The top-deck riders who lifted spirits
THAT'S MEN:A special type of person used to ride the buses
WHEN I take the bus in Dublin I always climb to the top deck with a stirring of excitement.
The excitement is a hangover from the old days when you could smoke on the top deck, leaving the duller passengers below.
More importantly, the back of the top deck had a sense of danger about it, thanks to certain passengers, mostly men, who gathered there to smoke (even after the ban), take drugs, drink and impress impressionable young ones.
I didn’t sit among them because I didn’t belong – though I broke the rule once and listened to a fellow just out of Mountjoy impressing another fellow, who was sitting beside me, and a couple of adoring females, with a lecture on how to cut a fellow-prisoner with a razor blade without the victim realising what was going on.
In these ways the top deck became inextricably linked in my brain and in the brains of others, I am sure, with excitement.
You never knew what might happen and you took care to glance only obliquely at the sometimes singing, always swearing, crowd at the back.
But that’s all over now. The Luas ended it.
The Luas is to a double-decker bus as the African Plains is to a cage in the zoo.
Animals used to be confined to cages or to relatively small enclosures in Dublin Zoo. Then the zoo expanded and the African Plains section was developed for zebras, giraffes and other animals. Here they roam more freely and can enjoy a sense of ease and space.
The more exotic denizens of the nation’s capital have experienced a similar transformation. Used to being confined to the back seats on the top deck, they lived to see the dawn of a great, new day: the arrival of the Luas.
There they may wander at will and, most of the time, it’s free. Getting onto the Luas without a ticket is dead easy compared with choosing the psychological moment to dash past a bus driver.
And if you keep an eye out for the Men in Black who act as security guards you can be off the tram and on the platform before they know you’re there.
When the Luas arrived, those who used to occupy the back of the top deck rose like a flock of migrating birds and took themselves to its more agreeable climes. It seems almost incredible now that all this happened without ceremony.
Surely the unveiling of a plaque to mark the “Seat of the Unknown Gouger” would have gone some way towards recognising those who unstintingly sacrificed their dignity over so many decades on our double-deckers?
It could, perhaps, have featured a half-smoked cigarette in bronze. The last drunken, stoned, snarling representative of his race could have left to the strains of The boy stood on the burning deck played by the Garda Band.
In any event, they left and now we are the poorer. Why? Because “downward social comparison”, as it’s called, is a great contributor to self-esteem and mental wellbeing. If you get to look down on somebody, it makes you feel better.
The collection of thugs and ne’er-do wells who populated the back of the top deck thereby sent citizens into work feeling better about themselves because they provided them with the opportunity to indulge in downward social comparison.
Similarly they sent them home to their families in a better mood in the evenings.
Sometimes, as I sit on the top deck, I think I hear a distant echo of raucous laughter, of swear words tossed back and forth, of girls screeching with delight and defiance and I even, now and then, get a whiff of cigarette smoke.
But all I see when I look back are empty seats and the smell of tobacco – or was it cannabis – has vanished.
I turn back to Twitter and I wonder if the world has lost some of its richness.
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is free by email.