Monday, October 5, 2015

Singing on the bus

I've carried my guitar on the bus many times this year, but it was different on Friday.

As I stepped onto the 94, the driver grinned and said, "Free ride if you play something."

"Really," I said, but stuffed my ticket into the fare box anyway, and shuffled down the bus to an empty seat.

"You wouldn't be the first to take me up on it," he called after me. "Maybe a little something by Joan Baez."

"I don't think I have any of her music in my repertoire," I said.

"Well, something else then," he suggested. "Anything."

I sat there for a few minutes, thinking, my heart racing with mild anxiety. Should I or shouldn't I? An invitation like that doesn't come along every day. I could let it slide -- because no one really expects me to do it -- and just have a peaceful ride all the way to the university. Or I could do something extraordinary and accept a challenge, sing a song on the bus, get my voice warmed up, entertain people on a boring route, and have a good story to tell my family when I get home. But there's no place to manoeuvre my guitar case open...

The bus driver had given up on me and was carefully picking his way through a school zone when I moved my guitar case onto the countertop that sits over the passenger side front wheel. "Can I leave this here while I sing?" I asked.

"Sure," he laughed, clearly delighted. "What will you play?"

"An old folk song."

"Peter, Paul and Mary?"

"Older than that, I think."

I plunked myself down on the very first sidelong seat next to a kid listening to his iPod and reading a foreign author. He grinned at me and pulled out an earbud. "I can move if you need more room," he said, but I shook my head.

Looking at the dozen or so folks further down the bus who were all looking at me, I announced, "The driver has challenged me to sing you a song, so here we go. It has a chorus that goes like this, and I expect you all to help me."

After a quick run through of the chorus, away we all went with a tune I've known since I was a kid...

(1951 --  a while before I was born!)

My voice was a bit shaky with nerves, but people smiled, chuckled and listened, and a few voices actually joined mine on the chorus. Even the teen girls at the very back of the bus were grinning. At the end of the song, everyone clapped, including the kid sitting beside me, though I'm sure he preferred his iPod tunes.

"You can't quit now," said the driver as I put my guitar back into its case.

"If I didn't need my voice at the end of the route, I'd give you more," I said, "but I'll be hoarse if I sing like that for another thirty minutes."

"That's too bad," he said. "But that was great -- you made my day a little bit shorter."

The remaining twenty-five minutes of the ride went as usual -- people getting on, people getting off (three of them thanked me for singing). At one point the driver looked back at me in his rear view mirror and said, "It's too quiet now." But we were getting closer to the university, and the bus was too crowded for anyone to pull out a guitar. 

When I got off, I told the driver that if he was driving my bus home, I'd collect my free ride. Unfortunately, two hours later, it was a different driver...

But this Friday, I'll be catching the 94 again, same time, same place, likely with the same driver... and if he asks, maybe, just maybe, I'll sing another song for my free ticket.

The following week... I had a wicked head cold, and it was a different bus driver. But the young man with the earbuds who sat beside me while I sang the previous week grinned when I got on and said, "You're back!" I smiled at him and headed for the back of the bus... glad that I had taken the opportunity when it presented itself.

Sometimes you only get one chance.


  1. good for you!
    wish i'd been on that bus - been too long since i've heard you sing!
    some #ETS bus drivers are #AWESOME

    1. I like the drivers who actually take an interest in their passengers, for sure. This guy talked to everyone as they got on... I think it would be a boring job otherwise!

  2. Great story Maria. I can just see you on that bus. That is my favorite song that my Uncles would sing at sing songs. Their harmony would always bring a tear to my eyes, I thought it was the most beautiful sound I ever heard. And I hear them singing it every time I replay that song in my head. I miss those days when we would gather for a sing song. Thanks for sharing.

    1. We sang it on Saturday night at Dad's birthday party -- Dad and Uncle Fred harmonizing away. One of these days we'll have to have a singsong at your house!

  3. I had to share this story: New Winnipeg bus by-law bans singing. If you are in Winnipeg you better keep your singing to the shower. The city has passed a by-law that calls for a $100 fine if you sing on a Winnipeg transit bus. Scofflaws will also face court costs if caught belting out a tune.
    The bylaw calls for a similar fine for playing a musical instrument or offering some kind of other live musical performance. The rules also prohibit riding a unicycle on a bus or transit property.

    What would they do if you rode a unicycle while playing ukulele and singing at the same time?

    The bylaw was scrapped shortly after amid howls of protest and laughter and the ridiculing of every public servant who had supported this proposal.

    1. We saw all sorts of buskers on the metro in Paris. Not a one on the transit here in Edmonton. I wonder if there's a bylaw here that I broke? Oh well, it was worth it!


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