On most days that I take the bus it’s a wonderful, fantastic, superlative experience where I get to relax, listen to music and maybe catch up on some reading. Whenever the bus ride is good, it’s great, never just okay. On the other hand, I never seem to have bus rides that are just a little frustrating or just a tad inconvenient. My relationship with the transit system is thus: whenever it’s good, it’s amazing; whenever it’s bad, it’s fucking terrible.
So the other day, on my afternoon trip to work, when things went bad, things went real bad.
First off, I’ll admit the first mistake of the day was mine. I was mere minutes away from catching my first of two buses that would get me from South Osborne to the University of Manitoba campus. Like a bat out of hell I burst through the front door of my building and ran full speed to the end of my street. Huffing, I waited there until I finally realized that I had run the wrong way. The bus I wanted actually stopped at the other end of my street. Hamburgers!
I ran back to my building, hauled ass up to my floor and checked the city’s Navigo system for the remaining options I had left with about 50 minutes to go before I was supposed to start work. Somehow all the stars aligned in such a way that at that moment the only way I could get from my building to my work in the span of exactly 50 minutes — a distance just over 6 kilometres — was to take a set of three different buses.
So there I was waiting for my (second) first bus, which came about seven minutes behind schedule. That didn’t cause me too much alarm. After travelling about four blocks, however, we were stuck in standstill traffic; no one was going anywhere. I eventually arrived at the stop for my second bus about 23 minutes late. So late, in fact, that my transfer bus had already cycled through and I was able to catch the second or third one going by that stop.
At that point I thought maybe my luck had finally turned. I was riding high until a handful of blocks later my second bus stopped for what I’m convinced was about 100 students, maybe 200 — who knows these things? This God damned bus got so packed it must have looked like the inside of a clown car. Sardines in a tin is an understatement.
Most of our city’s new buses come equipped with a speaker set that belts out the street names and alerts passengers of stops, but for whatever reason this bus’s speaker system left its mortal coil ages ago. After several minutes the crowd was too much for me, I dinged the bell and crowd surfed my way to the doors. I stepped off the bus only to realize I’d somehow gone too far, passed the university entrance and completely missed my second transfer.
From that point on, my only faint glimmer of hope was the outline of the U of M Administration Building striking a silhouette in the distant horizon. I was nothing if not determined, though. I didn’t care how long it took; I could see the campus buildings so I was going to make it there by foot. I put my head down and plowed onward, never once looking back at the pain-filled path of destruction that had led me to that point.
After 25 minutes of walking my legs finally gave out and I began to crawl. It was a brisk day but the sun was beating down on me like a magnifying glass. My clothes tattered and my strength of will barely intact, I finally dragged myself across University Crescent and through campus. I was thirty minutes late for work but by God I had made it. I’d tried to catch four different buses and somehow ended up spending just as much time trekking by foot, wandering the streets of Winnipeg.
I was happy to have stared directly into the face of oblivion and survived to tell the tale but the whole journey still reminds me how frustrating the Winnipeg Transit system can be when things go awry. In a way, the whole experience can be diluted into one short conversation I had while on my adventure.
Moments after I had disembarked from my second bus, I tried one last desperate attempt to catch my elusive third bus. I took out my phone and dialed the transit number posted on the bus stop where I was standing.
“Please enter or say the five digit stop number now,” said the robot voice on the other end of the call.
I entered the number.
“You have entered an invalid number. Please enter or say the five digit stop number now.”
I said the number aloud.
“I did not hear your response.”
I said it again.
“ . . . I did not hear your response.”