If you’re ever down Sri Lankan way, there’s one displeasure you’re not going to want to make, and that’s riding a bus. Anyone who shuts themselves off to these wonderful, sublime moments of nausea and terror has not fully lived, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
The Sri Lankan buses are models of conservative, sober methods of trans-portation. Each is drearily garbed in fluorescent greens and blues, highlighted with light, almost timid strokes which gracefully form images of demons driving monster trucks over what might be unhinged chickens. Or sand castles. Or winged Nazis. Whatever. Apparently, not all buses are decorated in this fashion, only the “special” ones. I’m guessing at least fifty percent of the fleet is special.
We visitors from the West, who are used to buses clad in sober, find it difficult to adjust to these eyesores, whose colors and artwork are hardly ever seen outside of certain poorer sections of larger cities, like Bridgeport, Connecticut, of Monster Trucks trampling other cars or roaming the highways with eighteen wheels of gruesome mobile disagreeability. On the positive side, it’s good to see that the need for expression and the desire for works of art still exist; on the other hand, I feel bad for the sort of people who consider a hugely breasted, skimpily clad woman riding a mechanized dragon into a battle against spidery tigeroctopi as the ultimate heigth of art. Seething flames aside, I haven’t seen infantile storyboards like that since the Beetle Bailey cartoon strips.
I remember the flames from just about any of my visits to any Catholic Church.
I suppose “to each his own” is a positive, up-with-people motto to follow passing through his or her life; I try to follow it in a general sense. Unfortunately, living by this rule opens the door to this visual carnage, and one has still not set foot inside the bus. On non-market days the bus is relatively full, but the chances of getting a seat are relatively high. If that is what one really, really wants to do. The smells are omnipotent, and drive through any barriers you might have erected, such as thick cloths wrapped around the face and over mouth and nose, or the ability to not notice scents. Oh, how I yearned to be anosmic on a Sri Lankan bus! Even this, however, is not the worst thing about riding this moving jukebox. The bright colors outside extend to the innards of the vehicle, as bright greens and blues intertwine and reconnect to form spirals and thorn bushes, and all connect up front to pay homage to the driver or bus company’s god of choice: usually either Buddha or Vishnu (?) – the woman with ten or so arms and maybe three heads. I had trouble counting because the bus hurtled faster than sound and the shock absorbers were not…like, shocking. Most of the buses had shrines to said deities at the front somewhere, usually above the windshield, that hopefully did not hamper the driver’s view of the road. And most of these shrines were made from authentic plastic, or tin, and were covered in the same probably poisonous colors and paints that adorned the rest of the bus, as well as having the added bonus of one or thousands of colored, blinking lights around, over, under, and through them which also spread out like mutant pseudopods to every corner of the bus. These lights never stopped blinking or changing colors, even when the bus was stopped, and the key was removed, strongly suggesting an independent existence with ominous intentions, like tapeworms.
But this was still not the worst experience on a Sri Lankan bus. On market days the entire population of, like, 40 zillion Singhalese flock eagerly to those shops and vegetable stands located eighteen stops ahead of where we got on. On certain days we watched these “market buses” from afar, as they swung and swayed with arms, legs, and 95% of bodies hanging out of every opening of the bus, which left precious little room for things like air, and we rejoiced in the fact that we were not able to experience the same joys those passengers were.
Which was also not the worst experience on a Sri Lankan bus.
The main streets in Sri Lanka are ridiculously full, especially on Saturday evenings around 5 or 6, which is also when the electricity goes off because it is rationed here. So picture if you will a small city’s streets with pedestrians scurrying up and down both sides of the street like hordes of ants, as well as all of the bike riders, Tuk-Tuk drivers, stray dogs, cars, motorcycles, and small trucks, and now introduce these rainbow monoliths into the equation. Remember, there are no street lights because of the electricity being rationed. Also, there were no speed limits, at least none I could see, even in daytime. Also also, the bus drivers seemed determined to keep to their schedules, wherever they might have been-I never saw any- at all costs, and drove with a near maniacal aggression. I always wondered if any of them were able to keep to their schedules; despite their teeth- and gear-grinding driving styles never once did one of these buses arrive at the time we guessed it was probably supposed to arrive at, since there no schedules anywhere. In short, I found it nearly miraculous that dozens of these poor pedestrians weren’t mowed down by the buses every day.
There was one instance where I was standing on the bus up near the front-it was a market day and there was nowhere to sit-and I happened to glance at the ol’ speed-o-meter. The driver was really hurtling at over 90 Km/H (56mph). For comparison, the absolute highest speed a truck can comfortably travel on a German autobahn and feel relatively safe that he or she won’t get a speeding ticket is 90. And these maniacs are plowing through these crowded city streets faster than that.
That was definitely the second worst experience I had on a Sri Lankan bus.
The worst experience I had on one of these buses occurred daily, when the bus was either full or empty. It may have been morning or afternoon. It may have been 120 degrees out or, well OK it was always 120 degrees out. In every one of these buses a TV hung from the ceiling way up front there, and every day all day the same channel blared a never ending stream of Sri Lankan boy band videos. Remember DeBarge. Like, sing DeBarge. I think his first name was El. Seriously. Well, I can’t tell you what happened to him and his familyslashbandmates after America woke up and realized that they definitely and without a doubt absolutely sucked and they would never fall for anything that trashy ever again…
(Thanks to Josh Morrisey and The Strut for the image and quote)
…sending Debarge hurtling faster than a Bobby Hull slapshot into the Great and Bottomless Chasm where Americans throw all of their wastes of time. But I think I can tell you what happened to the family’s/bandmate’s nauseatingly trendy collection of 80’s and 80’s only synthesizers and electric drum kits. See, after the interest in this truly awful form of musical expression waned, presumably after two weeks of listening to nothing but “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, something must have happened to these dinosaurs of musical accompaniment. I’m convinced America’s supply of synthesizers and electric drum kits were sent to underprivileged persons in poorer regions of the world, like the Super Bowl losers’ hats and T-shirts that say Champs on them-they were printed beforehand, are now useless, and must go somewhere.
Apparently, an entire industry exists in many Third World countries where mildly talented teenage boys and girls channel their inner Debarges (God what a horrifying thought!) and make synthesizer music that real people actually listen to! Like me on the bus in Sri Lanka because I have no other choice and would probably be stoned to death if I did what I wanted to do and what should be done-namely toss that accursed boob tube out into the grimy street where a different rainbow monolith, trailing ours by a barely measurable distance, can crush the thing into the Chasm, where it belongs.
It is our choice what we feed our mouths, eyes, and ears with. Perhaps a slight improvement in everything we ingest would help make our lives a little better-you are, as we all know, what you eat. At the very least it would make my life a little less painful-I’m eating your DeBarge too.
Did I mention that we were there for three weeks or so, rode the bus almost every day, had the same bus driver for almost all of those days, but never once saw him in a different set of clothes? Remember the smells I was talking about? All in all riding a bus in Sri Lanka is a wonderful experience for the whole family. I would definitely recommend it to a friend, especially my best friends Donald Trump and any New York Jets fans.