I lived in London for 17 years, home of the oldest underground railway system in the world, formerly (sniff) home to the wonderful Routemaster bus. Londoners could tell you a few tales of their frequently not so glorious public transport system. But we haven't so far as I know set up a website, and a series of regular live story-telling events on the subject.
I know. What a quirky idea. But cool really. Which is how I found myself in a bar with a friend listening to a series of people tell hugely diverse stories about riding the buses of San Francisco. The event was organised by Muni Diaries. It was fun and funny. And hurray for Americans talking about (and using) public transport!
And here is a London bus story.
I was taking the 73 bus home to Stoke Newington one sunny evening. This was in the days when the 73 was a Routemaster - the old style double decker bus with an open back you could jump on and off. It was chugging slowly through Islington and we'd just turned into Upper Street by Angel. It gets busy just there with three lanes of traffic going each way and lots of lights. And it was rush hour so there were lots of cars and buses and vans and so on. Anyway, there we were. A full top deck of commuters ignoring each other, when someone jumped on the bus while it drove along and ran straight upstairs. He was young and looking very nervous, running up and down the aisle, ducking low, looking out of both sides, watching to see if he was being followed. Which he was. By a big security guard who also jumped on the bus and started to climb the stairs. Where could he go? He was trapped. Also turns out he was nuts or on something. He ran for the back of the bus (where the stairs came up) and instead of running down, opened the emergency exit window and climbed out of the bus onto the roof.
So now we're sitting in slow moving traffic with a man running up and down on the roof of our double decker bus.
The conductor was going nuts. There were two Sainsbury's security guards who clearly thought they were in a film and were running around the bus and on the bus and generally causing mayhem. And the guy on top was pounding back and forth looking for a way down.
It didn't end well. He jumped off onto a large van which was driving past, then fell off that and onto another smaller car and into the road.
I don't actually know what happened next to him. Presumably hospital, and arrest for shoplifting. The bus drove on. And in retrospect the weirdest thing is that most people on the bus didn't say a thing about it to each other. Takes more than some poor doped up shoplifter leaping off the roof of a double decker bus onto passing traffic to break down British reserve. Our upper lips did not quiver.