I regularly use the bus to get around London on the grounds that the Tube is a place where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. Tiring recently of the limited seating on the lower deck of the bus and the constant ethical dilemma about whether to stand for the elderly disabled pregnant woman or just keep on sitting like every other cold-hearted bastard Londoner, I risked a trip to the upper deck, a deck previously avoided because of the belief that you only sat upstairs if you wanted to be murdered by schoolchildren.
Luckily, for the routes and the hours I travel, the upper deck is like sitting in first class.
There’s no overcrowding on the upper deck because if anyone tries to stand, the voice of the Metatron will remind you that there is NO STANDING ON THE UPPER DECK OR STAIRS PLEASE. So the only indication you have that the bus is overcrowded and stinking of human is the time spent at each stop. You sit upstairs, feeling the breeze and toasting quietly as the bus rocks gently from side to side while the driver tries to squeeze on one more punter, like one of those Japanese game shows where they try to get 20 naked women in a phone booth.
Occasionally the Metatron gets angry if she feels like people aren’t making the effort and you get the PLEASE MOVE DOWN INSIDE THE BUS command. One particularly fractious day had the Metatron saying both stock phrases in such quick succession they started overlapping like an Aaron Sorkin screenplay — NO STANDING DOWN INSIDE THE BUS! STAIRS PLEASE MOVE ON THE UPPER DECK INSIDE! Confusing stuff, but on the upper deck we could largely ignore it all.
What you lose in overcrowding, however, you gain in complicated seating etiquette. There’s an unspoken rule on the upper deck that nobody may sit in an aisle seat when there is a window seat free. So:
A new arrival to the upper deck will take a window seat if one is available.
A new arrival to the upper deck will take an aisle seat if all window seats are taken.
Anyone sat in an aisle seat will spend their journey feverishly looking around to see if any window seats have become available.
When a window seat becomes available, the person sat in the nearest aisle seat will immediately vacate their aisle seat in favour of the window seat.
When the bus stops at one of the high-traffic stops, the upper deck turns into a complicated, silent game of musical chairs as some people get off, others get on, and aisle-seaters rush to get the window seats that are rightfully theirs.
Upper deck passengers can be categorised further:
The quantumly uncertain
As noted above, there is no standing on the upper deck or stairs. But! You can fulfill the Metatron’s demands by standing just at the top of the stairwell, which puts you neither on the upper deck (you’re on the stairs) or on the stairs (you’re on the upper deck). Standing in this spot puts you in a quantum state of uncertainity, in both and yet neither place simultaneously. You can then stand in peace until you drift too far in one direction, are spotted by the driver, and your wave function collapses.
A shy and retiring creature, the meercat wants to sit on the upper deck but doesn’t want to commit to walking all the way up only to find no free seats. Instead, he or she will walk halfway up, poke their head up as far as possible, do a quick scan like a periscope and then scuttle back downstairs before spotted.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get a pack of meercats, all simultaneously periscoping. When this happens, it looks sort of like those orchestrated moments in films where five people look around a corner at the same time.
The tourist will arrive on the upper deck, follow the standard seating procedure, yet will disembark only one stop later, leading everyone to silently wonder what the point of coming all the way upstairs was, and surely it would have been less effort to just stand for the duration on the lower deck, particularly given the comically-short distances between most stops in London.
The optimist barrels up the stairs and is halfway along the deck before even bothering to look for a spare seat. They can be recognised by their confused, faltering gait as they head for the back of the bus, mystified that there are no spare seats. Once the grim reality has sunk in, they’ll do the walk of shame back to the top of the stairwell, where they will become quantumly uncertain.
There are no pessimists on the upper deck.