Sunday 30 March 2008

Efe'ing Bus Service

Yesterday evening I boarded a bus for Izmir. Izmir is Turkey's 3rd biggest city and arguably the most cosmopolitan. It's a wonderful place, not necessarily beautiful, but Izmir has all the advantages of a big city while keeping a small town feel. Anyway, I've probably talked about Izmir before in previous posts.

The Turkish bus system is impressive despite the lying ticket salesmen - "Izmir, Izmir. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Izmir Now, Izmir now!" shouted one guy. I ran and bought my ticket and breathlessly asked him to point me in the direction of the bus. "Oh it'll be here in an hour". No real need to shout "hurry" then. Cock.

Anyway, the buses are clean, comfortable, on time and the service is excellent. One thing I noticed about the system is that, when booking your seat, they try their best to separate men and women. The assumption is that women wont feel comfortable sitting next to a man for a prolonged period of time, so they try not to put them together. Interestingly though, they don't have this on planes. Either they're assuming it's a different class of commuter or they're just resigned to the inevitable fuck fest that's bound to ensue when you seat a man next to a women without the safety of an aisle between them.

As I sat down, I noticed that a few mistakes had been made in booking and the steward was moving men around so as to give the women some breathing space. All this in the name of making women feel comfortable. It's a wonderful idea, I suppose. Chivalrous to the extreme. Imagine my surprise then when they started playing the in-bus entertainment; a 70's Turkish comedy that would make Benny Hill blush. Knockers all over the shop. Well I can't speak for the women on board, but I was enjoying myself.

I got chatting to the guy sitting next to me as I noticed he was giggling along to the film. His name was Halil. Now Halil was also the name of my Great Uncle and a name I know because of a famous song in the Aegean Region.

The state of Aydin and other close by were home to a group of legendary freedom fighters called the 'Efe'. Even now, you can hear people affectionately call each other 'Efe'. The 'Efe' people had their own culture, songs, dances and folklore. One particular song is called 'Coketme'. It's a personal favourite of mine as it starts with the line "Hey Halil, I've just got back from raping". Things were different back then.

The 'Efe'

Halil, from the bus, works as a elevator engineer. He was a calm, softly spoken but extremely warm character. Although I found him very hard to understand, we got along just fine. Just 10 minutes outside Kusadasi we pulled into a garage where we were told we were going to have a 20 minute break so that the driver could have some dinner. I was a little pissed off as the journey should only take an hour anyway.

Halil laughed as he broke the news to me. We decided to go and grab a tea. As we sat down, Halil stuck two fingers up at the waitor (you do that in Turkey, you get two black teas. You do that in England, you get two black eyes).

As we drank our tea, Halil told me all about his life as a lift engineer. How is job was very risky but full of adrenalin. How his hatred of safety harnesses as it feels like someone's holding him back, so he doesn't use it. He also told me how much he's paid. I tell you one thing, you're not going to get me dangling over a lift shaft for £180 per month.

After 20 minutes, we were on our way and they commenced the service. It starts with a hand full of cologne, which you use to wash your hands and rub anywhere that feels nice (usually back of neck and mouth). Then we had water. Then tea, coffee, coke or juice. Then water. Then more cologne.

To cut a short story even shorter, we arrived in Izmir and Halil helped me find the service bus into the city itself. This guy hadn't seen his wife and kids all week while he was working in Kusadasi, yet he didn't get off at his stop so that he could make sure I got to the right place. Once off the bus, he gave me his card and caught another bus back to his home.

This, my friends, is how civilisation should be. Complete strangers selflessly going out of their way for each other.

And this, Ken, is how a fucking bus service should run. I was a hand-job short of a perfect journey and all for £4. So please tell me why I have to endure the shit heap that is a London bus with its grime, abuse, stench and drivers deliberately trying to get you to run the length of the bus by accelerating as soon as you pay your fare for £2 minimum. That means if I want to get a bus from my home to the library (10 minutes walk) I have to pay £2. No coffee, no water, no juice and no fucking cologne.

I once got a bus home from Kingston and found myself sitting opposite a bus driver just off to start his shift. The schools were kicking out and I noticed him swearing to himself. Well, he was actually swearing loud enough in the hope that I would start conversation with him. It worked because I'm a twat.

He went on to tell me about how he hates children, most races and most everything. How he's been in compulsory counseling for anger management and how his military past has affected the way he views the world. "I'm programmed to kill" he said calmly. "I could kill anyone on this bus, and London transport know this". Now whether he's capable or not, the fact he's telling a complete stranger his desires should mean he doesn't get to drive the public around.

Anyway, I'm here in Izmir for another day and will be returning to Kusadasi tomorrow. I'm hoping to catch a ferry across the bay tomorrow from Alsancak to Karsiyaka. Watch this space for more public transport reviews and reports. Hmmm, OK I need to find something to spice this blog up.