Monday, December 29, 2008

Hobo Bus

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog, from my annual Christmas trip to see my dad and stepmom. As always, I had a wonderful time. I saw The Secret on DVD (blog entry forthcoming: suffice it to say I went into it scathingly sceptical and came out something of a convert). A blast from my distant past came in the form of Aggravation. And I got plenty of rest, relaxation, and hockey-watching in. There's something about the air along the shores of Georgian Bay that relaxes and rejuvenates. Would that I could have imported some of that Georgian air back with me...

Okay, that sentence demands some explanation.Well, a great deal of it, actually (sorry)...Eva didn't come up with me, for the same reasons I didn't accompany her to her parents' place Christmas Eve...reason one being Tux and reason two being  Georgia-Peach. 

We're simply uncomfortable with the idea of boarding our two furry children. With good reason: we tried it at Thanksgiving and Peach escaped from her pen (surprising the hell out of the kennel staff)...and came down with a nasty case of kennel cough (despite having been vaccinated against same). The kennel's reaction to being informed of Georgia's illness tipped the balance over into never again: "Well," we were told, "nobody's reported anything like that."

That's where you take the phone receiver, bang it against something solid a few times, and scream Hello?! Is this thing on?!

Such is the sacrifice you make with pets--these pets, anyway. It's kind of like the sacrifice you make when you don't, ahem, drive.

Eva took me to Cookstown and my stepbrother took me the rest of the way. Getting back meant taking an intercity first time in almost ten years. And that trip, let me tell you, was an ordeal.

The trip from Pointe Au Baril Station to Toronto wasn't too bad, all things considered. Long, by necessity: it was a milk run, visiting every little hamlet from Tainthair to Tumblenuts. But I was almost alone on the bus until Barrie, with lots of room to spread out and the second volume of the Night'sDawn trilogy to keep my mind off the canned air. *There'll be a blog entry on this one, too, once I'm done the concluding volume, probably sometime in March or April. For now, I can suggest it might well become my favourite work of fiction.
The bus loaded up at Barrie for the run into downtown Toronto. I considered getting off at Yorkdale and taking the subway downtown...then it occurred to me that they might have moved the coach terminal in the decade since I'd last haunted its halls, and I stayed on the bus.

It pulled in at 12:45, right on time. I hurried to catch a 1:00 connection that turned out not to exist. Undaunted, I bought a Toronto Sun and sat down (next to a pristine discarded copy of arrrrgh, the Sun) for a half hour or so. Then I went out to the giant garage full of idling Big Grey Dogs to wait for my transfer, which was supposed to leave at 2:00.

Two o'clock came and went. No bus. Greyhounds and Ontario Northland coaches pulled in and out all around me, including one headed for Parry Sound, Pointe Au Baril and Britt...but nothing to Kitchener.
At 2:40 the bus finally showed up and we all piled on without even showing our tickets: the driver was in a hurry. My luggage, which had fit neatly in the overhead bin on the Ontario Northland coach down, wouldn't even come close to fitting in a Greyhound overhead bin. I thought about disembarking and having them stow the bag under the bus...but there was a seemingly never-ending line of people trudging on to the bus, and besides, if I stowed the bag out of my sight, there was always a chance somebody would decide my luggage looked better than theirs. Don't laugh: it's happened twice.
So I put the bag across my lap. As more and more people got on the bus, I realized that spreading out wouldn't be an option, and scooched over to the window seat. All the old bus-riding tricks hadn't deserted me the way my Sun-sense evidently had. The seat next to me was invitingly vacant. I wanted to keep it that way.
ithout being rude about it, so I buried my head in my book again. People, I've found over the years, are likely to avoid you if you pay no attention to them whatsoever.

I would have gotten lucky, too, except there turned out to be 55 people for the 55 seats. And the second-last guy on took that seat next to me, saying "sorry, buddy."

Not near as sorry as I quickly became.

The man, you see, had been drinking since early that morning. Or since birth. And he hadn't bathed in weeks (or since birth, for all I know). The alcohol stench was quickly overlaid by a fetid miasma the likes of which I hesitate to even attempt to describe, lest I conjure it forth and puke all over my keyboard.
Honestly, I'm not trying to be funny, or to exaggerate, either: it smelled for all the world like something inside this man was either dying or had died some time ago. I couldn't draw a breath in his direction without gagging. My sinuses locked up in self-defense and my head quickly began to feel like a lead weight.
So here I am, crammed into a seat, encumbered by a heavy winter coat and a hockey bag across my lap, trying like hell to wedge my body as tight against the window as possible and wincing every time I caught wind of the putrescence beside me.
Putrescence bestirred himself around Milton and went to use the bathroom, affording me a precious four minutes of sanity; he then came back and settled himself into his seat with a groan of "oh, that feels better." Didn't smell any better, alas.

I arrived Kitchener a little after 5:30, literally stumbling off the bus and almost crying with gratitude. "Air!"

This is the risk you take when you ride a Greyhound. Could be worse, I suppose: the putrescence might have had a knife and an inclination to use it. (Obligatory Greyhound joke in poor taste: have you heard what Greyhound drivers ask as you board their busses? 'Where you be headed?')

So now I'm home, breathlessly awaiting New Year's Eve, which is our time together. In the meantime, thank you, Dad and Hez, for a lovely time. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

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