The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints - P. C. PUGS­LEY

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

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