Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Your Stop

Christos is a bus driver. I've known him for probably seven or eight years now and, during the summer, he's to be seen piloting one of the more modern single decker buses that ply the island's roads, up and down from Rhodes Town in the far north to as far south as Plimiri. I always know when it's Christos' bus, because plastered all over the side is a huge advert for the Water Park, complete with ten-foot high bikini-clad girl waving her arms as she sits on the shoulders of a hunky bloke and the two of them express in actions just how splendid is the experience of getting soaked to the skin whilst also being scared witless.

Christos is probably about fifty and he likes to talk. He's not at all, though, to be confused with those folk who like the sound of their own voice. You know the types, always dominating the conversation because they have far too much to say about any topic you care to raise, and often brooking no argument with their point of view. No, Christos talks out of exuberance and enthusiasm. I'm pretty good at understanding Greeks when they speak to me these days, even bearing in mind that most of those I see on a regular basis have local accents. Christos, however, speaks - as we used to say in the West Country in the UK - 'fifteen to the dozen". In other words, he's so desperate to get it all out that he slurs his words together big time, and all too often I find myself asking him to slow down or repeat himself when we're having a one-to-one conversation. It's the measure of his nature though that this never seems to annoy him.

So, the reason why I mention Christos is because he's always full of amusing anecdotes from his experiences as a bus driver, especially during the tourist season. And I want to pass on to you one particular experience that had a group of us clutching our sides with laughter recently.

A couple of Fridays back we had occasion to go out as a group of fourteen, comprising of husbands, wives and a couple of singles, to a pizza restaurant that's entirely new to me. Frankly, I'd never have found it if we hadn't been going out with Greek friends, most of whom live in Rhodes Town, because the restaurant is not in the centre of town, but rather on the periphery, in what could best be described as residential suburbia. If you're on Rhodes (or are going to be) this may help you find it...

The red spot pinpoints the location of Crusty Gourmet Pizza.

If you know Rhodes at all, then you'll know that driving into town on the 'kentriko dromo', or 'main road' from Lindos to Town, you eventually come downhill to the traffic lights at Rodini Park, then along a tree-lined street that's sprinkled with various business premises and private apartment blocks. This street is often where you end up bumper-to-bumper, especially in the season at busy times. After a few hundred metres on that road you reach the next set of lights, where you can either go right or straight on, but you can't go left up Ethnikis Antistaseos, which is one way, as you can only come from the other direction.

Go straight on and eventually you reach a large crossroads, shown on the map as Πλ. Μαρτύρων. There are traffic lights here too. Take a right here and it's a few hundred metres along on the left hand side.

Before I come to Christos' story, I ought to say how good our meal was at the Crusty Gourmet Pizza restaurant. We received a selection of complimentary food and drinks and the pizza my wife and I ordered was one of the best we've ever eaten. We ordered the one called Pizza Vegetasty (if my memory is correct). I can highly recommend it, as it seriously competes with the other best pizzas we've ever eaten, which were in Pizzadelia on the island of Naxos (check out this post too).

Anyway, as the atmosphere of bonhomie prevailed after we'd all eaten aplenty and imbibed a little retsina or a few beers, as the restaurateur gave each and every one of us a free Mastika to sip as a digestif, Christos got everyone's attention, not for the first time during the evening.

"Not long ago," he began, "I was loading up at the bus station in Rhodes, the bus was going to be full right from the start, and I was going on this occasion as far as Gennadi, before turning around and heading back to town. Tourists were still around in great numbers and one in particular grabbed my attention, as he appeared to be on his own and a little the worse for drink. If he'd been aggressive or noisy, of course, I wouldn't have let him on to the bus anyway, but he seemed quite harmless, if a little unsteady on his feet.

As he bought his ticket for Arhangelos he asked with some degree of anxiety, 'You will let me know when we get to Arhangelos won't you? I won't have a clue otherwise.'

I assured him that I have a microphone and I announce over the vehicle's tannoy when we get to each and every stop. So I said he had no need to worry, because he'd hear me say when we got to the centre of the village of Arhangelos and then he'd know to get off the bus. That seemed to satisfy his worry and off he went to find a seat.

I set out and of course I had to pass through Faliraki, Afandou, Kolymbia, then Arhangelos, before heading on down to Malona, Massari, Kalathos, Lindos, Lardos, Kiotari and finally Gennadi, which would be the terminus for this run, and arrival there would be some two hours after leaving Mandraki.' 

If you've ever used the buses on Rhodes, you'll know that there are a few variations to this route, sometimes taking in Pefkos and Pilona, for example, and sometimes not, plus the bus has to turn off the main road and go into the centre of each village en route, which is why it takes twice as long as the trip would take in a car to reach Gennadi in the south.

Anyway, allowing Christos to continue with his story:

"I quite forgot about this man who was worried that he'd miss getting off at Arhangelos as the bus was so busy with people getting on and off. But then, I do announce every stop, so surely he'd hear. For most of the trip this time around I was almost full. Only when I got to Lardos and began to head south to Kiotari did I see the passenger numbers thinning out and, to my horror, looking in my mirror I could see that half-way down the bus there was this chap, snoring away with his head resting against the window, still on board, way south of where he wanted to be.

What ought I to do? If I woke him up then and there he might be be mad with me. Maybe he would lose it and cause a scene. And I could hardly put him off the bus here, with him not having any idea where he was. So I thought, 'I know, I'll let him sleep and see what happens.'

I got all the way to Gennadi, where I have to park up and wait for ten minutes before starting the route back towards Rhodes Town. I went for a pee, got myself a frappé and still he slept on. I could only hope he'd stay that way for another hour or so yet.

As luck would have it, he was still asleep when I turned on to the road leading into Arhangelos village on the return leg, probably now at least two hours after we'd passed through here on the way down. When I got to the centre of the village, I announced extra loudly over the tannoy: "ARHANGELOS! ARHANGELOS!!"

Would you believe it, but he didn't stir. So I had to open the door to my little driver's cubbyhole and go back to shake him by the shoulder. He came around, slightly dazed, and I pointed out of the window and said, "Arhangelos! This is it!"

He got up, thanked me with a vigorous handshake and made his way to the door. By the time I was back behind the wheel, he'd drawn level with me on the pavement and then gave me a cheerful wave and a thumbs-up as I pulled away. He seemed well satisfied that I'd done as he asked and made sure he got off at the right place.

I never was to know if he ever wondered why it took him so long to get there though!"

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