The joy of commuting

I’ve been commuting in the West Midlands since 2001, and before that I traveled between Leicester and Birmingham for nearly a year. It’s not a happy experience, and it eventually bends you out of shape.

My day starts at 7:15. I catch a bus across the city, walk to the train station and attempt to catch a local services train to my destination. All told, the entire round trip takes two hours … and oh, what fun I don’t have. Most people are fine, but the unwritten Commuter’s Manifesto states every bus or train must contain at least one of the following

  • someone with extreme body odour
  • people eating noisy smelly food
  • a lone crazy person – preferably shouting obscenities or exhibiting strange behaviour
  • a threatening individual who might attack you (I’ve been physically assaulted a few times)
  • ‘sodcasters’ with loud portable devices
  • someone making a series of loud, ostentatious phone calls. It’s tempting to think there’s no-one on the other end
  • a bawling child
  • raucous ‘we’re the salt of the earth’ types, daring you to say otherwise
  • people who turn public transport into mobile offices: ‘Thank you, James. Here’s the situation, going forward, as I see it …’
  • an over-friendly drunk
  • a con artist
  • the walking dead

A further category is the obese person who crushes you against the window under cascading layers of adipose tissue. Such people can be militant, so watch out. ‘It’s my RIGHT to be fat. I’m HAPPY this way. DON’T get funny.’ Thanks for the lecture.

Fascinating hybrids of the above are more than possible, and there are infinite combos of mutant traveler for you to share and enjoy. I guarantee that you’ll encounter all of them if you use (especially urban) public transport for any length of time. Of course, there are nice people too. Just not enough of them and anyway, how can you tell?

After all, if you try a conversational gambit on a bus you might, from the other person’s perspective, turn out to be one of the above. Worse still, if you’re a man you might be a perv with a prearranged hard-on. Cross-gender chats take a lot of trust these days. You can’t force the issue. Sensing this, few people try anymore, though if you meet someone who does it’s nearly always worth it.


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