Different Strokes

January 3, 2012

I have disliked bus travel ever since a childish scam went wrong.

As a street urchin in Fountain Bridge, Edinburgh where Sean Connery (name successfully dropped in first two lines, not bad, eh?) lived as a boy, I used to stand at bus stops crying profusely over my ‘lost’ bus fare. More often than not, kindly adults would ask where I lived then give me the bus fare to get there. I would pocket the money and move onto the next bus stop to repeat the process.

On one occasion a large, imposing woman asked where I lived. I told her that I lived in Morningside, which was at the end of that bus line and the most expensive fare. She said she lived there too, and promptly collared me, loaded me onto the bus, paid my fare, planted me on the window side seat, lowered her bulk onto the one nearest the aisle, and effectively blocked any escape. Once at Morningside I had to weasel my way out of her company, I forget what excuse I gave, to catch the bus back to Fountainbridge, paying out all my scammed earnings.

It was therefore surprising that, while living in Frankfurt, I became a moonlighting tour guide, weekends and holidays, for a bus company that specialized in tours for Americans living in Germany. Although the work stressed me out, it was satisfying and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I traveled to France, Holland, Sweden, Italy and Spain, sometimes for as long as a week at a time. Most of the passengers were American servicemen and women and their families.

In my experience the stereotypical garrulous and gregarious American does not exist, outside of the movies. Most of my passengers would, if allowed, remain strangers to each other for the whole trip. Their excursions on these trips,by and large, occurred in the last three or four months of their stay in Europe when they realized that the folks back home were going to ask where they had been and what had they seen.

Getting on the bus they did not introduce themselves to their neighbours but remained silent. When they did show an inclination to share experiences it would be on the return trip and then solely to compare the highlights, if any, and low points.

Every tour guide had his or her own way of breaking the ice and encouraging the passengers to relax. I had a subterfuge that was regularly successful.

When all the folks were seated and the bus was on its way, say to Amsterdam, I would take the mike and tell them I took my responsibilities seriously and would make sure that they all had a great time on this visit to Paris; that we’d go up the Eiffel Tower together and even enjoy an aperitif at a sidewalk table outside a café on the Champs d’Elysee before enjoying the other attractions such as the Louvre, Versailles and Montmartre. I’d then tell them to settle back and enjoy the tour.

Naturally, I ignored the looks of incomprehension, dawning into numbed awareness, as each passenger thought he was on the wrong bus. I’d resume my seat and wait for the first reaction.

Sometimes it would take as long as ten minutes before someone came forward, ostensibly to buy a soft drink but then would remain standing beside me making desultory small talk before it all came out in a rush.
“Don’t get me wrong because I like travelling and don’t really care now because I’ve never been to Paris, where I was going next week, but I had put my name down for Amsterdam and feel real stupid about getting on the wrong bus.”

The relief was palpable when I told the individual that I was jesting and that we were indeed going to Amsterdam. As he returned to his seat, informing each row of travellers as he went, you could see the stiff postures relaxing and smiles being shared. Within seconds complete strangers were chuckling and introducing themselves. I used to feel quite proud of a job well done.

The one occasion when they turned out to be a miserable shower of bastards and threw me off the moving bus is another story. . .

8 Responses to “Different Strokes”

  1. Damn! You’ve done it again!

    Bob, you’re wicked funny!

  2. Rebecca Says:

    You have us pegged!

  3. Gary Dennett Says:

    I think your true stories may be better then the fictional ones. You definitly need to write a book of the “Life and Adventures of a Man called Robert Davidson.” However, you probably should change the name using an alias to something like Bob Crickard.

  4. mwheelaghan Says:

    Hi Bob, didn’t realise you were from Edinburgh too. Had a chuckle at your scam. The best laid plans etc ;o)

  5. Peter Roberts Says:

    Just spent a happy time down memory lane with you mate, (I won’t reveal your real alias) but agree with previous comments and suggest that you do a link to http://www.juniorleadersraoc.co.uk/, I know that many of our era would enjoy the journey.

  6. Robert Davidson Says:

    Thanks, Peter.
    What can I say? Memories are what we seem to have most of nowadays and provide the most pleasure especially when shared with muckers of your calibre. I’ll be standing by until Ernie shows.

  7. Now, that’s a tasty recipe for getting folks to relax! I’m waiting for the story about the crew it didn’t work on, though. Keep it up, Bob, great stuff.

  8. Robert Davidson Says:

    Thank you for your comment. I’ll see if I can write about that episode without spitting feathers!

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