Coaching

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome aboard this Deluxe Express service.

In a few moments we will be departing this feeble space, a dreary pavement with its splatters of vomit and flattened fag ends, where a man with creamy eyes and fresh crimson gashes across his face is shouting and waving at the crowd as it flows around and away from him.

Before we commence our journey, weaving a halting dance of departure through clogged city streets to mournful suburban stops, I must remind you that the purpose of our journey is not simply to get from one place to another. If this is your first time aboard our service, might I suggest that the main function of coach travel is to produce coach passengers. Your co-operation is greatly appreciated.

Kindly keep all personal identities in the overhead racks and forget about the steady progression of time and distance. We do not run on rails or cross continents through thin air. We must compete for our space, insist on our right of way. For your information, our journey will take us through a process of compression and abbreviation, bridging gaps and making connections, slowing and leaping, slipping and grinding, forever spinning on without moving.

There must be no talking to your driver in the familiar uniform of white knee length socks, tight blue shorts and pale blue shirt with epaulettes. Allow me to introduce myself to the woman in the blue sweatshirt travelling home for a wedding or a funeral, a call of duty from her childhood past which prompts such bitter-sweet memories, or the Danish backpackers who could be twins, brown skin shining like polished wood – welcome to our country! – or the young man in the twenty-second row who keeps his sunglasses on, plugging into Nirvana in order to mask the ache in his stomach which tells him that it is already too late, she is gone, and let’s not forget Grandma at the front who is lucky enough to be taking Lucy and Darren home with her while Mummy and Daddy go to Fiji for a fortnight. The management and employees at Deluxe Express would like to wish you all a safe and productive journey; please note we cannot be held responsible for any personal doubts, hidden fears or secret motives.

Please remain seated unless absolutely necessary; we don’t want you falling into a disruptive mode of dependency. Sit back, relax and be passive – although please bear in mind that anxiety is also a necessary part of our journey. This is a hostile land and only the coach can shield you from the dangers which lurk all around. You can rely on the coach to keep you secure. Soon you won’t want to get off. In the event of an accident, exit immediately feeling violated and deprived, as if life has been robbed of all certainty and meaning.

Please keep the air vents open at all times; the air conditioning removes any residual desire for an open window. For your comfort, the coach has tinted windows, enabling you to look at the world with confidence and know that your gaze cannot be returned. The glass acts as a perfect unbroken membrane, sealing us in fresh and clean.

Now, simply raise the lever by your side and lean back as we pick up speed, leaving the dead weight of the city behind. Abandon yourself to whatever story is unfolding; being powerless can be surprisingly liberating. You are not responsible for what happens now. Toilet facilities are located towards the rear of the coach; please approach the sprung door nervously, like animals walking into a trap.

Passengers are kindly reminded that no food is allowed on board, only small packets of synthetic products which may provide temporary oral satisfaction. No ice creams, no chips, no greasy food redolent of foreign cultures. You must respect the coach. It assembles and provides for perfect passengers and, in return, you must ensure its survival. The more rigorous and discriminating the rules, the easier it will be for you to become passengers. No smoking, no alcohol, no drugs; nothing must disrupt the fixed avenues of cognition. Comfort through conformity. Management reserves the right to enforce familiar codes of behaviour. The rules make us and the space we possess. We do not require force. Thank you.

In due course, the coach will reach the top of a rise and a distant mountain range will swing into view. Passengers are advised to look far away, far beyond the clutter and mess close by. As we flash over rivers and estuaries, some of you may enjoy brief glimpses of boats anchored and shut up, scenes which at certain moments may appear so desolate as to leave you feeling happy in a sad sort of way. This is nothing to worry about.

By now you should be feeling fixed in your seats, dissolving, melding, muscles aching gently but not screaming. You are passengers now. Nodding heads and heavy eyelids are permitted on board. Some passengers may notice a low murmur of seven down six letters the batteries are flat must finish these bootees it makes me feel sick get your feet off the seat want a mint darling? Again, this is perfectly normal. In a short while we shall be making a brief stop for fuel. Kindly remain on board while the diesel froths into the tank like a magic potion.

For your entertainment, we shall be rolling through small towns split by the highway, the television aerials reaching higher and higher until they are twice as tall as the houses. Kindly observe the forest of steel poles and rods, all facing the same direction, stretching up to touch a layer of signals. Passengers may experience some discomfort with this demonstration of the need to connect. Please note the impermanence of the houses, wooden shacks balanced on bricks, as if wary of touching the land.

At this stage in our journey, I usually like to point to clumps of children growing by the roadside, hanging off bikes or bouncing balls, and a man walking slowly along the street carrying a newspaper and a carton of milk. Notice how solemnly they watch us. Please feel free to stare back at them defiantly like prisoners on your way to jail.

As we approach the towns, billboards will stand like sentinels along the route advertising fast food and fuel, caravan parks and o’nite accommodation. For those of you who are new to this journey, these are merely wistful promises of a place down the road where your lives can be fulfilled. Do not be overwhelmed by the clamour of these signs. Some of you may also experience a profound sense of ennui with the endless procession of Drive Thru Happy Stops, Kwik Snax and T-Marts. Again, do not be alarmed. This feeling will soon pass.

In due course, we will be stopping for our scheduled meal break. Please take all valuables with you, ensuring that you remain in a mild state of paranoia. Once you leave the benign rocking of the coach, your identities will be in crisis until we are once again ready to depart. You have twenty minutes to nibble away with cups of tea and chips. Facilities include brown vinyl seats and plastic ivy in copper pots hung from the ceiling.

Welcome back on board as the sky darkens and we begin to twist our way through gloomy, impenetrable forests. In a short while, we shall be approaching an extended period of silence broken only by the constant urging of the engine, bursts of manic laughter and the discreet click of the toilet door. Kindly extinguish all overhead lights so as not to disturb slumbering bodies swaying in time to the song of the road.

Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention please, I am pleased to inform you that the bulk of the journey, carried for so long, has been discarded and left behind. Time and distance have been halved and quartered and are now rushing towards a satisfying sense of closure. Soon we shall be arriving at a forgotten town where this coach will terminate metaphorically; please wait anxiously on the deserted street while luggage is disgorged from the belly of the beast. Co-dependents and casual confidences may then slip into the night like guilty things.

Kindly take all your rubbish with you, leaving no traces; you were never here, this didn’t happen. Passengers proceeding to other destinations must retain their identities for inspection. On behalf of everybody at Deluxe Express I would like to thank you for maintaining the necessary fictions. May I remind you that coach travel leaves no residue, no gritty reality; it figures as subtraction, not addition. I look forward to the endless repetition of this saga as a guarantee that the future exists. Thank you and goodbye.

 

First published in
Vernacular magazine

Posted in Poetry.

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