We're all well aware that the holiday season, in addition to peace and joy, brings with it the annual assortment of trials and tribulations. There is the traditional gauntlet that must be run through the shopping malls and big box stores, and the excruciating task of coordinating family guests and dinner plans which force you into the role of air-traffic controller.
My personal trial by fire was the exodus from the metropolis of Toronto to the small hometown to visit the fam. Travelling for any holiday is a nightmare, one depicted with accuracy in my favorite documentary, Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
This year, I opted to go by motor-coach as it seemed the most acceptable compromise of cost to risk. Normally I fly be night like a fugitive through the black cornfields in search of succor from the farmer's daughter. This year, however, I decided to give the regular person schedule a try and headed out in the early morning.
Arriving at the coach terminal, I waded through the throngs of occupied benches to the platform which I expected to be full of travelers. What I happened upon was a massive crowd of people and luggage. The lines for each platform were wrapped twice around the terminal.
Families were huddled together, their entire lives packed haphazardly in over-stuffed steam trunks. Once I felt I had joined what approximated a line for my platform, it dawned on me that at least four bus loads of people stood ahead in line and all of us were waiting for the 8:30 coach that was yet even to arrive. Just then came a burst from the horn of one of several buses entering the station, and the only way to their respective platforms was through the assembly of travelers.
It was then that pandemonium erupted as security guards spawned from thin air and begin shouting at the crowds to give each bus a wide birth. "Move!" they shouted in turn as the lines uneasy lines broke into scattered flocks of bewilderment. It was every man, woman, and child for there self.
All order gave way to panic with shouts from the crowd, my calm demeanor was all that separated me from those descending into fits of feral rage. I must have given off such an air about my person that some of the hopeless implored me "please, where is the line to Detroit!" and "You must help me get to Kingston!"
With pitiful spite, I cursed the men behind the glass of the control room which overlooked the spectacle. My shaking fists went unacknowledged by the heartless robber-barons who drew upon their cigars and scowled with smugness on the panicked sheep before them.
There was a surge toward an incoming coach bus and the driver was overtaken by men and woman who's abandoned all civility and given in to hysteria. It would be only moments, I now feared, before guards would be given the authority to use deadly force to subdue the forsaken mob. I made a dash past an obese couple who embraced in what hey no doubt believed was their final embrace. Past them, I leapt clear of two men who swung fists of frustration that connected with each other's chin. Finally, narrowly colliding with a woman clutching her two small children to her breast and calling "my babies, someone please save my babies!" I managed to take refuge behind an empty bus in the process of refueling.
With a guitar slung on my back and a suitcase in hand, I was jolted by the grasp that latched upon my arm. I turned, a fist ready to secure my freedom but stopped when I met eyes with the earnest young men whom supplied the vice-like grip on my other wrist.
"Hey man, are you going to London?" I answered in the affirmative, still ready to drop the fellow if necessary.
"This way, there's a bus ready..." I followed him to the front of the terminal where a coach seemed to have materialized from nowhere. The driver frantically was throwing luggage into the under carriage and motioned when he saw me approaching.
"Hop aboard, we're getting the hell out of here!" I needed little persuasion. I leapt up the steps and planted into a seat, the driver n my heels. He strapped in and threw the level that brought the automatic door to a shut with a hiss. Taking a quick survey of the interior, I realized the coach was only filled to a quarter of its capacity. Some in the crowd outside noticed the same. It was seconds before hands began clawing at the windows, screams audible through the glass.
"Go! Just Go!" I heard myself exclaim. Our until then clandestine lifeboat lurched forth and tore away from the scene. Some desperate sorry souls had clambered on the roof and now, unable to grasp any tighter were flung from the top of the coach as we accelerated. Winding through the streets away from the fury, all on board became aware the only sound any of us could hear was that of our own hearts pounding in our chests.
Panting and dashing perspiration from his brow, our intrepid driver unhooked the microphone and, when he felt he had regained some composure, breathed into the loud speaker.
"Alright, ladies and gentlemen," he began, taking gulps of breath between thoughts. "Welcome aboard Greyhound, we'll be arriving at our destination in about two hours...until then feel free to let me know if the temperature needs to be adjusted for your comfort, and enjoy the trip..."
I sank into my seat, without anyone beside me, I allowed myself a stretch and a yawn. For a moment I brooded on the miserable scene I had just witnessed, the chaos which had nearly swallowed me but moments earlier. With a sigh, it dawned that I was free, I was going home for the holidays. Of the poor wretches left behind in the human debris from which I had extricated myself with the help of a stranger, I would not be among those left behind. Leaning back, I made a solemn vow to myself: next year I'm renting a fuckin' car or something...