Our apologetic buses are kind of a joke. Image and text, a bus front with its route banner blank, reading simply, “SORRY”. More text, added, explaining something about Canadianness in general, politeness, deference.
That one word, sorry, has the potential to hold much deeper meaning. It can be the introduction to considering the impact of one’s actions on others, to feeling some kind of regret, to intending something better for the future. On a bus-face it’s perfunctory. It’s a pre-emptive shield against future rage. How can you be mad at me? howls a cloud of exhaust fading into the distance, I said I was sorry.
It falls out of warm lips inside buses as backpacks swing into faces, bodies wrapped in parkas squeeze together more than they all would like. It’s held out like a torch to part the crowds. Excuse me, sorry, sorry, coming through, sorry.
We speak to each other like a bus marquee. Hello. How are you. I’m good. I’m sorry. Words scroll across our faces, meaning long frozen and faded, a simple redundant sound. We mean oops, we say sorry, then we scuttle off like an empty bus.
There’s a second line not shown in this bus-borne sketch of laughable Canadiana, though, the companion to SORRY. The marquee cleans, and it reads NOT IN SERVICE, then back to SORRY, and on and on as the driver races to the beginning of the route or back to the garage for either home or dead time in the middle of an all-too-common split shift.
Maybe the second line doesn’t suit the meme-makers in its factual abruptness. It’s a sharp ending to a casual tale of apologia. I have nothing to offer you and I’m leaving, says the bus. Not the meme bus, though. Maybe the meme form wasn’t made for second lines, for nuance, for both/and.
Yesterday, as the -40 wind froze my lips, I watched a bus skate by, blaring its usual banner phrase: SORRY. But the side marquee told a different story.
In a frozen half second, a moment tinier than an ice crystal, I saw the line before the second line, before SORRY was cleared and NOT IN SERVICE took its place. Right in front of my frozen eyeballs the bus nonchalantly announced NOT SORRY, and then sped away.
Those who disregard the second line won’t care that it’s now been reclassified as third, won’t care that a middle chapter has now been etched into this mini-synopsis of Canadiana, our symbolic personality edified in photos of buses poached from news sites.
But we of the icy bus stop, of the wiggling toes and dwindling hope, we who squint into the darkness looking for that familiar constellation of lights that we recognize as warmth and mobility, we care about the new second line.
Even if it’s the most short-lived of all bus announcements, it’s the truest message I’ve ever seen transmitted from public service to public.
And so I present to you the modified mantra of the frozen, passengerless, Winnipeg Transit bus:
NOT IN SERVICE