Oh X68, or eXpress 68 to give you the full title you so gallantly deserve. Travelling aboard your blue speckled double decks is such sweet sorrow. You are the bane of my commuting life yet you know all too well I would be lost without you.
There are countless reasons why the seemingly uneventful journey from West Croydon to Russell Square is so eventful, my current route to work now that I am living temporarily in the Crystal Palace area, but here are some of the reasons why I love you, X68.
1. You laugh in the face of the bus timetable (helpfully available in PDF form on the TFL website). You are a free spirit, the nomadic pilgrim of South London. You are not restricted by life’s inane structures or plans. You drive to the beat of your own drum. You turn up when you feel like it, preferring to operate by the timetable of life. What I really mean is you are usually sodding late.
2. Sometimes you choose to terminate short of your final destination and instead of concluding at Russell Square, as advertised on the overhead destination board, you stop somewhere else en route. Like Kennington. Or Camberwell, setting us a Krypton Factor-esque challenge to get to work via alternative means – on foot, by tube, via a hitchhiked ride for the more desperate. This presents another problem to solve ahead of an already full day and is both stimulating and good for developing my navigation skills. Thank you.
3. In the nicest way, your drivers are mildly psychotic. Cyclists in the bus lane, traverse at your peril. Passengers who speak to or obscure the driver’s vision while the bus is moving? I wish you luck. Running for the bus in a frenzy, perspiring and cursing along the way? Chances are they will wait until you are an inch away from making it and then close those whooshing doors, laughing maniacally like Vincent Price at the end of Thriller. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have also been that passenger, keeled over gasping for breath and shaking my fist at the back of the bus. (Swearing).
4. Said drivers have rather a penchant for the brake pedal. This creates a jolting, bumpy jaunt with repeatedly abrupt stops and starts and leaves poor unsuspecting passengers flying all over the bus, flailing their arms wildly and hanging onto a pole for dear life. Composing a text or reading at least one page of a book is virtually impossible without the use of Hyoscine to ward off extreme travel sickness. Some poor woman the other day ran off with her hand over her mouth ready to spew, the roller coaster ride too much to endure. I could feel her pain. Wedged at the back last week between two hefty gentlemen I had to take deep gulps of breath and fix my glare on a stable object to avoid my own unfortunate puking incident.
5. The commanding announcement ‘this is an express service and will now run non-stop to Waterloo’ always, without fail, prompts the Theme from S-Express to whirl constantly around in my head for the entire journey. Despite this announcement that confirms the service runs continuously to Waterloo, there is always some poor b*gger who does not know the drill. They are an X68 virgin if you will. They want to get off in West Norwood please, they do not require the onward hour journey to Waterloo, thanks very much. They innocently ding the bell in good time, ready to disembark. Ding. As the driver continues past their stop they press it again, a little more firmly. Ding. Perhaps the bell is not working. Ding. Oh dear, maybe the driver hasn’t heard, oh well never mind I’ll get off at the next stop. Ding. Then sheer panic sets in. They are not getting off this bus anytime soon. Ding. I am going AN HOUR out of my way and will be horribly late for work. Ding. My boss will never believe me. Ding. Perhaps I’ll never get off. Ding. OH GOD. They realise no amount of ‘DRIVER, LET ME OFF!’s are going to work here. Ding. Ding. DING. (For those Breaking Bad devotees, think of Tuco Salamanca’s uncle Hector and that incessant bell). Someone bravely whispers ‘you can press the emergency button to open the doors’ and someone else says encouragingly ‘go, run for your life’! As they press the red button heroically they are released into the fresh air and we wave, smiling sadly, as we continue on our jerky way.
Yet, how can I possibly moan? You take me all the way from home to Waterloo (usually) without stopping. Thus, you are slightly superior to the 68 or even the 468, parallel services that run along the same route more or less but have to stop. Ha. Inferior route sisters, we laugh at your perpetual stopping. You offer unbeatable views of amazing London town and all it has to offer. As the brilliant Phil Earle quoted in his article for The Guardian ‘one minute it’s the electric buzz of Elephant and Castle, the next time I look up, I’m in the shadows of the glorious South Bank and Big Ben’.
Your passengers are true heroes. A quick peek on Twitter reveals that you already have your own admirers, your bus groupies, throwing themselves at you and queuing up to get on board. The X68 has a unique passenger community of its own, amazing individuals with an unbreakable spirit, a strong stomach and a cracking sense of humour. I have noticed some passengers embark, courageously say hello to the (psychotic) driver and take their time to wave at people they know, say hi, as if it they were among great friends rather than fellow commuters. I love these guys. Some of them also tweet gems such as ‘Honestly, the X68 bus never fails to entertain. Always a drama!’, ‘The mighty X68 bus is like warp drive to S London’... and ‘Power to the people! X68 bus driver goes off course, his passengers start shouting directions. #humansatnav saves the day’. This makes me smile a lot and feel part of a high-achieving team. I’m an X68’er and proud of it.
When I move back to the East End next year, I am not ashamed to say that I will miss it – the unpredictability, at times the downright cruelty of it all, the jerkiness, and the drama.
X68. I’ve got the hots for you.