STM’s direct bus link between downtown and the airport has arrived none too soon. The former route’s multiple confusing transfers (one of which was so close to the airport the weary traveller might have inhaled jet fumes) seemed to have been designed with jet-lagged torture in mind. The old route had been in place since at least 1999, when I was cruelly initiated with duffel, trunk, and bicycle in tow.
Montreal’s 747 is a welcome option for frugal travellers, and probably a cause for celebration among airport employees who make the daily commute.
It proves to be a transportation melting pot. No longer are the classes singularly defined by limo, taxi, shuttle, or metro. Rather, all types ride the 747.
This results in a typically Montreal-style socializing experience. In fact, it takes the communal effort of all passengers to ensure everyone’s safe transit.
Before the 747 departs on its highway journey, the pilot inevitably must inform approximately 20% of people boarding that without a pass, seven dollars in change is required. No bills. Of course, prior to embarking, every international traveller has logically unburdened herself of the three pounds of loonies and twonies one accumulates over a weekend in Canada.
What follows is a shake-down of those people already on board, as they collaborate to scrape together enough change for their fellow travellers’ tickets. The faster they do so, the less likely that flights will be missed due to the delay. This invariably creates a mixture of friendship and resentment among the passengers, the first steps of any meaningful group dynamic.
Once clearly filled to over-capacity, the 747 launches from the curb, and everyone standing quickly realizes that a white-knuckle ride is at hand. The conductor, in her rush to make up for the said delay, swerves across highway lanes as a fighter pilot might carve through the skies.
Since the temperature cannot be lower than a stagnant 30 degrees inside the bus, neighbouring passengers become immediately intimate, involuntarily sharing their sweaty secretions and closely-quartered looks of amused fear.
They learn to collectively anticipate the driver’s abrupt reactions to the finicky traffic, leaning together into the turns and helping each other keep from tripping over tippy luggage strewn across the floor.
Periodic gridlock on Autoroute 20 allows for the passengers to collect themselves. They straighten their damp sportcoats and reposition their drooping bra-straps.
It also provides out-of-towners with a close look at a few of Montreal’s lesser-known characteristics. Some point in disbelief at the crumbling facade of the Turcot Interchange which swoops above us. It appears to be held together by failing rebar, chain-link fencing, and ominous spray-painted X’s. Others note that for no apparent reason, traffic drives (or inches along) on the left side of the road at this section of Autoroute 20, a rare circumstance in North America.
With the bus becalmed by hot traffic, one also becomes acutely aware that we are, yes, on a bus. It is not immune to the perpetual backups and dangers present on Montreal’s highways. This bus is no train, let alone a 747.
But we safely arrive to the airport in reasonable time as one relieved group. We scatter through the terminal, then share looks of solidarity as we reconvene in various lines to prepare for our next transfer.