A double-decker life
It was the last bus home, alone with my thoughts under the dim ceiling light, savoring the day, the dance, the last kiss goodnight, and musing about the future across the ocean
March 13, 2006
It was exciting to be back in the capital city following the few weeks away with my aunt’s family in the mountains at the little village of Ammameh (Turban). The peaks, the canyons and ice-cold snow melt waters were refreshing but here I was again in the pulse of the city that I had known all my eleven years.
My father’s car rolled slowly away from the old bus terminal and into the current of traffic. All seemed as before; the heat, the diesel smoke, the honking horns and traffic cops waving white gloved arms frantically from their stands in the middle of the intersections, whilst being ignored for the main part. It was the summer of 1959 and all things were changing.
As we turned into the flower bedecked Lalehzar Boulevard, I immediately noticed a change. There approaching us on the other side was the red behemoth - a double-decker bus. This was as amazing to me as Tehran’s first escalator in the Firdowsi department store, or the first viewing of the Lone Ranger on Tehran’s first TV station or even my first taste of Pepsi Cola at the public baths after a hot shower and a rub down by the Dalak. I strained to keep it in view as it passed us by and slowly disappeared above the afternoon traffic into the distance.
I had hoped to talk my mother into a double-decker bus ride as soon as possible but this was not to be. During my absence my parents had decided to separate and my mother was to leave for England with the children.
Our first stop in London was at a hotel just off Piccadilly Circus. Here we could sneak out of the hotel and sit under Cupid in the middle of the Circus. We would watch one double-decker after another pass in all directions. Not having the necessary permission, language or change, we could only watch and console each other by saying, “Oh yes, there’s another one, just like in Tehran.”
It was not until a full year later, after a stay in a boarding school in Kent and our move to Devon, that I finally had a chance to ride a double-decker. I had to go straight up the winding stairs to the top. Downstairs was used mainly by the elderly, the disabled or those with luggage. For the next eight years, a top deck ride on a double-decker bus was the weave in the fabric of my day, the transport through each milestone of my youth.
It was the ride to and from school with the rest of my mates during which we machine gunned the waiting convent school girls at the next stop, with our pea shooters from the top deck. A couple of years later it was the night out with the lads and our ‘birds’, all meeting up at the bus station to head off to the clubs, and each lad getting off at a different stop with his date on the ride back. It was the ride to college ascending the steps, looking for familiar faces at the top where we would heatedly discuss the latest Cassius Clay fight or the next dance at the Town Hall or the Egyptian troops massing at the Israeli border. It was the summer ride on the open top along the Torbay Promenade, admiring the bikini clad Swedish and French students tanning on the warm Devon sands of the British Riviera. It was the last bus home, alone with my thoughts under the dim ceiling light, savoring the day, the dance, the last kiss goodnight, and musing about the future across the ocean.
America and especially California was a world of congested freeways, giant cars, cheap gas and no double-deckers. Here there was not time for the slow pace, the easy conversations of the top deck. Americans encapsulated themselves in air conditioned houses, cars, offices and cubicles. Between work, college and eventually family obligations the double-decker became another time, another life, and another universe.
As I grew older and accumulated more baggage I relegated myself to the lower deck of life. No more climbing the stairs in search of my fellow adventurers or looking down on the world with dreamy eyes. Now I peer out of the lower deck windows and see the world at eye level. The conversations no longer animated, remain mostly in my head.
So here I was, waiting in line at the bus stop just like in the old days, except not in Devon but at UC Davis. My wife’s father had been an engineer at the university and she was raised in Davis. Picnic day was an April tradition that she again wished to experience. As soon as we had parked the car and walked onto the campus I saw the old double-decker in the distance and like a siren it had beckoned. Here in the midst of the parade, the science and animal exhibits, multi cultural foods and music, the one thing I really wanted to do was to ride on that top deck again. My wife was annoyed at this childish yearning but the kids thought it was a great adventure.
We finally managed to climb aboard and up the stairs. In the old cracked leather seats of the top deck, next to the faded and chipped paint, the creaking and jerking ride brought back memories of all those youthful years, even back to that hot day long ago in old Tehran. To this day I still look forward to the April Picnic Day and to my next double-decker experience.