14 June 2005

Vehicular manslaughter

Someone tried to kill me this afternoon. I didn’t catch his name but I can clearly describe him. He was my bus driver.

Parisian bus drivers are outfitted with some sort of antennae that tells them, to the centimeter, how much space is between their bus and .....bicyclists, cars, pedestrians, buildings, etc. They use the extra-sensory powers to maneuver through streets originally designed for horses, buggies, and later – small Citroens, like the kind Snoopy and Woodstock drove when Charlie Brown and the gang visited France. The fact that a bus can fit on some of these streets is miraculous. Add a crazed bus driver to the mix and the results could be fatal.

Today, for some reason, people kept asking the bus driver questions. I have never seen this done before. I didn’t know it was an option. It started when I boarded at boulevard Raspail. A slow-moving woman climbed aboard with her three slow-moving friends and asked the driver a question that sounded dumb – even to me – and I had no idea what she said.

Apparently the six questions he was asked by various passengers, even before he reached the Seine, agitated him and he decided to punish us – using his brake pedal. He would speed up and then make sudden stops. It wasn’t just the passengers he was angry at, he almost drove an elderly bicyclist onto the sidewalk as she happily rode her bike in the bus lane. (Oddly enough, the bike lane is shared with the bus lane.) He gave her a fright as he simultaneously honked his horn and while trying to squeeze a small delivery van back into its proper lane on the left side of the bus.

I imagine that remaining upright on an erratically moving bus is like surfing huge waves. It helps to stand sideways with one foot towards the front and one towards the back, as if the bus were a giant surfboard. Standing on the balls of your feet helps and allows you to pivot. It also helps if your waves are not equipped with brakes.

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