Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Canada Day, Rookie Style

I've been getting a pile of questions about personal experiences and strange things that have happened on the bus... so I thought I'd share a Canada Day story.

I had just been hired onto OC Transpo prior to my first Canada Day service. I had the basics down. I came from a heavy trucking background, and had plenty of experience that overqualified me to drive a lowly bus. I came into the job feeling pretty cocky. I had also spent the previous summer at a logging camp yanking giant trees down roads you wouldn't drive a car down, and getting into fights with roughnecks all over the bar scene in Northern Ontario. Needless to say, I had a thick skin. Still do.

I still wasn't prepared for Canada Day.

My day started on a local route in Orleans. I ran around on the 137 taking semi-drunk kids down to the mall, where they would no doubt get downtown to get drunker. Canada's national party. Who can resist.

I smelled smoke on the bus somewhere around Galloway street on St Georges, and I decided to investigate. I had a few concerned moms up front, and I had to take care of it. So I walked back. I found a kid, around 16, trying to blow the smoke out the window. I told him he had to put it out, then decided to get a little tricky with him. I told him I was running ahead of schedule, and thought I could use a smoke too.

"Let's go out then."

He hopped off the back door... I didn't. I climbed into the driver's seat, and took my passengers to the mall, with applause. It was a fun start to the shift.

After the local routes were done, I was told to go to Hurdman station, and wait in the layup until the fireworks were all finished. It was a pretty festive feeling, all the drivers just hanging out, watching stuffed 95's fly by on their way downtown. Every so often, one would go by with a person trying to get out on the roof, or with the emergency windows swinging open like a breadbox door.

All the drivers were cheering on the mayhem.

"Stick it to the man!!!". Errr, wait, We're the man.

As the end of the fireworks neared, I was assigned to head to Slater street. I queued up behind a row of buses, and waited my turn. I took on so many people, I honestly had someone standing in the space behind my seat. He smelled of vomit, and I was praying that was post, not pre. The cigarettes were lit almost instantly. There was singing. There was kissing. There were things flying at me. All I could see was what was out my front window, and the crush of faces against my passenger mirror. Training had not covered this. In the midst of all this, I could hear someone yelling "Help!". I honestly couldn't tell if it was a festive party "Help", as in "Help, I'm hammered!", or a "Help, I'm falling out of this window". I stopped the bus on the off ramp to MontrĂ©al road, and began to try to figure out who was yelling it. It was like pushing my way through dense bush, with wispy sapling trees that stick to you, leaning, instead of springing back to their elastic uprightedness.

I found her. She had her hair caught in the rear doors. She was sitting in the seat just beside the doors. It was like she had been leaning out of the seat with only her head outside the doors, and they had closed on her long brown hair. I apologized. She chainsawed a drunken string of laughter, then got surprisingly serious looking,  and then threw up on the back steps.

There is nothing that clears a path like a puddle of sick.

A guy with a smoke dangling from his lips slurred out:
"Sorry Mr. Busdriver. She got sick."
"Thanks Pal." I said.

I headed back to the front of the bus, and got rolling again. I couldn't kick them all off there, I had to get at least to Place D'Orleans. The puke was on the back steps, it was a high floor bus. What harm could there be?  The singing petered out as the smell of sour began to circulate. It didn't take long for the illness to become contagious. It wasn't quite "Stand By Me", but I could tell that weak stomachs were getting weaker by the second. And that's when I heard the second noise no bus driver wants to hear.

"Oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh", in chorus. And then again: "Ooooooohhhhhhhhh!", this time louder.

It looked like a war zone as I emptied at Place. Beer cans, cigarette butts, and a floor full of vomit. People scattering off the bus with hands over noses, hands over mouths, all with that look of "You'll never believe what happened" on their faces.

I drove back to the barn, stunned, tired, and sick of the smell. I felt like I had spent a rough night. Yet as I got into the garage, I saw a bus with four smashed windows. Another had a rear door ripped off the hinges.

And all the drivers I saw were walking like zombies to their cars.

We survive this national party each year. I've no idea how.


  1. God bless. Your pragmatic patience is appreciated. Oh - and a safe ride home too!

  2. You saved a lot of lives that night by providing people a safe way to get home; you're a hero. Thank you.

  3. Oh god I am speechless. First off, people are ridiculous and I am sorry you had to deal with this. Nevertheless, Otawa would not and could not come alive as it does without OC transpo . THANK YOU!

  4. *
    here's a little tip for transit riders... if you insist on sitting (particularly in rear of the bus, streetcar or subway away from the operator) give your seat a quick sniff before you plant yourself. unlike most of us, the perennially indigent quite often have no compunction about pissing themselves in public venues. not anecdotal... i was an atu dues paying vehicle operator in a large urban center for 6 interminable years. still suffer from ptsd "public transit shock disorder" decades later.

    p.s. for the author - if you keep intervening in public disorder incidents as noted above, you will inevitably be injured and possibly maimed or killed. my advice is... even if somebody boards the vehicle with their hair on fire, look the other way. even if you simply call the cops every time stuff happens, management will flag you as a troublemaker. the only thing they care about is the schedule.

    unless you plan to get some kevlar, be like sargeant shultz in hogan's heroes... see nothing, do nothing. a guy pulled a letter opener on me and that was my road to damascus moment. just trust me here. you get stabbed or shot, the public will step over your lifeless body to get their starbucks before hitting the cubicle farm. the comments here, however complimentary, won't feed your family. peace & out.


  5. Try riding the vomit comet back from Key West to Fort Myers Beach in moderate seas at 11 at night. Ran out of Barf bags in the first hour, the rarified aroma a fermented Cuban marinated meat and mojitos.

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