Come my friends, let me tell you a tale of harrowing adventure, for I have seen the dark side and survived to see the light…
Last night, I took the #321 bus from Surrey Central Station down King George Boulevard on my way home from a meeting with friends in Kitsilano.
It isn’t pretty, my friends.. if you’ve a weak stomach, turn away now – this is your only warning.
It’s been a while since I took transit after dark in Surrey- quite frankly after 9pm bus service drops dramatically in many areas and is non-existent in others- but that’s another story in itself.
Getting off the skytrain at Surrey Central after getting on in Vancouver, it seemed like I had been transported into another realm… the lighting at the station, quite frankly, sucks. Waiting in the lengthy lineup in near darkness, the interior bus lights seemed a welcoming beacon.
Please God, I thought, please let there be room for all of us to get on…and we do,back to back, like sardines in a can. I’m standing there, holding the bar over head, trying to protect my purse, thinking I should have just grabbed a cab when suddenly I lurched forward into the ‘working girl’ beside me, thanks to the crack head behind me who decided pushing everyone in the aisle forward to get to the back is a good idea. “Yo bitches, get yo eff-ing asses moving. I got a eff-ing date back there.”
Seriously? Are you kidding me? This guys got a date? On the back of the bus? I turn around, and nearly bite my tongue off trying not to laugh. First of all, he reeks like an old shoe and Axe. The guys wearing a truckers cap sideways that looks like a 5 year old girl attacked with her Be-Dazzler, strings of fake gold and diamond bling, saggy-ass pants that he’s holding up with one hand.. and he has a date?
I’m tired, I’ve had enough already. I give him a sarcastic smile. “Yo homie, wassup? Touch me again and I’ll show you some ‘bitch’,understand?”
Clearly puzzled by my use of the word homie, he backs off. “Chill sister, it’s all good, see,I just need to see my baby back there.”I look back and see a teenage girl – barely legal I’m sure – dressed like a stripper and I wonder how the hell her parents let her out like that.
He pushes by me, and it’s only then I notice that the side of my dress feels wet. Looking down, I can smell cheap rum and sigh. The working girl beside me shrugs and says sorry, she can’t hold her drink well. As she scrunches up her eyes and nose trying to focus on my face, I’m wondering how long she’s going to remain upright.
Having packed on enough people that we’re not only all touching – I can feel things pressed against me I shouldn’t be able to – the bus leaves the station. We make it to the first stop and unbelievably another person gets on the bus. Everyone shuffles a bit, but there really is nowhere to go. Standing there holding onto the pole in front of me, swaying back and forth in unison with the other passengers as the bus turns around a corner, it suddenly occurs to me this might be what pole dancing feels like! I’m tired and the thought actually makes me laugh out loud, and people start looking at me like I’m nuts.
Trying to pass the time, I look around at the passengers, most of whom are clearly struggling in life. More than a few crack-heads, covered in sores, some clearly oozing and freshly scratched, a couple of prostitutes, a herd of stoned teenage boys reeking of pot trying to look like they aren’t stoned out of their minds, and between them all, here and there, people like me just trying to make it home on public transit.
There are two students, earplugs in listening to music, heads down- you can tell they’ve done this a few times, and a Muslim woman in her hijab who also keeps her head down,not looking at anyone. Like myself, she clutched her purse tightly with one arm while holding the pole with the other. She looks up, we smile at each other in sympathy.
Sitting below me, an early thirties hipster is talking on the phone to someone… “Yeah, I’m just headed down King George now, shit, it hasn’t changed since I was a kid, kind of reminds me of some parts of Detroit man, weird to be home again” … No kidding. King George after dark is like another world and so is this bus.
I look outside,and sigh when I see we are just past Surrey Memorial.. it’s going to be along trip. And wow, lucky me, while one or two people get off at every stop, sometimes 2 or 3 get on. It’s a never ending stream.
By now, the conveyor movement of standing riders has moved me nearly to the back doors and right beside a man who is clearly marching to the beat of his own drum. With his T-shirt pulled up and his sizeable belly out, he’s poking his finger around in his navel. That’s all I am going to say about that. I look straight ahead into the black and white whirl of streetlights whizzing by the window…what the hell was I thinking taking the bus…and then it hits me. Like a brick wall, and I actually have to swallow to keep my dinner down.
It’s B.O. Not just any B.O., but the mother of all B.O. in the history of the world. I mean, I can’t breathe, I literally can’t breathe in without gagging every single time.I look over, and it’s the belly button man,who is standing there with his arm up, holding onto the overhead bar, oblivious to the people below and beside covering their faces with their shirts. And his other hand is still busy with his navel.
I try breathing through my mouth only, but I swear I can actually taste it and I’m forced to put my head down trying to get a whiff of my perfume to kill it, to no avail. And then I think, this is exactly what they were talking about in the famous Seinfeld episode, The Smelly Car! It’s on me, around me, it’s moving in the air like a living, breathing being.
Then the unthinkable happens. The bus stops hard, unexpectedly, and everyone starts falling back.. no! No! I’m too young to go this way! I look to the left and see his giant hairy armpit and I’m grabbing, flailing for anything to grab onto that might stop me from falling into the abyss… and find the back of the seat below with less than an inch between my face and certain death by B.O… I’m still shuddering now, reliving the moment.
Minutes later, we arrive at Newton exchange and I get out, get away from the bus and stop to breathe the air deeply several times. I notice several other people doing the same thing and we all kind of laugh in a not so funny way. No one needs to say a word. But I’m done, seriously done, and bolt for a cab.
Getting into the cab, I give the driver my address and he looks at me in sympathy. “You poor girl, you just got off the #321, didn’t you?”
I look at him and nod my head yes. He looks at me with a very serious expression: “That is nothing, you should see that bus after midnight on the weekend. Full of idiots. Many idiots, all drunk and doing drugs. I have many stories to tell from people getting off this bus!”
We chat for a bit – he does indeed, have a lot of stories to tell and I enjoy hearing them – and then he stops and sniffs the air suddenly, then again and again.
“Do you smell something? I smell something very, very bad in this car!” He unrolls his window a bit… and looks at me suspiciously, wrinkling his nose and making a face.
“I’m very sorry ma’am, but you smell very bad!”
And they wonder why people prefer driving…