The Mythology of Buses…

Montreal has a few mythical bus lines, such as the number 15, which supposedly travels west along boulevard de Maisonneuve (downtown) and returns east along rue Ste. Catherine, and the number 30, which supposedly goes up and down rue St. Denis. These buses are mythical because they appear on the Société de transport de Montréal‘s Web site (www.stm.info) and on their published bus schedules, but as far as I know, no one has ever seen them. Or at least, no one has ever ridden on them.

This seems odd, given that both buses run along some of Montreal’s main commercial arteries, but here’s the kicker: they also run along Metro (subway) lines, so they are, in effect, redundant. And thus, scarcely scheduled.

Another mythical ghost bus is the number 29, which cuts through the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood — apparently Canada’s densest urban neighbourhood at more than 13,500 people per square kilometre — along rue Rachel, down rue St. Urbain, along ave. des Pins, up Boulevard St. Laurent, and back the other way on Rachel. From there it goes into the mysterious land of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, does a loop, and comes back to the Plateau.

You would think the number 29 would be my friend, given that I’m still very oriented towards The Main (boulevard St. Laurent) and that I live half a block from rue Rachel in the Plateau Mont-Royal. In that respect, the 29 is the perfect shuttle for me.

The problem is that the number 29, which you would think would be very popular with others as well, as it connects and bisects several neighbourhoods and does not follow a Metro line, isn’t popular at all. (Perhaps someone should write an essay about the 29 as a failed bridge of the two solitudes, going back and forth, empty and ghost-like, between The Main — very Anglophone — and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve — very francophone.)

I don’t know if the bus is unpopular because it so rarely appears, or if it so rarely appears because it is so unpopular. But you never see it. Years ago, when I lived near The Main and would visit a friend who lived just off of rue Rachel, the 29 would have been perfect for me, but in several years of trying I never saw it. I referred to it as “the bus that comes every third Tuesday, but only if it’s cloudy and the Expos have won a game that week.”

I did, however, take the number 29 once, back around 1995, but it was by accident. I wanted to take the 55, which runs all the way up St. Laurent (the two lines overlap between ave. des Pins and Rachel). I waited for it at rue Duluth, and when a bus came I got on without even checking to see if it was the 55, because what other bus could it be?

It was the 29. I realized that when it turned right at Rachel instead of continuing straight.

I had my second encounter with the 29 this past Saturday afternoon, and it was, in fact, a perfect bus experience. Mythical, almost.

I was walking south on St. Laurent after getting my hair cut way up by Fairmount. I decided to go to the Vieille Europe store to stock up on odd and unusual bottled and radioactive things from the Old Countries. But it was seriously frickin’ cold out and I didn’t know if I had the gumption to walk all the way down to the store (which is next to the mythical and now defunct Warshaw’s), and then all the way back home.

At St. Laurent and Rachel I remembered the mythical number 29 bus, and sure enough, there was a schedule posted at the bus stop on that corner. The schedule claimed the 29 comes about every half an hour and that one was due in 15 minutes, and another in 45 minutes, which translates as 10 and 40 respectively as I was still five minutes away (as the bus crawls) from Vieille Europe. I aimed for the one due in 40 minutes.

I walked to the store, shopped leisurely for 20 or so minutes, and found myself early for the bus. So I had a seriously retro moment by going into the Hungarian butcher shop next door, where I ordered a spicy sausage on a bun with hot mustard. This was my former snack of (no) choice back in the day before noodle shops and by-the-slice pizza. Mmmmmmm.

I finished the sandwich with about a minute to spare, and like magic — like mythology — I saw the number 29 bus round the corner at Ave. des Pins and come lumbering up the street. There were only two people on the bus — the driver, and a forlorn looking creature all crumpled up at the back. We picked up a few more folks at the next few stops and within a few minutes the 29 had deposited me at Rachel and St. Hubert, a three minute walk from home.