If Hell is other people then public transport is the modern day equivalent of a ferryboat across the River Styx.
I don’t want to give too much of a slippering to buses and trains – communal transportation is great, connecting society and reducing isolation – what’s not to like, right?
The clue is in the word communal.
A person is fine, but when they multiply and become people then I find myself adopting the role of an alien sent to Earth who is trying desperately to fit in, but failing.
Perhaps I should explain here that since an early age I have been a magnet for malcontents, truculents and trumpets of all shapes, sizes, ages and genders.
Simply put – I have an unerring knack for finding fruitcakery – like a desperate pig on a truffle hunt.
If there’s awkwardness, embarrassment and potential thuggery I will draw it to myself – like water on a bathroom floor seeking dry sock.
(Some might say the only common denominator is me and therefore I am the author of my own misfortune. They’re wrong – it’s not me, it’s definitely you.)
Extended contact with groups of people – especially in the close confines of a bus or train carriage – narrows the odds of being drawn into insanity massively, while at the same time multiplying the propensity for soul-buggering shame.
Case in point – had to get the bus to work for the first time recently.
I had hitherto not even been aware that such a service existed, never mind patronised it. It was a journey of 12 miles, but the duration given was 74 minutes. That was my first warning and, tragically, it went unheeded.
I got on board, immediately scenting stale cigarette smoke even though tabs on public transport had been outlawed for years.
There were a few others on the single-decker. No-one foaming at the mouth, no-one making eye contact. I also desisted from both activities and sat in the middle – not far enough forward to become the target of stick-wielding pensioners or far enough back to suggest I thought I was hard.
I silently congratulated myself on making the bus, paying the driver and finding a seat without being threatened with violence.
Time passed and I began the soporific, heavy-lidded game of ‘let’s try not to drool on public transport’ when suddenly a distressed man appeared next to me wearing a high-vis jacket.
My initial wild thought was that he was the driver and I very nearly voided my bowels.
But it wasn’t – it was his helper.
And he looked deranged.
“Thank God you’re awake – where do we go at this roundabout?”
I looked at him with no small amount of alarm.
“Eh? I’ve no idea – I’ve never been on this bus before.”
He narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“I’ve no idea where to go. Surely the bus driver knows.”
“Well he doesn’t,” he snapped. “You’re a fat lot of use, aren’t you?”
“What?” I felt my mind become unglued, but there was no further explanation.
High-vis man had lurched up the bus, swinging from one hand-strap to the next like a furious chimp. He angrily challenged an old couple who looked like post-Brexit Britain – horrified and confused.
“Where do we go?” he barked at them.
“Who?” asked the old man.
“Where?” asked his wife.
“What’s going on?” asked the old man
“Why?” asked his wife.
Disastrously, two nearby youths then began to laugh from their noses – high-pitched whining cackles which were all nostril.
High-vis promptly lost it, screaming:
“THIS IS SERIOUS YOU IDIOTS – WHERE THE F*** DO WE GO?”
His eyes were crossed with discordant fury as the bus drove OVER the top of the roundabout.
“Right, that’s enough for me,” I muttered, pressing the bell to stop the charade. “I’ll just get off here.”
As I staggered to my feet I could hear the sounds of a struggle behind me. Unlike Lot’s wife – who looked back at Sodom and was promptly turned into a pillar of salt by an enraged Almighty – I was not tempted to turn round.
I already knew what was happening – high-vis would have the cackling neds in headlocks and the elderly couple would be gasping for oxygen.
So ended my last trip on the bus.
I decided to catch the train the following day.
Fifteen minutes into that journey and we were parked in a siding, in a stifling hot carriage packed to the gunnels with cross commuters and the usual assortment of oddballs – myself included.
“I cannae take enclosed spaces,” suddenly screamed a man wearing cycling gear. “I’m going to have a panic attack! I cannae take it! ”
As I looked around for something to bludgeon him into unconsciousness, I knew exactly how he felt.
(Incidentally, a normal person might be concerned that their first thought was not “I must help”, but rather “how do I knock this guy out?” – luckily I’m far from normal.)
I have never had the urge or constitution to keep a diary because it would be full of incidents like that. My life already resembles rejected Morrissey lyrics. Adding public transport into the mix is like turps on a bonfire.
I have a fear that when the day comes for me to cross the River Styx that Charon the ferryman will demand danger money to allow me on board.
“It’s you is it, Muir? Exact fare only. Take a seat between Keith Lemon and Jeremy Kyle. We’re picking up Piers Morgan on the way.”
Sartre was only partly right – Hell is other people, public transport and me.