The Bus

Every morning the kids and I stand at the bus stop and wait for the “321-New Cross Gate” double-decker red machine to come pick us up and deliver us to “Lucas Street” where we alight for Lucas Vale Primary School.   The kids have the bus ride memorized so well already that even Simon can recognize which bus is ours and which stop we need to get off at.  All four of them do a pretty accurate impersonation of the female recorded bus voice that announces each stop.  

The pre-recorded female voice announces a lot of other things too. 

“Please move down inside the carriage”
“The next bus stop is closed” 
“The destination of this bus has changed” 

That last one always elicits an “Oh crap” from me.  Grrr.  And then there is this one- which is my segue into the following anecdote.

“No standing on upper deck or stairs please.” 

A few weeks ago one of the boys had an assembly at school so Richard was with us, and Richard’s mom Julie was visiting so she was with us as well.  The seven of us all piled on the bus and spread out to find seats.  I don’t like to go to the upper deck unless we are taking a long ride, because going up and down the stairs with four kids when the bus is moving is both laborious and treacherous.  I also hate the way we all get seperated on the bus when it’s crowded, but this is often unavoidable. On this particular occasion there were several other kids and their parent’s from the school and it was hot and crowded.  From where I was standing I couldn’t see the top of the stairs, but the bus driver could on his camera and played the recording.

 “No standing on upper deck or stairs please.”

I didn’t see anyone move, so again-

“No standing on upper deck or stairs please.”

No response. So he stops the bus, shuts off the engine and waits.  As soon as the rumble and vibration of the engine stopped and the recording played again 

“No standing on upper deck or stairs please.”

Audible and visible frustration was manifested on the faces of all the other passengers.  The culprit, a mother Richard and I recognized from the school, defiantly and reluctantly descended down the bus stairs, but stopped, on the second to last step and stubbornly remained, cursing all the while.  Seeing her movement, the driver started up the engine and resumed the route.  But then of course, he noticed that she hadn’t actually exited the staircase. 

“No standing on upper deck or stairs please.” 

She stalwartly remained.  From the upper deck came an angry passenger, calling her names and shouting at her, to which she shouted back other nasty names.  The bus driver shut down the engine again.  

“No standing on upper deck or stairs please.”   

The nice thing about the prerecorded female voice is that she never gets angry, no matter how many times she repeats the phrase.  But the woman was angry. 

“Stupid bus driver- just go! So stupid.” (Please read that with a British accent.) 

This went on for a block or two.  The bus driver would start up again, but she would refuse to move, so he would stop again.  The other passengers were so frustrated, and I said to Richard 

“It takes a lot of guts to make an entire bus full of people angry with you.” 

Eventually I was tired of the cussing and at the next stop insisted that we all get off the bus and walk home.  It ended up being just a quick, the bus kept our pace all the way down the hill.  


The buses in our part of town are newer – but in the touristy parts of the city they sometimes run these old classics.

The bus.  The iconic, red symbol of London.  The place where your toes get stepped on and noisy kids get glared at.  But also the place where a stranger will grab my child’s hand if the bus lurches and my child stumbles.  If I am out of reach a fellow traveler will situate my kid safely in their seat. The place where I can see people smiling about my children, while refusing to actually look at them.  Also the place where there is an unspoken rule that you don’t make eye contact or start a conversation. But also the place where Miriam breaks all the rules and makes friends, starts conversations, and socializes with her schoolmates every morning.  For as much as British people keep to themselves, there is also a pleasant sense of community on the bus.  The bus is the place where you drive everyone crazy when you watch a YouTube video over and over and over without headphones.  (Okay that only happened one time.)  The bus is the place where I see the most adorable little babes of diverse nationality.  And it’s the place where I smell foul odoriferous chaps and perfume saturated ladies. 

It can be a moment of respite and relaxation or it can be intensely stressful.   It can be a warm escape from the bitter cold, a steamy sanctuary on a rainy day or a sweaty sauna during the humid summer.  

I love and hate the bus. I love that it exists, I love that it is cheap, I love that we live within 5 minutes of a dozen bus stops. But I hate chasing down buses. I hate that they can be so unreliable. I hate that they jerk and I awkwardly end up in the lap of an elderly man.  I love that they stop nearly at the doorstep of my destination.  I hate that I have to stop at nearly the doorstep of everyone else’s destinations.  I love that they run all hours of the day.  I hate that they can be painfully crowded.  I love that they come regularly. I hate that if you get distracted and forget to signal the driver, the bus will pass you by, leaving you on the curb shocked and annoyed. 

I love the insight it gives me into the culture and daily grind of Londoners. 

 I love that I’ve met wonderful people and made friends at the bus stop.

Oh the bus.  

2 thoughts on “The Bus

  1. Jo – I feel like I’m on the bus again reading this! The bus, was my least favorite way to get around, but I love all of the same things about it.


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