THIS ( RAPID) LIFE
MY bus driver looks like Harvey Keitel. Yes, the bad lieutenant is at the wheel each evening as we hurtle through the mean streets of the inner- western suburbs. Harvey, or Harv, as I think of him, grips the wheel with grim resolve, negotiating the evening peak traffic hour with the finesse of a ballet dancer, the Nureyev of the high street. He manoeuvres — pointe, counterpointe — through the mass of vehicles.
And he takes risks. Big risks. He will enter a railway crossing even though the other side is choked with traffic. At moments when the bells start clanging and the boom gates shudder in readiness to begin their descent, Harv allows himself a wry grin, thin lips askew, before quickly finding a slot betwixt a hapless Saabencrusted estate agent and a loaded Tarago. For whom the bell tolls, indeed.
And there’s a hill. A big hill, down which we surge at full throttle until some wretched passenger yanks at the cord and Harv hammers down on the brakes.
We all lurch forward, the bus squealing, old women all but passing out amid the strain of bones already suffering under the steady decline of osteoporosis. But we stop, and the passengers spill free. Sometimes 30m beyond our destination, but we stop nonetheless.
And there’s a roundabout. It’s just metres from where I get on, and it’s a doozy. Harv takes it at breakneck speed while I try to sit down, pinning me against the nearest seat or — as has happened on several occasions — another passenger.
One time I was hurled against a teenage girl. Poor thing, imagine the horror of such intimate contact with a sweaty fortysomething, postworkday male unable to extricate himself, the G- forces pinning us together, cheek to jowl.
I have seen Harv animated, though. Occasionally he will have a fan in the front seat by the door. They will chat, sometimes in Greek. This engagement brings with it its own concerns. If it’s a particularly juicy conversation, Harv will lean closer to his co- conspirator, taking his eyes from the road but not his foot from the pedal. Harv’s bus is his kingdom. His subjects a microcosm of Australian society. Multicultural Australian society. Dark- skinned girls from Sudan, Catholic girls from a private school, young Muslim mothers, old eastern European couples returning from the market, Vietnamese grandmothers, Caucasian businessmen, university students of all shapes, colours and sizes.
And then there’s Scratchy Guy, who psychotically picks, plucks and pulls at hundreds of pieces of unseen lint ( bugs?), brushing them down to the floor.
But here’s the thing: I yearn for Harv’s job. The simplicity of it. The freedom. The control. Just imagine, you drive from point A to point B, then return. What could be easier? And I notice that Harv must have some sway with the bus company: he always gets the good bus. Tinted windows, airconditioning.
The other ( less worthy) drivers have to wrestle with last century’s models, seemingly put together in the days before window- tinting and hydraulic suspension were in vogue. But Harv sits proudly ensconced in his multiadjustable, ergonomically crafted throne.
All hail the king! All hail Harv!
thislife@ theaustralian. com. au