Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Greek Bus Ride

Hold on for a ride on the Thessaloniki bus system!

In this video I took today, you'll get a taste of what I have to look forward to two hours every day – one hour in from Panorama and one hour back home.
Let me narrate the video for you.

It’s about 1:30 PM, and I’m coming from the student cafeteria (which gives us free lunch…unfortunately, ‘free’ is about the only good thing I can say about it…).

As I crossed the street to get to the bus stop, I walked by quite an accident. A taxi hit another pedestrian making that crossing a few minutes before (his windshield was shattered), and a crowd had gathered around the injured man. In the video, you can see the ambulance which has just arrived, and the crowd immediately behind it. Meanwhile, traffic goes on its merry way and, of course, the police are nowhere to be seen (maybe they’re on strike today, or maybe it’s just too hot, or too near the afternoon siesta).

Anyway, I’m at the bus stop near the cafeteria and I’m eagerly waiting for the bus, ready to pounce as soon as it arrives.

You see, there’s a certain art to getting the bus. First, you have to survey the situation. There are three doors – I never go to the front door, because there are proportionally less seats there. So that leaves the middle or back. I generally prefer the back, because I think it has the highest density of seats, but if it’s more crowded, I will take the middle. So the first thing is to survey the situation on the bus, and see how packed the middle and back are. Next, and really simultaneously, you have to survey your competition. Where is everyone else getting on? While the crowd usually surges immediately for the closest opening door, I prefer to hang back and look for a hole. This is exactly what you see me do in the video. The bus comes – I check the middle and back door. People are jammed right up against the doors in both places, so it doesn’t matter. But the majority of my competitors went for the middle, so you see me flank out and take a run at the back. Fortunately, today, there were actually a whole 8 or 9 square inches for me to occupy.

Once I got in – being careful to avoid getting smashed in the door, which is not infrequent – I then look for the closest ticket-punching box. I spot the orange cube, but – of course – bodies are pressed all around it. After a moment of showing my ticket and intention, people squirm this way and that and manage to open up a couple inches for me to snake my arm through and punch the ticket. This accomplished, I can now “relax” and “enjoy” the ride to Panorama, complete with oppressive heat and stifling lack of air (the Greeks are deathly afraid that moving air will give them pneumonia) – and let’s not forget the disturbing body odor which, unfortunately, the video just can’t capture.

Now I should mention that this was a fairly average bus ride. I’ve been on buses that are MUCH MORE crowded, if you can believe it. I’ve seen the doors actually UNABLE to close because of the mass of humanity – and the solution was NOT for someone to get off, but simply to push and shove until the doors were physically able to close (on someone).

In Japan, or so I’ve heard, some buses have, in addition to the driver, a second employee (wearing white gloves) whose job is to actually pack people into the bus. I checked on YouTube for some evidence of this, and I didn’t see anything, so I’m skeptical. In fact, I laugh – yes, laugh! – at what those videos claimed were “packed” buses. Why, I saw people with a good 9 inches of personal space left to them! If we were only so lucky!

Push play...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I had prepared my speech -- "Ti imaste, voidia i anthropi?" -- but never made it. I remember vividly how we formed a mob rather than a line for the bus when I was in Athens as a college student MANY years ago! Seems like nothing has changed. I also remember a bus ride across Northern Greece and Turkey where people were smoking on the bus but refused to open a window because the "revma" might hurt someone! In spite of the fuss, at least the Greeks have a functioning bus system, unlike so many cities in the States.
-- Pres. Irene

Code Name: Larry said...

Gregory-

Brings back such sweet memories. I'm not sure, but the cumulative effect of doing that bus ride every day may have been what drove me from Greece. Now I chuckle, but then I had more of a maniacle laugh and a twitch...

Anyway, I just took a look through the blog to catch up. Could you post some more photos of the "yard" at the apartment? I would like to see if any of my gardening efforts have lived on, or if all my plantings were in vain...

+Jesse

Gregory said...

Angry Larry --
Thanks for checking in! Ah, a request! Of course! Unfortunately, it's been raining here for about a week (which is good, since it has barely rained since we got here.) As soon as the sun comes out for a few minutes, I'll snap some photos. Meanwhile, I'm working on my own bus-induced twitch...only one more week of Greek class left though!!!!