A Special Breed
A special breed…
Most of you have heard of Amsterdam, the Dutch Capital. Over seven Centuries old. It has been dubbed ‘Venice of the North’ due to its canal system. A very artistic city, Bohemian style with a very laid back mentality. A city full of weirdos and nutcases, you have to be when you bear in mind that the Amsterdammers live ten feet below sea level. The only place where an international celebrity can roam around freely on the streets and in the clubs, without being hunted down by hordes of fans. Not a big city but very crowded and busy, very much like a beehive. Normally occupied by an average of 850,000 citizens consisting of seventy-two nationalities. Speaking their mind in a bluntly direct manner and having that very specific sense of humour that catches you off-guard. During Holiday seasons augmented by a couple of million tourists from all over the World, most of them sniffing up the art and architecture but some of them targeting the Red Light District with adjacent sex shops, smoking a joint afterwards in a ‘coffeeshop’ that actually doesn’t sell coffee as its main product. Traffic jams all over the place, especially during rush hour and just about permanently in the city centre. You have to be out of your mind to take your car there. The bicycle is THE means of transport. They say that there are more bikes in Amsterdam than people. Like any self-proclaimed tourist attraction, Amsterdam possesses and extensive public transport system consisting of buses, tramways, subways and river ferries, courtesy of ‘GVB Amsterdam’.
That city is my workplace. I am a GVB city bus driver. To us drivers, Amsterdam is our ‘office’. We have the best seat in the house. And, apparently we must be a whee bit masochistic. Quite a statement, but one has to keep in mind that most of us yank around a fifty-five foot long double-length bendy-bus in that jungle called Amsterdam traffic. About two-thirds of the round in the thick middle of that traffic, one-thirds of the route we share the tramway tracks, although those are nowhere free of danger. One can imagine that anything can happen along the way in all that traffic. However concentrated you are in your vehicle, you have no influence on the behaviour of all those others, as hair-raisingly unpredictable as they can be. Cars, taxi’s, coaches, bicycles, scooters (especially those young Kamikaze-like pizza couriers), pedestrians, but also fellow buses and trams, although you count on their professionalism. Just about everyone seems to follow his own laws. As a bus driver, you’ve got to be crazy, yes. And, next to a sixth sense, grow an extra set of eyes in the back of your head. But, there are rewards. For starters, you’re driving the biggest and most expensive Mercedes around. King of the road. Second, as opposed to other folks in their offices, you enjoy an ever-changing view from yours. And enjoy an ever-changing human company.
It’s not just about driving back and forth a large bus through a crowded city. Besides being a professional driver, it’s about being the Captain on your ship, a host, school teacher, policeman, therapist, psychic, politician, salesman selling tickets, and just a plain people person. So, not only my female co-drivers are capable of multitasking, me and my fellow males prove that men can do that too. Add to all this a rigid timetable that we have to honour, despite the unpredictable traffic that gets busier by the day, and we have our work cut out for us. GVB is about twenty-four hour round-the clock service. So, we work these ever-changing shifts. Ranging from early morning, via day and evening to night shift. The Melatonine in our brains is totally messed up because of that. Night and day become relative phrases. We don’t work your average five-days-a-week office hours, but we knew that in advance when we came aboard. Every time, our ‘weekend’ is on a different point in the week and sometimes that consists of only one day. Typical shift duration is about eight hours. The hardest shifts are the weekend nights, because that’s when the booze and drugs come into play as well as a genuine plague of rogue taxi drivers, especially in the city’s entertainment areas.
On a busy bus line, the driver is hauling around the same amount of passengers in one row as a pilot does in his KLM Boeing 737-700. Folks from all walks of life, each and everyone with his or her personality and issues. Apparently, relationships are brief, about half an hour in most cases. Most people undergo the journey in a docile way, some of them are cheerfully chatting, also with the driver, some humans think that there is a robot behind the wheel, and yes, some of them are a real pain in the ass, sometimes all the way to being all-out verbally or physically aggressive. But luckily that’s a very tiny minority. As soon as the bus driver has signed for his bus and starts driving, that vehicle and everyone occupying it is his responsibility. As well as the situation in the immediate vicinity of his mount. ‘Safety first’ is constantly in the back of his mind. I mentioned ‘psychic’. Sometimes one has to be, because that bus is a deadly weapon. One occasionally has to ‘think’ for the other folks on the road. Defusing their potential harmful mistakes by rapidly changing between driving defensively and offensively and anticipating anything ahead much further and wider than the other traffic. I have come home sometimes with the statement that I have prevented five people from killing themselves in traffic. At least several times in his shift, a screw-up by someone in traffic scares the living daylights out of the bus jockey. Those mental punches are adding up. Trick is to get them out of your system between rounds. All this provides for the very much closed community that bus drivers form, with its very distincive sense of humour. Like motorcycle drivers, they wave at eachother while on the road, a sign of that unspoken bond.
Maybe, after reading this, you may conclude that driving a city bus in Amsterdam requires a bit more than just being able to drive. It’s an slightly underestimated trade, an honourable one. The men and women doing it day in ad day out are truly a special breed.
And I’m proud to say that I’m one of them…