04 January 2009

Peace and goodwill on earth (3)

When I titled my post of 27 December "Peace and goodwill on earth (1)", I had a couple of other posts in mind to write almost immediately. I never got around to them, and the subject line "Peace and goodwill on earth 2" fell to this morning's offering.

This, nearly a fortnight late, is one of those that didn't get written: It refers to 24th December – Christmas Eve. If nothing else, it will give Julie "f*** the bus" Heyward some harmless amusement.

I was about to walk home (fifteen minutes) from town, with two bags of shopping, when a bus stopped beside me. Fair enough, I thought; five minute bus journey, ten minutes saved; so on I hopped, opened the book in my pocket, and settled back to read.

Four minutes later, only one stop and a couple of hundred metres from home, I put the book away and got ready to alight.

Then, as we approached the crossroads by the Coöp, on a narrow road with parked vehicles on both sides and space for traffic flow in only one direction, a car shot out from the left and turned right to face us. The bus driver slammed on his brakes, so did the car driver, and we finished up nose to nose.

The car driver was entirely at fault (legally, the bus had right of way at that point; from a common sense viewpoint, it was a dangerous thing to do), but the bus driver didn't help matters.

The car driver leapt out, ran up to the bus, and hammered on the driver's window and started shouting randomly assorted terms of abuse. The bus driver said nothing. After a while, the car driver pointed to a parking space (now blocked by the bus) and screamed "I f***ing want to b****y park my b*****d car there!" The bus driver replied that if the w****r backed up his b*****d car by ten metres and let the bus through, its driver could then b****y park there in his f***ing space, and everyone would be happy.

The car driver replied that he was going nowhere and the bus could reverse. The bus driver pointed out that it is illegal for a bus to reverse with passengers on board, and besides there was a line of traffic now stacked up behind the bus making any reverse impossible.

The car driver removed the keys from his car. The bus driver called his depot and the police. The bus passengers started to solidify in support of the bus driver. I asked the bus driver if I could get off and walk; he said that it was illegal to let passengers alight in the middle of a road. I got out my book again and tried to read.

The car driver got more and more abusive. Some passengers on the bus started shouting abuse back at him from the windows. One woman became particularly enthusiastic, yelling highly inventive insults and turning purple in the face. The bus driver started boasting that he used to be a colour sergeant in the parachute regiment, and if the car driver wasn't careful, etc, etc...

A crowd of onlookers formed on the pavements around the junction. They included all the staff and customers from the Coöp.

A woman on the pavement came over and asked to get onto the bus. Instead of explaining that he couldn't allow this in the middle of the road, the driver said "No - go away". The would be passenger replied in some annoyance. Passengers on board turned their irrationality on her, she got more angry still. The car driver shouted that this was a fine example of christmas spirit. The purple woman leaning out of the bus window screamed that if the car driver was so concerned about it, why didn't he give the would be passenger a lift himself?

Traffic was backed up now along the four roads leading to the cross roads. The line of traffic facing us included three buses. The line behind us stretched back to the sea front. The police phoned to say that their car had parked up some distance away and its occupants were now walking towards us. We had been sitting there for forty minutes.

An elderly woman, probably in her eighties or nineties, came unsteadily out of a nearby house and said, politely: "My daughter is trying to get here to visit me, and she can't get here. Please would you move your car?" The car driver told her to f*** off. She went back into her house.

The crowd on the pavements were now arguing loudly, taking sides, quoting traffic regulations at each other, waving arms. Some pushing and shoving had started.

The elderly woman whose daughter was trying to visit emerged again from her front door. She was carrying a golf club. She walked shakily into the road and, without saying anything, started laying into the car driver and his car with the club. Some bus passengers and pavement bystanders shouted "No!" in horror; others cheered her on. I wondered which was the greater risk: that she would injure him, or that he would attack and injure her. The purple faced woman almost fell out of her window in her orgasmic approval.

The car driver jumped into his car and started it. With the elderly householder still whacking at it, he reversed it with a clash of gears into a pavement space behind him, just on the junction itself. A cheer and a scatter of cat calls went up from crowd and bus passengers. The bus moved forward into the junction, and the process of unpicking gridlock began. An hour after the confrontation began, we reached a bus stop fifty metres beyond the crossroads, and I got off to walk the last hundred and fifty.

As I walked, I was thinking: with that sort of ridiculousness lurking just beneath our surfaces, is it any wonder that we can't sort out international relations or deadlocks such as Gaza?

The bus passed my window about fifteen minutes later.