The community that cycles in London are fond of the privacy, the lack of crowds and the quickness of being able to just bike on through areas that would constitute four or five stops on a bus. Unless things change, though, I don’t think I’ll be cycling anytime soon, so it’s all about my, my Oyster card. All things considered, buses in London are awesome for the most part, though some more than others.
If you look up a map of the buses that go in and out of my neighbourhood, it resembles a colourful spider with loads of legs reaching out to all sorts of possibilities. I haven’t ridden all of them, if you’re curious; there are eleven buses that run through Holloway, two of them 24-hour buses, and five night buses that run throughout the wee hours.
Of these, I have ridden seven, and the 91 is my favourite because I am on it all the time (it takes me to SOAS), I always seem to get a seat, and my fellow riders don’t seem excessively batshit crazy or obnoxious. It’s a mix of people on their way to various points on Caledonian Road, King’s Cross, the British Library, Bloomsbury, Holborn or Trafalgar Square–not particularly rowdy areas although there are two prisons along the way. Still, I refer to the 91 as *my* bus, and its night-time incarnation (that goes up to Cockfosters) is also a winning choice.
The 43, which I will sometimes take to and from Islington, is often crowded, especially coming back from work, sosometimes I opt to walk for 30 minutes than to stand excessively close to people for 10. When it rains, though, I’ll cram in, although it can get unpleasant, or just flat-out odd. I remember this one instance where this elderly woman was shouting on about whatever on the crowded 43–“You’re too close to me trolley there!” and “I’ve got te get te Holl’way Road, now!” and “Will someone open this bloody door! I’ve got things te do!”
Forgive my poor ability to properly transcribe Cockney, but yeah. She was actually kind of funny, albeit in a worrying way–I was concerned she was going to try and open the door physically or maybe yell at the driver (who hadn’t yet gotten to the stop, so he wasn’t supposed to have opened the door, anyway). She was kind of a rarity on the 43–most people are pretty tame, which is good if you’re squished into them.
The 29 is even more perpetually crowded, and it has a bit of a reputation for being unruly when it becomes the N29 night bus, although the two times I have ridden it at night weren’t so terrible–just crowded. Also, I’m not keen on the bendy-buses for some reason. When I ride the buses, I generally like to clamber on up to the upper deck, and if I can get a seat up at the front for the best view, it’s a super-win. The 29, being a low-rider, doesn’t have this option of the upper deck, and there are some instances where the seats face other riders, which can be awkward if you don’t particularly want the other rider staring at you for ten minutes or so.
The 254 seems to attract the loudest batch of riders ever, especially the teenagers. I haven’t needed to ride it in over a month, though, and maybe I was just really unlucky those three or four times. I expected my more recent ride aboard the N253 to be equally obnoxious, but it was actually quite peaceful–maybe because it was only around 2 am, but still, the bus was empty for the most part, and the only offense I was subjected to was this man who, despite loads of other seating options, sat in front of me–and he smelled unpleasant, like wet cigarettes.
Public transit isn’t always so kind to those who have a sense of smell that’s a bit on the keen side. I remember being on one bus and there was a woman who sat next to me who reeked of terrible perfume. I had my hoodie sleeve to my nose the entire time she sat next to me, facing the window in an effort to be more discreet, but also to turn my face away from her and whatever it was she was wearing. Man, it was horrible.
Last time I was on the 29, I was knitting, and I noticed two of my fellow crammed-in riders (I was lucky to have a seat) entranced by my knitting. In fact, I’ll notice that periodically when I am knitting–some people will look at the yarn and needles and just zone out. Sometimes it’s amusing, but other times, given the length of time, I wonder if I’m providing some sort of unintended calm-time for these folks watching me knit away.
I knit on the buses all the time, and maybe this benign image of a young-ish woman knitting makes me one of the more relatively desirable people to sit next to, because frequently, when the upper level fills up and people have to start sitting next to others, I’ve noticed individuals pass up three or four viable seating options to settle next to me. Last Saturday, for example, I was in the halfway point on the upper deck on the right side, and this gentleman skipped the (coveted, in my opinion) two available seats at the very front next to women, along with three completely available seats next to three different men, to sit next to me. Sometimes, when this happens, I can’t help but pause my knitting and look around to calculate the options someone had and deliberate on my new neighbour’s decision.
Not as if I don’t plop down in an non-arbitrary manner. If there are options, I tend to sit next to people who are around my age, who look amenable, and who aren’t taking up the extra seat with bags of groceries or other crap. I tend to sit next to other women. And if I’m on the bottom deck and sitting in any of the priority seats, I am keenly alert to anyone coming in who may me more deserving of that seat than I am. But then, sometimes it’s a judgement call, because I don’t want to offend anyone at the suggestion that they are “elderly” if they don’t think of themselves as such. The last person I gave my seat to, though (on the 91), seemed grateful, but I generally try and avoid this altogether by going up to the upper deck.
I am still fascinated at the amount of eating and drinking that goes on in public transit here in London. I think the LYNX buses of Orlando don’t allow eating, and neither did the buses in the Bay Area–I don’t think they even allowed drinking. I can’t remember the rules regarding eating or drinking in Seattle, but I don’t remember seeing any of that going on. Here, in contrast, not only are people eating ribs on public transit (seriously, on the tube, no less), but people as a whole and in comparison to what I’m used to are incredibly nonchalant about leaving their garbage. I noticed one couple, for example, on the tube literally empty their pockets of garbage–wrappers and chip/crisp bags–onto the ledge of the window. Last time I rode the tube someone left an empty paper cup that held coffee. There’s often crisp/chip bags, empty water bottles, crumpled up McDonald’s bags and used napkins on the floor of a bus in London, alongside a trodden copy of some newspaper or another.
Don’t get me wrong, people litter in the US. I think because I was on public transit far less and lived in a less-dense city I didn’t encounter other people’s garbage as much, but I did see plenty of people throw their cigarette ends out the window of a car, or soda cups or napkins or whatever else.
Still, despite some ginger stepping at times, the rants of random passengers, the odious effluvia of others–I love the London bus system. Especially the 91.