I have recently taken to travelling more frequently by bus on the island, particularly if I wish to visit our capital center, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. I dislike negotiating the ever changing one-way streets in the city, which we often forget is the seventh largest city in Spain, or trying to find a car park that is invariably full or horrendously expensive. I have also had my fair share of parking fines, as well as recently being ‘ticked off’ by a very kind, young policeman who met me heading the wrong way up a one-way street. In my defense, the direction of this one-way street had once again recently been changed, and no one had bothered to tell me about it. He was a very nice young man, and after I had explained that I was a confused Brit, he put his handcuffs back on his belt and sent me merrily on my way to my favorite department store. Nowadays, I have come to the conclusion that I would much prefer to negotiate the streets of central London; it would be so much easier.
Another reason that I like travelling by bus is that it is such a social occasion in Gran Canaria. One of my hobbies is people watching, and I can sit in a bar for hours observing human nature and imagining appropriate scenarios for them, which may appear in the novel that I happen to be writing at the time. The bus is a natural extension of this curious interest as, believe me, Canarian buses are filled with some of the most gregarious, happy and friendly people that you would ever wish to meet. These people do not need alcohol or drugs to have a good time; it just seems to come naturally to them.
Last week, my partner and I returned from Las Palmas after a shopping trip in the city. The bus service on the island is excellent, and the bus was already waiting to leave by the time that we got on board. The bus driver was a chirpy soul; I guess in his late thirties. I could tell at once that he was a man who actually liked people, which, if you think about it, is often a rare quality nowadays, particularly in any service industry. He had a cheeky banter with each passenger as they entered his domain, and we also received a few words of welcoming Spanish. He grinned at my feeble effort to make a small joke in Spanish, but I felt that he was appreciative of the effort that I had made.
It was just after we left the bus station that the fun, or should I say music, began. Fernando, as we all quickly discovered after his announcement, suddenly surprised us with a CD recording of a piano recital of music from musical shows, as well as other popular classics. This was not the usual sound of a badly tuned radio, broadcasting football, news or the latest chart busters, but a full concert performance, with the sound turned on full volume throughout the bus. Was it pure coincidence that we found ourselves listening to the merry tinkling of “I did it my way” as we passed the mortuary, I wondered?
On our one-hour journey home, we were regaled with music ranging from Abba, Phantom of the Opera to the Beatles. It was just after one of the Abba melodies, that there was a huge cheer and applause from the passengers, with many singing along loudly to the music. It was amusing to watch the faces of some of the young hoodies that appeared on board from time to time, and to watch their expressions when they suddenly realized that they were going to be forced to listen to “uncool” music for the full length of their journey. Some young rebels gathered together at the back of the bus, desperately trying to initiate a campaign to overcome the piano music with rap or the latest Canarian music from the feeble speakers of their mobile phones. Sadly, they would have needed a 70s ‘ghetto blaster’ to overcome Fernando’s special musical treat for his passengers.
At one point, one of Fernando’s colleagues got on the bus, which I assume was for a lift back to the bus depot. He too joined in with the merriment, but also added energetic hand actions and foot tapping. Our driver enthusiastically accompanied the music with improvised percussion, created by tapping the hollow part his ticket machine. At one point I thought they would be giving out YMCA party hats to all the passengers, so that we could all join in.
We were actually rather sad to finally reach our destination. We left the bus still humming some of the tunes that we had been forced to listen to during our late afternoon of Fernando’s musical entertainment. It may not have been our choice of music, but it certainly brought a smile to our faces, as well as the other passengers.
Was this a one off? Well, I am led to believe that Fernando has a special reputation for his music bus, which has become an institution on this particular bus route. Sadly, I cannot see it being popular on London Transport buses. I am sure that there are some health and safety or licensing rules against it, but this is Gran Canaria!