Saturday, August 30, 2008

taking the crazy bus

In 1968 Garrett Hardin published an essay on overpopulation and resource sharing called The Tragedy of the Commons. The notion behind The Tragedy of the Commons is that a commonly owned resource will eventually become overexploited by its users, even it it's in no one's interest to have this happen. What the tragedy of the commons fails to address is that an easily accessed resource will eventually fill up with the batshit crazy.

For example, the bus to Saskatoon.

At the start of a long weekend, the buses are usually packed to bursting, but this time the bus was disquietingly empty, with only one in three seats filled up. It put me in mind of that weird urban legend, the one that claims that air disasters tend to have anomalously low numbers of passengers. Schmutzie and I sat in the back. This may be a safe place to sit in an airplane, but in a bus it's just a little too close to the bathrooms. It also means that you're sitting with people who worry about the integrity of their bowels.

Here's how the crazy broke down:

Name: Black Metal Man.
Crazy Level: Enthusiastic.

BMM was probably the best-groomed metalhead I'd ever seen. The metal fans and guitar torturers of my youth were scruffy guys with grimy sneakers and long, greasy/frizzy hair, so my optic nerve is unprimed for the ones with tidy haircuts and crisp Into Eternity t-shirts. It's the discreet tattoos and facial piercings that you need to look out for these days.

To be fair, BMM was not really crazy. But holy man, did he love black metal. Throughout the three-hour trip he alternated between reading a magazine about black metal, showing people his guitar, talking about black metal with the Well-Paid Christian, engaging in complicated handshakes with the Slow-Turning Giant, and rocking out to black metal tunes that I could hear tinnily but clearly pounding out from his headphones. Every so often he sent text messages on his phone, which no doubt expounded on the awesomeness of Dragon Force. He rocked out in his seat, nodding in explosive little bursts and occasionally shaking his fist whenever the song made a germane point about Satan or the Holocaust or whatever.

Name: The Girl Who Loved Music.
Crazy Level: Autistic.

You know you're crazy when the other crazies are staring at you. All I saw of the Girl was the back of her head, encircled by big noise-cancelling headphons, whipping back and forth for three straight hours. No one in the world has enjoyed music quite as much this girl. Even though I never caught her face, I could picture the blissful expression, the eyes scrunched tight against the outside world, the lips, mouth and jaw contorted into that ecstatic snarl. I hope for her sake that she was listening to some classic AC/DC.

Name: Mole Face.
Crazy Level: Jolly Serial Killer.

Halfway through the trip the bus paused for five minutes in the town of Chamberlain. All the smokers and snack fanciers filed off and a few passengers got on. One of them was a little girl, ten years at old at best, with a pillow, a Disney colouring book and set of glitter-barreled pencils. She sat across from us, next to a seat which, unbeknownst to her, contained Mole Face.

She set pencils, pillow and colouring book on her seat and went into the bathroom. Mole Face made his way to the back of the bus with a giant bag of chips and some beef jerky. He moved the colouring book aside and sat in the little girl's seat, then began to eat a strip of jerky. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: he deliberately sat in the little girl's place.

The girl came out of the bathroom and found Mole Face sitting in her seat. She stood in the aisle, too shy (and probably too scared) to say anything.

Hi there said Mole Face, grinning through shreds of jerky. He had a radio announcer voice, resonant and friendly. Five years ago, he might have even been a handsome man, before he started sleeping on bus station benches and slitting hobos' throats for sport.

I didn't know you were sitting here.

Yup. He continued to smile at her.

Sorry, whispered the girl, gathering up her things and moving to the front of the bus.

You forgot your pencil, the man called out.

She turned and removed the pencil from his hand. Mole Face leaned back and cracked open his big bag of Lays, luxuriating in easy cruelty.

I wanted to say something, but it struck me that Mole Face was that rare kind of person who could strangle you while chuckling at the memory of a Marmaduke panel.

The Well-Paid Christian.
Crazy Level: Totally Fucking Crazy.

The WPC is every traveller's greatest fear. Forget the risk of decapitation; enduring the WPC is a voyage-long project, and by the end of it you're the one with the itch to homicide.

He sat two rows ahead of us with a guy that I can only call the Slow-Turning Giant, a man who filled his seat and nearly bumped the ceiling of the bus cabin when he stood, with a gigantic shaven outcropping of a head. The back of his skull was decorated with different kinds of scars, which suggested that he'd been attacked from behind multiple times, because no one would be nuts enough to take on this geographical feature of a man face-to-face. He was also a man of great patience and restraint, because otherwise he would have beaten the Well-Paid Christian to a pulp.

The WPC was like a hyperactive dog that had just been rolling in a ditch. His arms kept flinging themselves out as he talked, and every statement ended in a dead serious Maaaan or a stacatto cackle of Ha! Ha! Ha! As far as we could tell, he had two topics of conversation. One was evolution, which apparently was a lie concocted and painstakingly maintained by Satan for the last six millennia. The other was his job, which seemed to encompass every duty in the cosmos and pay at least fifty bucks an hour, tax-free. Ten minutes later he repeated himself, but this time the job was even more remunerative at sixty bucks an hour.

You know that Satan buried all the fossils in the Earth six thousand years ago, man, he shouted into the Giant's ear.

I leaned over to Schmutzie. I bet Satan got paid like seventy-five bucks an hour to do it too.

And that's not taking inflation into account.

Yeah. So you know that's good money.

Name: Cheap Suit.
Crazy Level: Decapitator.

As weird as the WPC was, we knew that he was a distraction from the main event, a round-faced fellow in a cheap grey suit and a combover that looked like a bad toupee. He kept glancing back and staring at us, as if we were all potential threats. The damp air of desperation clinging to him would have elicited pity in another setting, but in the irradiated air of the bus cabin it produced a bracing wariness. I expected him to shoot the bus driver and take us all out in a ball of flame. Eventually he pulled out a newspaper, which brought down the ambient level of craziness to manageable levels.

And the driver was a jerk.


DOT said...


I am just glad I wasn't on that bus for I fear what description would have been applied to me. Peanut head man, probably - least that is how my girls referred to me when they were in their teens and before I stapled their lips together.

The WPC reminded me of the first and last long journey I made on a bus when 17 years old. A large jolly,(why are they always so pleased with themselves?) black guy sat next to me. We fell into conversation, more accurately I was dragged into the pit of conversation by his questioning.

Eventually I asked what he did.

"I work for Jesus," he said.

Jesus Christ, I though, save me. He didn't.

You can call me, 'Sir' said...

What did you expect? You're riding what is basically a punch line (the bus to's lyrically delicious) in the Canadian outback.

palinode said...

dot - I've had a lifetime's share of sitting next to evangelists. One person firmly believed that Jesus helped her out with good parking spots.

DOT said...

I can believe it, palinode. I was raised a Catholic and used to take pleasure in inviting Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and the like in when they called, just for the crack, as the Irish say.

I like to think I broke a few.

If it is ok with you, I want to link to your blog. It deserves a wider readership.

palinode said...

dot - I absolutely don't mind if you link to me. I'm quite flattered.

ozma said...

I know it is very mundane to you but the phrase 'the bus to Saskatoon' makes me tingle.

I'm torn between trying to write a novel called 'The Bus To Saskatoon' and inbuing the phrase 'the bus to Saskatoon' with some deep meaning. It would be such a great euphamism for death but I feel like even that would not do it justice.

"She's on the bus to Saskatoon," I will say seriously.

With respect to the decapitator I have to say that decaptitation strikes me as very un-Canadian (but very American) but I think I'm very starry eyed about Canadians for some reason.

I also feel the need to mention that Jesus has helped me with good parking spots but only for very important occasions.

palinode said...

ozma - For some reason, the word 'Saskatoon' seems to elicit strong reactions in non-Canadians. I think I've heard Saskatoon referenced in more American shows than any other Canadian place, with the exception of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which are the default symbolic cities of our tripartite culture (English, French, Left Coast Alien). I first clapped eyes on the Paris of the Prairies in 1992 or thereabouts. My parents live there, I lived there for a year or so, and I met my future wife in a coffee shop there. Saskatoon is a university town, gorgeous, hyper-literate and beautiful. It's also full of rednecks, self-satisfied suburbanites and the entitled children of affluence. The one thing you can say with certainty is that the winters are fucking cold, but if you bundle up you can hack it.

To tell you the truth, I think there's a distinctly Canadian aspect to the bus decapitator. The American version would likely have had a gun. It would have been a bus shooting, with a higher body count but a less gruesome psychic footprint.

May-B said...

I believe I know these people. I think they exist on every bus. Frightening thought.

Cloudesley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cloudesley said...

the tragedy of the commons is a self contradicting philosophy it implies that things left to common control go to pot, but suggest the solution is to privatize stuff, but that privatization turns those pastures into owned commodities that are then traded in the 'common' market. Hardin further argues that the common market works best when its unrestricted. His philosophy doesn't seem to explain why that 'common' market does not dissolve into a tragedy especially as it is full of, and fueled by, "individuals acting independently in their own self-interest". Secondly, the common pastures that still exist in Britain are still to this day some of the best grazing lands in England, they have survived so well because no had sufficient control of them to despoil them.

ozma said...

Cloudsley: I hate the tragedy of the commons lame ass justification for private property. As if by owning the forest the timber companies will save it for future generations.

Absolutely, when commons are true commons and there are social norms governing them, they can be maintained. The problem is then no one makes a cent.

lotus07 said...

The variance here in the Southwest, is that most buses are mass transit and not long haul carriers. We get the same type of weirdos, but they are mostly illegal aliens that don't speak English. They usually end up staring at the floor or talking on their cell phones in Spanish. The real weirdos are the transits that are inebriated. They are always a riot, trying to talk to folks with iPods on, as if they don't understand that the person can't hear them.

Anonymous said...

excellent points and the details are more specific than elsewhere, thanks.

- Norman