Every day I take the liberty of using a bus to commute into school. Now I don’t like to consider myself a bus snob but you know the kind of bus I’m talking about. The kind which rattles like the few pennies in your pocket ( which, may I add, is all the money you have left in your pocket once you’ve paid the ever growing price to a actually step onto one of these rattling machines.) The kind where condensation – or sweat ( I’m never quite sure which and don’t like to let my mind ponder on it too long) drips from the windows. The windows which, everyone seems to be staring out of, in order to avoid eye contact with the other passengers, despite the fact that they are coated in a layer of grime and leave everything outside the bus to the imagination. If you still don’t know the kind of bus I’m talking about then you must have really missed out on the opportunity to gain insiders information into the life of one of your fellow passengers – the one hailing their feelings down the phone to an unsuspecting friend as everyone on the bus leans in, with a mixture of annoyance and suspense, to hear more about this strangers life.

Now, as I’m sure you are aware, riding on these buses is always an interesting and exciting experience. One that, a couple of weeks ago, I tried to further enhance through a little guessing game – guessing, from when a passenger stepped onto the turbulent monstrosity- where they would sit. And the funny thing is? Not to toot my own horn (no pun intended), but I’m rather good at this little game of mine. Human kind don’t like to consider them selves predictable or straightforward but the thing is where you sit on the bus comes down to what you are like as a person – its a science in its self ( or should I say a psychology?) One that after hours of observation- sometimes while being squashed between an oversized passenger to my left and a chewing gum covered window to my right or being sat in the heavy aroma of mayonnaise from the guy’s sandwich behind me as it surrounds me like a thick smog – I’ve come to crack.

The Unafraid Upstairs Passengers

Now let me tell you, from my extensive hours of research and unrefined expertise of being a psychologist, that the upstairs passengers are the ones who have the most confidence, the ones with the best health and the ones who are most self- assured – I could almost say cocky but I’ll leave it at self-assured.

I think it has something to do with the stairs. They seems to be a physical and mental sieve – stopping those too frail or too unadventurous or too insecure- from reaching the heavenly altitude of the upperdeck.  Those too frail don’t want to risk falling down  as they clamber up them and they don’t have the agility and speed to ensure they can get to the top before the bus lurches to a start when leaving the bus stop.

Those too complacent and unadventurous are mentally unprovoked by the stairway to heaven which leads the adventurous up to new heights where the world can be experienced from a whole new angle.

And the insecure – well they hear this gold coated call to glory from the stairs- but can’t risk the agony and embarrassment of slipping down a few of the stairs,they can’t stand the awkwardness of where and how to cling onto the bus,as you also cling onto your bag, as you wait at the top of the stairs for a moment until the bus movements are slightly gentler and you are given three fleeting seconds to make your way to the lower deck before the bus will jerk you off your feet again. Most of all, however, they can’t risk actually falling down the stairs to end up as a heap on the downstairs deck in a way which cause the diffident downstairs passengers the shift their eyes from the grimy windows and scrutinize, with their thoughts, this naive passenger who dared upstairs and reached for more, even though they clearly belonged on the lowly lower deck.

And so the upperdeck is reigned by the confident. Those most adventurous will  gravitate towards the front seats of the upperdeck where the large windows allow them to see the world in a whole new way. The confident and the self assured will gravitate towards the back of the bus where they can look down and keep an eye on the movements of the other passengers and the rest of us – not so extreme either way on the spectrum- will mingle in the seats between – smug that we have reached the upper deck and without the yearning for more.

The Diffident Downstairs Passengers

Left behind – quite literally- on the bottom deck we get the impoverished and weak remainders of society. The weak, the insecure and the unadventurous. Now, I have to be honest, this is me on a daily basis and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those left on the bottom bunk of the bus. We are just more predictable than the rest and it soon becomes easy to see who’s who in this category of people.

The frail. Now if you can’t spot them from the cast on their leg, the zimma frame by their side or the wrinkle on their cheek, these are the people sat at the front of the bus and I’ve got to say, you’ve got to admire them. These are usually the people who have been demoted from a life time of high living on the upper deck to either a temporary or permanent seat as close to the driver as you can get . While old age and bad health knock the unadventurous and the insecure right off the bus – stopping them from ever getting on again- those at the front of the downstairs deck are the loyal ones – the ones who sit with the other passengers in solidarity and will continue to travel by bus until the unfortunate and bitter end. Even when the going gets tough and the ramp needs to be used to help these people past the first, oversized step onto the bus or when they have to awkwardly ask a fellow passenger to vacate the seat reserved for the frail because they need it, they will still be on the bus. I can’t begin to imagine how much these front downstairers have paid, all together, in bus fares in their life time or how many hours they have sat through the stench of stranger’s food or how many people they have got to know through eavesdropping on far too loud conversations on the phone. But, by golly, its these loyal people that have kept the bus company’s up and running and these people who love the bus for all its faults so you better respect them.

Right behind these people, you get the insecure and they really are a tough lot to come across. They’ve taken a risk even stepping onto the claustrophobic, unpredictable environment of the bus and by the time they’ve muddled their way down the aisle to quickly find a passenger-less row of seats and tried to sit down without dropping something, or looking awkward or making too much noise their meagre store of confidence has pretty much been depleted. And so out comes the handbag, the coat or pretty much anything onto the seat next to them in order to stop anyone even considering taking that seat and raising the awkwardness of their bus experience to a whole new level. Should the dreaded moment appear when, in fact, someone needs to take this seat because the bus is full, the insecure will avoid eye contact, shrink as far away as possible from this unsettling co-passenger and even, in the most severe situations get off only when the passenger next to them holding the aisle seat gets off in order to have to avoid asking them to move. You’re fairly unlucky if you’re sat next to one of this lot but you’ve got to give it to them that they’ve actually made it onto the bus because, quite frankly, if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t bother.

The last category using the downstairs deck is the unadventurous and if you’ve got on the same bus at the same time for more than a couple of times not only are you at risk of joining this category but there’s a very good change you can spot this category. The golden call to go upstairs has left them unaffected and they go one step further than this – they sit in the same spot journey in and journey out. The same side of the bus, with the same dim view of the outside from the windows, with the same amount of leg room and the same angle of the bus. And if anyone dares – by accident, by the fact that they are uneducated in bus etiquette or by the fact that they are new to the bus running at this time- to take an unadventurous passenger’s ‘reserved’ seat the of surprise and confusion displayed is evident and followed by a lost attitude as if the unadventurous passenger no longer knows what to do with themselves. If you are the unadventurous type, after a couple of seconds, you’ll know what you do next: you’ll find a seat, as close the the original as possible, being careful to ensure that it is not a fellow unadventurous-passenger’s seat and this will become the reserved seat until this is, once again, stolen.

The Anomalous

Finally, and I’ll make it quick because time is getting away with itself and if you’re reading this on the bus you’ve probably almost reached your destination, as with everything in science the laws of the psychology of seating on the bus has its own anomalies and they’re worth mentioning just to be aware of.

 With Friends- A group of friends will ALWAYS go upstairs. In this mix of people the insecure are made to feel – or rather forced to feel – confident and are quite literally dragged up onto the upper deck. If you are observant you’ll see the insecure members of the group lingering behind the rest – unsure what to do with themselves as they walk upstairs and glancing longingly over their shoulder at those comfortable passengers on the downstairs deck. In a group, however, the confident pave the way and even the unadventurous gain access to the upstairs world of the bus.

The Children- You can never guess where children are going and that’s a fact. The only thing you can be sure of is the wearied look on parents faces as they are dragged to explore each seat on the bus and their frustrated and snappy remarks to try and get their children under control. Children have not yet developed into being either the confident, the insecure, the adventurous or the unadventurous and so the bus is like the playground – a place to explore and try new things much the the parent’s dismay.

Those longing for the past- Every now and then a slightly frail member of society – perhaps one with a limp- will clamber onto the bus and take me by surprise : rather than taking the seat nearest the front they will go on up to the upperdeck with an air of pride and nostalgia. Its this anomaly, I have come to conclude, that are in denial and are longing for the past. They can’t bear to accept that the childhood and younger years of stealthily climbing up the stairs have long passed and so they sit among the school children upstairs feeling smug but looking very much out of place.

The tedious talkers- Now, within the rules of seating on the bus, those confident enough to share their lives with the rest of the passengers on board should be with the confident – upstairs and as far back as possible. However, the tedious talkers are always found downstairs – intriguing the frail, the insecure and the unadventurous with their tales. The only reason that I can think of is that these talkers are so desperate to talk that the extra few seconds that it takes to get upstairs is time that could be spent talking and so they stay downstairs. Or perhaps, and its probably a more likely reason, upstairs the hustle and bustle of the confident and unadventurous makes for disconcerting background noise and so the only way to hear the person on the other end of the line is to sit amongst the silence of the downstairs deck.  I don’t know how they are so willing to share their lives but it makes for an interesting bus journey for me so I hope the tradition continues and the tedious talkers pass their skills onto the next generation.

Now that I’ve told you all about the laws and psychology behind seating on the bus I’ve got to ask you to liven up your bus journey by playing my little game – can you guess where someone is going to sit on the bus from just seeing them? Give it ago and you may be surprised at how accurate these laws really are. Oh, and don’t forget, someone else on the bus is probably finding it just as easy to guess where you will sit!