I've gotten to like travelling by bus on short journeys. The fiscal discipline appeals and it's anyway an exercise in being humble and appreciative same time. Other than school kids, students and tourists, the main users of buses are predominantly working class and a large percentage of them are elderly and many are sickly.
As a keen observer of the human condition, I run eyes over the bus commuters and wonder of their thoughts, past lives, problems; no need to wonder at life in the present: Writ large and gloomy on so many faces you have to switch off and look out the window.
That Donald Trump term of "loser" he applies to anyone not as wealthy or famous as he is - which is just about all of us - can certainly be fairly applied to a large portion of regular bus users. Even in glamorous Cannes, home to two huge television conferences a year and the famed Film Festival, there are a large number of invisible, palpably unsuccessful people.
The mentally unwell are a common sight on buses, and drunks hang around the city bus stops; so do beggars and opportunist petty thieves; in this rather sad cast are the lame, despairing and wretched of heart. Add poor, struggling mothers to that.
I went from keeping this company for the half hour ride into town to meetings at 5-star hotels where a bottle of water costs $20. Worlds that don't connect; each a different planet. I don't think either is aware of the other.
Somehow it feels I am not betraying my values by opting for buses while at same time I'm fighting against judging them. To use the odious Trump's term, but in a strictly objective way, some are "losers" because they surrendered to the booze or just didn't try hard enough, if at all. Though if strength of character, courage and determination are not of our own doing, instead each of us a pre-written destiny mostly decided by our genes, then very few will rise above that.
A writer is sensitive to just about everything and everyone. If I let myself go back four or five decades my only clarity was pain and confusion; saved perhaps by a burning ambition to be someone. But one can't pretend to forever identify with those in despair, or go mad at out how life and genes are so random. How good fortune, a sunny nature, an always positive outlook lays a protective cloak over some while denying any ennobling qualities to others.
Riding buses reminds your columnist of what he might have become had not a bit of genetic blessing come along and saved him.
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Empathy is not the same as membership. Those lost days as a troubled teenager, a young man, are behind me. I am always aware that I can't come along 40 years later and claim a few runs on my board while others didn't get any. That's arrogance and self-blindness.
Riding buses reminds your columnist of what he might have become had not a bit of genetic blessing come along and saved him. Some years ago I wrote a scene in one of my books to show a lead character (Jake) fallen from grace: The forlorn sight of "The Muss' sitting at a bus-stop.
Well, the man who wrote that scene is a happy bus commuter who gets contemplative moments, sometimes enlightening, from the experience. The same feeling I've never lost when visiting schools on our literacy programme, telling the kids, essentially, "I'm one of you." I just happen to know a few shortcuts, a better way of grabbing hold of a real future instead of diverting down some stupidly unknowing path to calamity.
Last time in Cannes, the taxi cost $150 from Nice airport. Stuff paying that again. This time I got a bus and it was $38. The bus from my Airbnb digs in a pretty run-down area was $2.50. Taking a bus, a train, another bus to Nice airport cost $20. The fiscal discipline stayed faithful in my refusing to pay $4 for a small bottle of water at the airport. Water is free in the toilets.
The day after I came back to Bayonne I had a haircut next door. As is customary, I shake the hand of the male proprietor and double-cheek kiss his wife. The postman came in and did the same, and shook my hand as well. It felt we were all on the same bus, and made me happy and grateful.