The Bus to Ballinasloe

We’re 11 kilometers from Ballinasloe, then 10, then seven, then nine. The Local Bus lives up to its name, going out of its way, door to door, backing up and turning around in people’s driveways, winding down one-lane country roads. The trip from Portumna, in County Galway, Ireland, which otherwise takes about 40 minutes, lasts an hour and a quarter.

As it makes its circuitous way past sparkling green fields and the occasional castle ruins, through little towns not yet awake, the 16-passenger minibus gradually fills up. I calculate: 5 euros round trip, times 16, is about $120. With gas around $9 a gallon, they’re not doing this for the money.

Most of the riders are elderly, most of them women. People greet each other; everybody knows everybody. At some point it dawns on me: This really isn’t about the money. It’s a social service, for rural residents who have no other way to get around.

I signed up in advance for the only public transportation between Portumna and Ballinasloe. I asked Bernie at the tourist information office, “If nobody signed up, would the bus not run?”

“Oh, no, it goes anyway,” she said. But if you sign up and you’re running late, the bus will wait for you.

Kieran, our driver, pulls over to answers his cellphone: “Ah, Mary, we’ll be by for you in about 30 minutes.” He opens the door for his passengers, places a footstool, helps them aboard. When he discharges us in Ballinasloe, he shows me where to catch the bus for the return trip. Everybody else already knows. He still hasn’t collected my fare.

For the homeward journey, passengers gather behind the CostCutter grocery on the square. Most folks are there early, lingering inside the back door out of the intermittent rain.

Kieran loads their shopping bags, and we reverse our route. He carries people’s packages in for them. At one house, when he doesn’t return immediately, somebody murmurs, “He’s gone in for tea.”

“He’s gone in to see the cat.”

“The cat’s gone. It died.” Clearly, these are people who know each other’s business.

Back in Portumna, he finally collects my fare.

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5 Responses to The Bus to Ballinasloe

  1. brian miller says:

    what a journey…pretty cool on the bus driver as they seem to know everyone…and everyone seems to know everyone….and if the cat died…even though it meanders i bet it would be a cool trip

  2. i love your stories, your travels, friend. keep writing. you have such a gift.

  3. becky says:

    Your comments on my blog this morning prompted me to come for a visit…I’ve spent an hour wandering through your delightful posts…I see imperfect prose is where I’ve spotted your name before :)

  4. Carol Nuckols says:

    Thank you, Brian, Emily and Becky. I haven’t been spending much time in the blogosphere lately, but I enjoy all of your beautiful photos and insightful thoughts.

  5. Jodi says:

    Loved this. It reminded me of bus rides in New Zealand. Every person that got on the bus would say “Hello, bus driver” – even the young. Everyone who exited would say “Thank you bus driver”. Once when riding to the city, I needed a transfer token. “Where’r you headed, love?,” the driver asked. When I explained, he said, “Oh no, that’s much too expensive. If you get off a stop earlier you’ll be able to catch this other bus a lot cheaper.” I mean, who does that? But then, what bus driver stops for tea? :) Also, when my daughter who lives in NZ travels with the baby, the bus driver will always help her on and off with the pram.

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