ON THE BUS: A blessing in disguise on Route 5

ON THE BUS: A blessing in disguise on Route 5

 Missed connections can be blessings in disguise.

I wanted to be at the Mumford Road terminal by 7:40 a.m. to catch my route of the day, the No. 5, which meant getting on the No. 52 at the bridge terminal in Dartmouth by 7:15. Instead, I managed to arrive at both locations just in time to see the buses pulling out — a sinking feeling that many transit travellers will recognize.

Luckily, there was one more No. 5 run scheduled for this peak-hour route (early mornings and late afternoons only). I finally got to Mumford (a half-hour early this time) and parked myself on a bench to watch the passing parade of commuters, most of them in office garb, and buses bearing unfamiliar names like 15 Purcells Cove and 23 Timberlea.

“You don’t see people doing that much anymore.” I looked up from my notebook to see a bus driver smiling down at me. “Writing, I mean. It’s all texting now. They’ve got the thumbs going a mile a minute, standing in front of me and looking like they’re on another planet. Half the time I have to ask them if they’re on the right bus.”

Stephen (no surname, please) was about to board his bus, the No. 14 Leiblin Park, but couldn’t resist chatting for a moment. Besides smartphone use, he touched on his assignment to the “spare board,” which means driving just about every bus going rather than a regular route, and breaks for drivers (“Sometimes you don’t think you’ll make it to the next one”). Then, as he noticed a few passengers waiting, he took off: “Don’t wear out your pen!”

Already this journey was turning out better than expected, and I hadn’t even met Mark Annis yet.

If there’s an award for bus drivers, and there should be, Annis would be one of my top choices. The 32-year-old Cole Harbour man, slim, bearded and bespectacled (he wouldn’t look out of place in charge of a classroom), cheerfully greeted all the mostly young passengers on the No. 5 route along Springvale Avenue and surrounding streets. “They’re a great bunch,” he said of the kids, bound for elementary, junior or high schools in this area, along Chebucto Road or down near Cunard Street. Indeed, every one of them said hello or good morning, with a smile, before heading to the back of the bus without jostling or shrieking.

“You know, a lot of people expect young people to be loud and unruly, but that hasn’t been my experience.” “Well, maybe that has a lot to do with how you treat them.”

He smiled modestly and turned onto Downs Avenue, where a half-dozen high school students got on, this group sitting near the front. “Excuse me, guys, but do any of you know what you would call this neighbourhood?” he asked them in response to my question. Some said Springvale, but they settled on Fairmount — and once again, no shouting or interrupting. “See what I mean?” Annis said with a big smile. “They’re really great kids.”

Although we chatted frequently along the route, Annis never turned his gaze away from the road, except at stop signs where he pointed out particularly beautiful older homes and spiffy new low-rise condos in Fairmount, or a church under renovation on Chebucto. At each bus stop, the student population thinned out a little more (“Bye now! Have a great day!”), with nearly 20 kids disembarking on Cunard to stroll toward nearby Citadel High.

The bus was nearly empty as we drove along Barrington Street, and the overcast morning was suddenly transformed by a burst of sunlight. “I think it’s going to be a beautiful day,” Annis said, pulling up at the ferry terminal. “It already is,” I offered as we said goodbye.

Article written by LIANE HELLER 

Article was originally posted on the Chronicle Herald 

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