My assigned seat on the bus was at the very front, a single row behind the driver. I watched the couple with the spoiled toddler board the bus, saying a silent prayer to whatever deities might happen to be listening that they would not be seated near me. My luck took an upward turn for a moment, and they headed for the back of the bus. No screaming children for me on this trip!
I took my seat and waited for the rest of the passengers to board, hoping my luck would hold out and I would get the whole row to myself. Passengers flooded on. Seats were filled. The flood became a trickle, and at last it seemed everyone was on the bus. I was still alone in my row as the bus driver started the engine. I experienced a moment of joy.
The moment was cut short as an older man plopped down next to me. The seventh assault had arrived.
He made some polite chitchat. In my sleep-deprived, stress-addled state, it was all I could do to give one-word answers to his questions and nod politely as he began to rant.
He didn’t bother with introducing himself. He had to much else to say to bother with pleasantries. As the bus pulled out of the station, he went on at length about how much he disliked Vienna. It was a terrible city full of terrible people and terrible business managers. He had come to buy a house, but he was very disappointed with the selection. Now he was going back to Prague for a while, though he did not approve of that city at all, either. He was disappointed with how little the culture had changed since the fall of communism. With every word he said, he showered me with spittle, and the smell of his sweaty underarms gave me the occasional slap across the face.
He delivered a lecture about the prices of property in the Austrian countryside, and how he was still debating over whether to buy this new house. Then he asked me if I was from there, and I foolishly informed him that I was American.
The word “America” had barely managed to leave my mouth before he pounced on it like a cat laying in ambush for a catnip-filled toy mouse. He had dual citizenship, and an American passport. He had spent thirty years working in America and was very disappointed with the way that country was going. It used to be you could do anything there, and now there was no work, no jobs, and all kinds of horrible regulations about international activities. His bank accounts in Switzerland and Lichtenstein had been shut down after the Patriot Act went into effect.
After the first twenty minutes I realized I had been unconsciously nodding my head the whole time he was talking. My small-talk-making skills, learned by rote over a few decades, had switched me to autopilot, and I might have inadvertently been encouraging him to talk. I stopped moving, didn’t talk or make any noise. I stared straight ahead and prayed that he would eventually shut up.
It did not make a difference.
Really, the entire world was going to hell, according to this man. He was considering selling his various houses and moving to one of the countries where he had several lovers waiting to marry him. Naturally, he would fly first class on one of the nicer airlines. (Here I was treated to another lecture on the merits of first class on various international airlines.)
I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the window, hoping this man might finally take the hint and shut the hell up, but it was to no avail. He was not talking to me. He was talking at me. I’m fairly certain he would have been talking just as much, even if there had been no one there.
While I tried to block him out and get a bit of rest, I couldn’t help but reflect on the contradictions in his rant. Here we were, sitting on a Student Agency bus, one of the least comfortable ways to travel. Anyone with the money would take the train, where you could stretch out and sleep, rather than the bus, which was like an airplane except they occasionally stopped to let people on and off. Student Agency buses exist and are successful because they are cheap. They are not the option chosen by a wealthy person with many international bank accounts and rich lovers waiting for them in a wide selection of tropical countries. That’s not even to address the suggestion that this horrific imposition of a man would have a lover of any sort…
Two hours later, the bus pulled into the station at Brno, and to my intense relief, my co-passenger got off the bus. I took advantage of the 25-minute stopover to find a public toilet (where I paid 5 kč to relieve my overworked bladder) and relaxed back into my seat. Now, at long last, I would get some rest.