I looked down at the panel to the right of the steering wheel.
“Please depart now”
It was time to get the bus on the road. I loaded the last few passengers, closed the doors, and pulled out into the traffic. The disembodied voice of the computer announced the location of the next stop.
It knows where I am even if I don’t, and will tell me if I get off-route. I smiled. The poor machine still had problems pronouncing the names of some of the streets. Probably didn’t get out much.
I glanced at the panel again. 125 metres to the next bus stop and counting down quickly. The time was now 10:25:17 …18 …19 and, because I missed that last light, it shows that I am 1-1/2 minutes behind an idealized schedule time. A mass of computer chips somewhere behind my seat is obsessively keeping track of where I am, how fast I’m going, when and where I open my doors, whether the bus is healthy, and who knows what else. I wonder if there is power in data or just comfort?
At the next stop, a passenger just about to step out turns to me and asks, “Have you got the time?”
I resist the urge to glance at the panel, shake my wrist out of of my sleeve and look at my watch.
“Just coming up to ten-thirty.”
I get a departing smile.
This may be the only time today that I look at my watch. Heck, I don’t even need one.
It wasn’t always that way. I think back thirty or so years when I first did this job. If I recall correctly, having a dependable, accurate watch was requirement for the job. The new bus-driver-trainees were marched to the depot office where the drivers checked in for their shifts and the clock above the counter was pointed out. This was THE clock. The time to which the bus system operated. The clock we were to synchronize our watches to, whether or not any other clock in the world agreed with it.
Then we were sent on our way. No GPS tracking. No displayed streams of digital information. No radio – just a quarter to drop into a payphone somewhere if we needed help or information. And yet there was confidence, by the company and the travelling public both, that the buses would be where they had to be, and when they had to be there.
Seems to me, that system worked pretty well back then. I relax into the seat and think how spectacular the mountains look this clear sunny morning. I wonder if there is power in nostalgia or just comfort?