R.I.P. The Epic Bus Adventure

14 06 2011

Recently I flew down to Melbourne to visit my family and celebrate my sister’s 40th birthday. While sitting on the plane, wedged between a rather hostile elderly lesbian and an obese businessman who insisted on reading his broadsheet newspaper which meant every turn of a page nearly resulted in me copping a fistful of sausage sized fingers to the chops, I started thinking about the amount of travelling I have done in my thirty-seven years on this planet. Sometimes this travel was conducted on a plane, sometimes by car but mostly, it was by bus. Generally a Greyhound or a McCafferty’s. Nearly always in uncomfortable silence. While I was coasting through the air getting whisked in the face by smallgood-like hands, I thought about how the notion of travelling across this land has changed in the last thirty or so years.

All aboard! I hope you don't mind the smell.

Planes are good. I like flying and planes are a great way to get around but only since air fares dropped, along with customer service, with the advent of budget airlines, has flying by plane been cheap. I mean, it has always been accessible but generally not to the ‘great unwashed’. They always took the bus. So did I. I usually washed however. Now that planes are cheap and easy to get on, I can see the demise of the ‘great Australian bus trip’ on the horizon. I firmly believe you haven’t lived until you’ve spent thirty hours on a bus, sitting in an uncomfortable position as you drifted through one lonely town after another. A bus trip was an adventure. You don’t have any adventures flying to Melbourne from Brisbane. I once had an issue opening my packet of nuts but that’s about it.

The first major bus adventure I embarked on occurred when I was in high school in 1990. My parents had moved to Melbourne and I went to boarding school on the Gold Coast. Rather than shell out the absurd amount of money required for a return ticket on a plane (probably in the order of $800 for a concession card holder back in those days), my parents decided to bring me home for the holidays on the bus. This was fine by me. I had a number of books, a heap of batteries for my Walkman and a zest for adventure that only a 16 year old boy can have.

I boarded my bus at Southport. It arrived two hours late and the waiting throngs piled on. It was a Friday afternoon and the bus was packed with people heading home to Brisbane for the weekend. Yes, when you left the Gold Coast to go to Melbourne, which is located approximately 2,000km to the south, you drive north. Okay. This was strange but I wasn’t going to question the driver who looked a tad angry about his station in life. Instead, I asked the lady with the severe bun and rigid smile at the counter in when we got to the bus terminal in Brisbane.

“No sweetie. You’re not heading in the wrong direction. The bus goes out to the west and then down the inland route. It’s quicker that way”

Quicker that way. Those words were repeated in my head numerous times during the next twenty-nine hours.

We were herded back onto the bus and away we went into the setting sun. It was at this stage that my Walkman broke. The batteries didn’t die. It did. This didn’t seem to bother Gary who was sitting next to me and had been talking to me non-stop since the Gold Coast even after I had put the headphones on. Gary was going down to see his family. So was I, I said. Gary had just been released from a minimum security prison. This was excellent news, I remarked. Gary agreed. I made sure my wallet remained on my person the whole time. I decided to get some shut-eye as the bus trundled past the town of Warwick. I snuggled into my spare jacket with one sweaty hand clutching my wallet lest Gary help himself to its contents.

I was gently shook awake by Gary a few hours later and I remember squinting at the lights of a truck stop trying to work out where we were. It was 1am. The bus had been on the road for 6 hours. Surely we must be somewhere in Western NSW. Somewhere near Dubbo? No. We were in Goondiwindi. Goondiwindi is still in Qld. We had been driving for six hours and still hadn’t left the state I had started the trip in. The Gold Coast is about thirty kilometres from the fucking border of NSW and Qld and I still hadn’t crossed it.

Quicker that way, apparently.

We were told to get off the bus. People weren’t allowed to sleep on the bus while it was stopped. I am unsure of this reason but I am fairly certain people like Gary are somehow responsible. We shuffled around in the bright insect ridden lights of the truck stop until our driver told us we could get back on. I think I ate a Chiko Roll while I was waiting. Maybe even a battered sausage. I can’t be sure but I am fairly certain whatever I ate was deep fried. That’s all they serve in those places. I clambered back into my seat, along with my new best mate Gary, and looked forward to hopefully getting a decent sleep.

You don’t really sleep though, as anyone who has travelled on a bus can attest to. You drift in and out of this twilight type snooze where you are completely aware of everything going on around you. The snoring. The rustling of chip packets. The farting. Always the farting. Man, some people really relax when they sleep. I certainly didn’t, not with Gary sitting next to me. Also, we were sitting next to the toilets so we had to put up with people bumping the way down the aisle to use the loo. Then we had to put up with the smell.

Sometime later, Gary once again shook me awake. Surely it must be mid-morning and we had to be about halfway to our destination? No, nowhere close. We were in Tenterfield which, thank God, is actually in NSW. We had stopped to pick up another passenger and our driver felt it would be a great opportunity for another break. Once again we grumbled our way off the bus for thirty minutes and then back on again. Basically we did this all the way through NSW. We’d be driving for an hour or two and then we’d stop. I ate countless Chiko Rolls and possibly read a few well-worn New Idea magazines.  By about hour twenty, the trip had morphed into a vicious cycle of staring at mind-numbing scenery interspersed with a frenzy of deep fried food gorging every ninety or so minutes. Why didn’t I read my book to pass the time? Because every time I picked it up Gary asked me what it was about. Once I put it down for two minutes and picked it back up and Gary said “so, what’s happening now?” Rather than spend a good forty-five minutes re-telling the plot to Stephen King’s “It” I decided to pass the time looking mournfully out the window.

The view. Stunning isn't a word that comes to mind after 20 hours.

By the time we arrived in Melbourne I was a wreck. My parents picked me up in the city and asked me how my trip went. I think they even smiled when they asked that question. My hair was all over the place, my jacket smelled like Chiko Rolls and my wallet was well worn from being clasped in my hand the whole trip. I looked like I had spent two days sleeping in the boot of a car. The worst part about my three weeks at home on holiday was the grim realisation and the feeling of dread that I had to do the trip all over again. I pleaded with my Mum and Dad to fly me back to school but the trip certainly couldn’t be as bad as I made out. No way. I must have been exaggerating. Besides, the return ticket had already been paid for and I could always read my book if I got bored. This was my mother’s suggestion. I could have strangled her.

Once again I was bundled on the bus and I watched my parents wave goodbye and we slowly rolled north to Queensland. Our driver this time around was very jovial. He really loved his job and made sure we all knew where we were and if we had driven past something vaguely interesting. Usually by a crackling loudspeaker. I wanted to murder him but the old ladies in the front two rows were particularly enamoured with him. They laughed and encouraged him. “Tell us more about the bushrangers in this region” they’d ask. And he would. I wanted to murder them too. In fact, I wanted to cut everyone on the bus. It may have been the raging hormones coursing through my veins but mainly it was bitterness and anger. At some stage near Parkes, I looked out the window and saw a plane flying high in the sky. The contrails flowing behind it seemed to mock me and I nearly started softly sobbing. Luckily I was able to actually read my book due to the lack of criminals sitting next to me.

Every two hours the driver would stop the bus and put on a video for us all to watch. Each time I craned my neck to see the small screen, hoping for some sort of blockbuster movie I hadn’t seen but it seemed the video collection on the bus consisted solely of episodes of “The Leyland Brothers.” For those of you who haven’t seen The Leyland Brothers imagine Steve Irwin, crossed with a religious pastor with added valium. That’s what the brothers were like. The driver would make us close the curtains so we could “make the most of the show” and the Leyland Brothers would do their thing which generally consisted of them driving across slightly wet streams and looking at kangaroos. In one episode, they made damper. That was a doozy, that one.

Making damper must have been a step too far for one young couple seated across the aisle from me because they started making out. Making out with a large dose of heavy petting. I know they did this because I was watching them intently. I still vividly remember the blanket covering them jerking about like they had trapped a small rabbit in there while they looked on with rapt faces as Mike and Mal Leyland made a safe campsite near a creek. I also remember seeing the girl fling her beau’s ejaculate onto the floor of the bus when they had finished. It stayed there for the remainder of the trip. I am yet to see anything like that on a plane.

Given the large volume of Ed Hardy clad bogans noisily scarfing peanuts on my last plane flight, it’s only a matter of time.

RIP – The Epic Bus Adventure

Mike and Mal Leyland. Outback pioneers. Also know to inspire random hand-jobs.

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