The bus – or the buz, where I come from – has always been my preferred form of urban transit. For intra- and international journeying, train travel is grand; glam too, if you fancy murdering your purse in Le Train Bleu. But when it comes to the city, I’m for bussing it. In London the Tube will do if it has to, but I’d rather bag a seat on the bus. The Tube thrills my nerves; never my blood. Where are the snog-seats, the back-of-seat scrawls? The apple-cores and gambolling beer-cans? The memories of that mad 3.35pm rush to the back (or for the alt-cool kids, the front), of your bag of Millions™ exploding and all the pink orbs sinking, lost, into a puddle of spilt pop? Don’t be fooled: my bus-love isn’t just a nostalgic fuss over that red gleam signifying H O M E T I M E: school busses had their bullies; they weren’t all sweetness and snogs.
Bounce your eyeballs on Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky (1935) and you will learn that the Tube was once the pride and privilege of the middle-classes. It still is middle-class, mostly: count the scalps, experiment. The tube lets you scud through the earth unnoticed and unnoticing. On the bus you get stuck in – stuck in jams, stuck in gum, stuck to the stickiness trailed by those gambolling beercans, but most of all stuck in to the outside, to the world up and beyond. Here is the stuff you hardly see from the ground and never from under it: a horseman adorning a rooftop; a rat impaled on a pigeon spike; a balloon; a bird; an advertisement for a boat that sailed for North America a century before you were born. It might well be that you have to scrub the bus windows down before you can see anything at all, but that in itself is an opportunity first to scratch your name backwards in the dust.
But if in London I still stand by the above, in Montreal my bias has been budged. The Metro is beautiful: I have been won by the booming Brutalist gorgeousness of stations with staircases that look like Transformers and lighting systems that rise from the floor like oversized concrete shrubs.
I could – and do – take a ride for the sheer spatial kick of it. I would never litter it with gum. I generally consider concrete to look quite good grafittied, but the stuff in here doesn’t need to be: opened in October 1966 and operated by the Société de transport de Montréal, the Montreal Metro is an automatic gallery of public art – murals, stained-glass, and sculptures adorn its walls and floors.The tile and brick detailing is awesome.
The fleet of MR-73s – white-striped blocks of blue, and among the oldest North American cars still rolling – are pretty nimble too. London’s stuffy burrows have nothing on le métro de Montréal.