Dialogue: Serious watchers know all types on the buses

People who use public transport are a diverse
lot, but SIMON VINCENT* has sorted out his favourite bus-riding characters.

One of my favourite pastimes is people watching, an activity normally associated with the cappuccino set.

They sit in their trendy cafes idly flicking through the sort of magazines that hide the contents page about halfway in.

The trouble with this, the entry level of people-watching, is that you get to observe only a certain type of person - other cafe dwellers or those hurrying by looking for a suitable viewing spot.

I prefer to get up close and personal and watch the world go by as I move through it, walking the highways and byways of life or, better still, riding the bus.

Even the shortest bus journey can be full of characters and soon you become accustomed to particular types. Here are some of my favourites.

The Reader. A studied air of contemplation surrounds these passengers as they take their seat and remove a well-thumbed tome from their bag. Usually they will have selected one of the classics, especially the sort that appear on the "should have read but never will" list, such as Ulysses or War and Peace.

Readers like to cultivate an appearance of importance, suggesting they have only a few moments between destinations to catch a few lines of literary peace.

Often the reality is that they are out of work and scanning the book on their way to returning it, unread, to the library.

A word of warning - never sit next to the passenger with a Star Trek book.

The Airs and Graces Lady. Well-dressed women of a certain age board the bus with a slightly bewildered look.

They view public transport with incredulous fascination, as we might view our first steps inside Dr Who's Tardis. Ensuring they have a seat well away from the hoi-polloi, and with a quick sweep of a dainty handkerchief, they sit.

Only then do they inquire of the driver if, as the sign clearly states, the bus is going to Remuera.

On alighting, these grand dames will call out "Thank you, driver" in a tone that suggests they are more used to addressing a chauffeur.

The reality is that these ladies have a monthly pass and know the timetables backwards, but cannot be seen to have an intimate knowledge of public transport.

One-stoppers. These speedsters are either at the forefront of a new fitness fad or just confused.

You see them chasing the bus as it reaches a stop, jumping aboard and heading towards the back, deftly sidestepping their fellow passengers.

At the very next stop, they leap off and head back the way they came from. Pay the subscription and stay in the gym, I say.

Unorganised Shoppers. Armed with a multitude of shopping bags, these people are a nightmare for those in a hurry.

Once the bus arrives, they will begin the process of picking up their bags before setting them down beside the driver and beginning the search through numerous pockets, purses and shopping for their money.

Next, with a frightening disregard for what a well-swung tin of beans can do, they try to find a seat for themselves and their rapidly melting frozen goods. Nearing their stop, they will decide to do a full inventory of their provisions.

The result is that all the passengers must hunt beneath their seats for an escaped fillet of fish.

Finally, they manage to gather up their belongings, stagger off the bus and head for home - next to a huge supermarket.

Mobile Phone Users: Ah yes, in this age of virtual reality you can enjoy bus journeys from the comfort of your own home. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the mobile-phone commentators, you can experience every moment as if you were there.

These masters of technology pass on all the relevant information as soon as they sit down, leaving out no detail, however minor.

"Yes, hi I'm on the bus." "We've just reached Queen St." "Oh, about half full." "Some more people are getting on," and, finally, to everyone's relief, "Must go now, this is my stop."

Surely it would be easier just to fit a tracking device and let the rest of us travel in peace.

There are many other examples of the wonderfully diverse people you can meet on buses. Alas, however, I must dash. My ferry is due.

* Simon Vincent, of Auckland, is a former British Army soldier.

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