. 😀


  18. I remember some snatches of a parody of ‘MTA’ about the Metropolitan Tramways Trust (now Adelaide Metro) in 1960s Adelaide:

    ‘Come and listen to my story of a man named Carlo
    From sunny Italy
    He came to Adelaide one bright sunny morning
    To drive for the MTT


    Did he ever return? No, he never returned
    And his fate is history.
    He may drive for ever round the streets of Hackney
    Driving for the MTT.

    From Colonel Light Gardens and up to Morialta
    As fast as he can go
    (tum tiddy um etc.)

    His wife stands on the corner of Rundle and King William
    A teardrop in her eye
    She blows him a kiss, and throws him a sandwich
    As his bus goes thundering by

    (missing another bit)
    (change tune)

    … And his ghost may be heard as you pass by the bus station
    Driving for the MTT.

    (I’ve tried Googling, but can’t find all the words)


  19. Driving in Bahrain may be dangerous, but at least I sit in splendid isolation in my air-conditioned cabin with only my music blaring and my phone bleeping. Do you know, I actually can’t remember the last time I took a bus…


  20. Selma, you make riding the bus in Sydney sound much more palatable than riding it in Chicago. One day I will have to come down there so I can do a compare and contrast. 🙂


  21. And it’s posts like this that only VINDICATE my stance on refusing to take public transportation!! I’m usually so nervous I don’t have the wherewithal to look around and take notice of my surrounding the way you do.

    Since Im scared of the bus, and the train, and of course I get lost inside my own town, it’s safe to say I don’t get out very much!

    But I did like someone’s comment about you writing a book about Bus Stories! They would be VERY interesting to read!


  22. How come all I get are drunk mofos who can’t stand/sit properly and wants to tell me their opinion on meaningless stuff?


    I haven’t heard that but it sounds hilarious. Lost in transit, eh? Good one.

    Hi KATE:
    In a nice car there is nothing like driving. Sometimes it is fun though, to get the bus. There is always a story to be told afterwards!

    Hi KATE:
    I hope you make it to Sydney someday. It would be my pleasure to take you on a bus ride!

    Hi MELEAH:
    I know what you mean. There are often some scary types on the bus. It can be nerve-wracking. I really think the ‘Bus Stories’ is a good idea!

    Hi ROSHAN:
    Oh, I get those too. I get lots of people who tell me about their love lives. It can be embarrassing….


  24. A long, long, long time ago, when I was but a lad of 16, my family moved to India. During my time there, I had the chance to ride the bus on a regular basis. My friend Vivek and I would sit on the back seat and sing popular songs, most frequently Careless Whisper by Wham (or George Michael if you prefer), bursting out into laughter every time we hit a speed bump – at speed. (our asses left the seat for a second – hence the laughter!).
    Not surprisingly, we usually had the entire back seat to ourselves, as the locals looked upon us with both fear and apprehension, and not a single look of appreciation for our vocal talent (self perceived or not!).


  25. Hi MANOJ:
    What a great story. I love a bit of George Michael on the bus. Thank you for all the wonderful comments you have left. I really appreciate you taking the time. You are awesome!!!


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