I sometimes feel like I enjoy the in between times more than the destinations. Some small symbols of travel (but not airport terminals, never those) where it is the nothingness of the place, its latency, that makes the place poetic, in a potential way. That might be why I like bus stations so much. Not the city ones, but the central bus stations, with their gazoil and urine smell (it is the same everywhere, there is just an added smell of re-fried snacks when you are in India or Africa), with the glazed, empty looks of people waiting, people sleeping in banks. The strange community of people having not enough money to go by train or plane. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in bus stations.I should have kept count, but then again, when you are in one, you don’t count any more. The bus comes when the bus comes.
I went to Leipzig from Berlin a couple days ago, and visited the Berlin central bus station therefore, which allowed me to verify the smell theory, and, for once, not have to go from bus to bus to try and find the good one, in a crowd of hurrying people, like i usually do (less stressful, but as expected less fun), it is the first time I was in a bus station that has wifi in it. The first time I didn’t need to look up from my book every 5 minutes to check whether the bus was coming or not. I was also completely ignored by other people, which almost feels eerie, until you remember, you aren’t that original here, only in random places of the globe where you’re the only tourist does that happen.
There was an old couple next to me, the kind that has been together so long they look alike, they were going to Leipzig to see their daughter (I have – it has been long established – a face or some kind of facial feature that apparently says “talk to me” to strangers, and it works especially well in trains, planes and buses. I consider it a great luck, even if sometimes it is not the most normal people it attracts, but it makes for a great distraction while travelling. Those two, though, were very nice, quiet and respectable, and didn’t seem to have another facial expression than a smile, even when a very persisting beggar came along and requested 5 euros, which they didn’t have, only 4 something, they said very apologetically but still cheerful. Even when- a few minutes later- it was announced that the bus would be 40 minutes late, allowing me to correct what I just said: the buses are late everywhere, here, you just know when they are supposed to (not) come.
So we spent a cheerful 40 minutes together, that is they talked and I mostly listen. By the time the bus finally left I knew the name of their cats, their 3 daughters and granddaughters, a list of what’s to do in Leipzig, their summer holiday plan (a cruise, though they have never been on a boat) and a load of information about the whether (that, also, is universal).
And while on the bus, surrounded by angry co-passengers (in the end, it left with a 1 hour delay, again, universal), I smiled looking at the disappearing bus station. I might be romanticizing a scrap of concrete, a cloud of diesel and nothing more. But it is always there, relatable, with the promise of taking you somewhere – if you accept not to know exactly when. And I think this is a marvellous promise.