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Tales of Crete©

“ The Tragic Bus”

By Jack Schimmelman

As the bus belched and jerked its way from Athens across the
European continent, Margot and Werner began one of their many
conflicts that I had witnessed over 7 months of being with them in
Crete. I was sitting next to an American named James. He was in his
mid-20s, well put together, glasses and long hair. A Hippie prototype.
He was the first American I had met since arriving in Greece during the
previous Spring. It was now mid-September. We got to talking, but
James could not help but hear the German voices of agitation fouling
the Magic Bus air. It was the female tones that attracted James, who
had already declared his terminal horniness to me. He walked to the
atonal conflict and sat opposite Werner and Margot. By the time we
entered Yugoslavia (1979), James was sitting next to Margot and
Werner was sitting by himself brooding out the window. Meanwhile,
bladders were a bursting. The bus was replete with young Europeans
returning from their Grecian adventures, praying for the next stop so
they may disgorge themselves of urine and other biological waste
products. Finally, we made our first stop in Yugoslavia. No city or
town was near. In the distance we saw lights and buildings and was
told that that was Sarajevo. Sarajevo, which years later, was to
become a sacrificial lamb in a horrific death dance that accompanied
the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Beautiful Sarajevo. Magnificent city
of beauty, art. Future hellhole of grief. A few of the passengers left
the bus to find Sarajevo. They were brutally disappointed when they
realized that there was no means of transportation between the black
asphalt road at which they were left and their destination. Others left
the bus temporarily to find a toilet or a reasonable facsimile. After all,
we had just left Greece and the luxury of indoor plumbing was not a
requirement. However, nothing was to be discovered. The guys didn’t
have much trouble. They could pee anywhere. The women, on the
other hand, came back to the bus with a mixture of pain, anger and
disbelief on their faces. The driver and his “conductor” smiled. They
set a time limit for the “rest” stop. Ten minutes. Not a second more.
This was the joke of the Magic Bus. It was not magic, only tragic.

Somewhere between Yugoslavia and Germany I made up my

mind that I would continue to London, for it was there that I had the
best chance to find work and since I was almost completely without
funds, I thought I’d give myself that opportunity. I didn’t tell Margot of
my change in plans. She was busy ditching her old boyfriend, Werner,
for her new partner in crime, James. I didn’t tell Werner because he
couldn’t care less about my plans.

Finally, we stopped somewhere in Germany. This time there

were toilets of a sort standing by. Ah! Leave it to the Germans to
efficiently relieve the weary traveler of his or her load. Margot was
beyond happy. She was home with a new boyfriend. She sang to me
in that lilting voice, “Come, Joaquin, we are here! We are home!”

“I think not, Margot. Good luck to you.” She didn’t seem to

mind. James, her new love, was practically draping her body. Margot
and James left our tragic bus. Werner followed, still a sad puppy, but
somehow I thought I saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

I was far from Crete. I was now entrenched in a sea of

civilization; dependent upon a sadistic driver and conductor as to when
I could pee and/or defecate. The bus was now three-quarters full.
Many Germans had left and the only people remaining were French
and English citizens and me. It occurred to me that I would need
money at the English Customs in order to get in. I didn’t have a ticket
to go home, but in those days that didn’t seem to matter. Today that
condition is an automatic invitation on the no-fly list. I started to tell
my story to all the passengers on the Tragic Bus. We were all bound
by our collective, painful experience of being abused by our guides.
People gave me all kinds currencies, depending on where they had last
been. Since they all had passports to their native lands, currency
wasn’t an issue for them. I was the poor American begging for money,
a rare sight, indeed. I’m surprised nobody took pictures. I collected
Drachmas (Greece), Francs (France), Pounds (English), Marks (German)
and some other coins and paper that I didn’t recognize. All very
pretty. We made our way through the North of France and once again
left some passengers standing by the side of the road, but by that time
tortured bladders and colons being what they are, people leaving the
bus were relieved in their minds, if nowhere else. The others who
remained were envious of the departed. We continued bustling down
the road. Imagine being on a bus that hardly ever stopped, the driver
and his sidekick enjoying your growing pain. I took the Magic Bus
because it was the cheapest form of transportation from here to there.
However, the Tragic Bus redefined “you get what you pay for.” I
believe if you research that cliché, you will see a picture of the Tragic
Bus by way of definition.

My fellow passengers were generous, indeed, although I had no
idea how much I was worth. I only knew that in currency weight alone,
I was a worthy tourist for the English landscape. At least that was my
fervent hope.

The atmosphere was becoming more and more hostile. On the

final European leg, an English couple was becoming highly vocal about
their displeasure regarding their treatment. Perhaps they would
uphold that legendary English custom by going on strike. But how
would that act manifest itself? Keep holding it? Or the opposite. They
certainly had abandoned the “stiff upper lip.” I could see that the
driver and his sidekick were getting quite pissed off and that the
situation was becoming untenable. Finally, we arrived at Calais, the
port from where we would take a ferry to England, the white cliffs of
Dover. We were fortunate. We could leave the bus and avail ourselves
of the “luxurious” rest rooms that were on the ferry. I do believe that
some people passed the entire crossing in those rooms, compensating
for a long journey of abusing their gastrointestinal tracts. In fact,
having become friendly with some of my fellow prisoners as a result of
my begging, I took it upon myself to knock on various “loos” (as they
say in England) so they wouldn’t miss being on the bus when it
disembarked from the boat. And disembark we did. It was 3:00 a.m.
Customs was awaiting. I had all of my cash in both hands and after the
Customs officer asked for my passport, he then asked for my money. I
poured it onto his table and there it was. Every cent to my name. Ok,
maybe cent is the generic name. 3:00 a.m., no doubt nearing the end
of a very long shift for this poor guy staring at my legal tender. He
must have gazed for a full 90 seconds, while glancing intermittently at
me. My “friends” behind me on line all held their collective breaths.
By this point, they were experienced at holding it in. Finally, the
Customs man got frustrated, shoved the paper and coins back at me
and said, “Ok, you can go. Welcome to England.” It was raining. I
thought I heard a small cheer erupt behind me, but that could have
been my overwrought imagination, which had been primed by three
days of no sleep and bladder control.

We all shuffled onto the bus. Now you may think that shuffle is
an overstatement, but I assure you, shuffle we did. Three days and
nights of bladder, mind control; participating in a sado-masochistic
experiment, where we were the unwilling masochists will produce a
shuffle in the heartiest of souls. By England, the sadists were also fed
up with this arrangement. As soon as the wheels hit English pavement
above the white cliffs of Dover, the male component of the
aforementioned English Couple yelled out from the back of the bus,
“You must stop when we tell you to. WE’RE IN ENGLAND NOW!” His
girlfriend, sitting next to him echoed his sentiment with her best

smirk. Wrong. Wrong. With the last syllable barely out of his mouth,
both the driver and conductor screeched the hulk of rolling metal to a
halt and ran towards the back of the bus, murder in their eyes, knives
drawn, yelling something in Arabic. I didn’t think. I stood up in the
path between would-be assassins and poor English couple and held out
my hands to try to stop them.

“This isn’t worth it. Look at them! These are pasty white people
who are ignorant of everything. Hell, they love their Queen! Do you
really want to go to jail for killing them?! Just think for a moment.”
Somehow, this logic made sense to them. They both put away their
knives, gave one last murderous look at the terrified, shivering English
couple and went back to their posts to continue the journey to London.
While still trembling, the English guy thanked me profusely for saving
his life and asked if there were anything he could do to help me. In
fact, there was. I told him I was broke and needed a place to stay in
London while I looked for a job and that as soon as I found a job, within
a few weeks I would have the money to fly back home. He didn’t
hesitate. Neither did she. And that is how I found a place to live on
my journey to London. The Tragic Bus had become magic.

When we arrived in London, we all marched off without a word,

knives being a fresh memory. I believe I was the only one who said
thank you to the driver and his friend. They smiled at me – like a
spider at his fly.

I had arrived in the center of sophistication. The eternal rain felt

more like a curtain than drops. Apollo was gone. I had traveled as far
from Crete as possible.