Canoodling couples, raucous school boys, what’s not to like about bus travel?

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I love Melbourne’s buses. I know a lot of people prefer the train or the tram, something a little more rigid and predictable. They view catching the bus as a punishment for their desire to meander east-to-west instead of north-to-south, which the city’s planners clearly viewed as the superior direction of travel. Or as Age transport reporter Patrick Hatch wrote recently, they have been forced into the expensive debacle of car-ownership due to Melbourne’s less than reliable suburban bus routes.

On a bus it is possible to veer from a predetermined routs. Credit:Daniel Pockett

I enjoy the whimsy of the bus. It has a much more rambling, quest-like quality than the other forms of public transport, where one is physically unable to veer from the predetermined route. The bus is exciting. There are no announcements of the stops, so beginners need to pay close attention to landmarks. It is expected you have either memorised the route, you are incredibly blasé about where you end up or you have the nerve to ask a stranger where to get off.

The whole spectrum of social confidence is represented on the bus, from the schoolboys splayed across the backseat spouting their raucous gossip to the stony elderly passengers up the front with handwritten lists and ironclad plans. The couple canoodling as though the seats aren’t stained with an archaeological history of slurpees past and illegally-consumed hot food stains. The woman watching cricket on her phone and yelling out every time cricket is successfully done. The man watching loud porn in ominous silence.

The bus is surely the most romantic and fanciful form of public transport. It’s important to choose someone on the bus to be in love with for the duration of your journey. It’s a very powerful part of the ritual. Someone onto whom you can project an entire relationship, from your bus meet-cute to your barefoot beach wedding to your two bus-loving children and adorable side-by-side deaths, all before they get off at Clifton Park. From the chirruping noise of Mykis tapping on, to the fuzzy blue patterned seats that remind me of those photos NASA takes in the middle of galaxies, there’s something special about the way strangers amble into your life and out of it.

Buses can meander whereas trains and trams are more rigid and predictable.

Buses can meander whereas trains and trams are more rigid and predictable.Credit:Wayne Taylor

I keep drawers in my brain filled with their fictional backstories. I collect them. Who is she going home to? A husband? A dog? A chest freezer stuffed with body parts? I will never know, but wasn’t it nice to momentarily imagine? Where is he coming from? The shops probably, that’s where we picked him up. “We” like I’m in some kind of psychic connection with the driver. While we’re all on the bus, this is our bus. It’s a specific kind of lawless utopia. We’re an ever-changing cast of characters, but the bus itself remains the same, like the sound stage of an ’80s sitcom.

I always sit in the same seat on every bus – up the back, right-hand side, above the wheel. The way the suspension makes a lump in the floor pushes my knees up to my chin and I sit there, perched like a gargoyle, surveying the other passengers. I feel a sense of responsibility to them. Firstly, to imagine us all in a bus from the film Speed situation. I like to think I would hold it together for us. Bring a sense of morale. Hold the wheel while Keanu saves the day. Secondly, to watch for tipped over grocery bags and rolling oranges.

I have even been known on a weekend to catch a bus and just ride it until I see something interesting enough to urge my finger onto the big red STOP button. No tasks, no destinations. Just a meditative communion with the suburbs of Melbourne.

You can drive by shops that look interesting, but the names of which you’ll forget.You can observe strangers on the street – kissing, fighting, tangling their dogs’ leashes with other dogs’ leashes. You can go all the way to Bundoora and have the bus driver tell you that it is the end of the line. And you can get off. Cross the road. And catch the same bus going back the way you came.

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