“These trains get funnier looking all the time,” the bus driver mused for the benefit of his passengers. I’d planned on boarding a train that morning, heading to London after a wondrous if rainy week in the Cotswolds.
Did Great Malvern Station have it in for me, I wondered. Earlier in the week I couldn’t get off the train there, and now I couldn’t get on. Instead, a line-up of motor coaches awaited at the station. The Great Western Railway was taking advantage of a Sunday morning lull to do track repair. I’d be riding a bus as far as Evesham, where I’d transfer to the train.
I settled in a front seat to take advantage of the panoramic view through the windshield. That put me in conversational proximity with the driver, who was genial in a John Cleese sort of way. At each stop he’d cheerfully welcome passengers aboard, then as the bus started rolling again, he’d get on the intercom: “Captain speaking. Seatbelts are provided for your safety, not comfort. If you choose not to use one and are caught, the fine is a hundred quid.”
His driving style was skilled yet casual. He needed only his right hand to guide the massive coach around even the sharpest corners while his left tapped the steering wheel, matching the rhythms of music playing softly on his radio.
When he learned I was from the United States, he said, “I guess this is the question all Americans get asked—is Trump good or bad?”
“Is Brexit good or bad?” I responded. I’d meant the question rhetorically but he replied, “I guess they are pretty much the same,” and launched into his assessment of Brexit.
“It’s stupid,” he began, declaring it wouldn’t help anyone. No one was willing to listen to people who knew anything, he continued. The problem, he declared, is that “this generation” (his own, presumably) has never had to suffer.
“You mean like the World War II generation did?” I asked.
“Exactly,” he answered.
Later, on my fifth day in London, I gave up hoping that the bronchial cough I’d been fighting for two weeks was going to cure itself. I was in a National Health Service waiting room, where twenty or so people sat quietly, like me, waiting to see a physician. In front of us was a giant TV screen, showing a news broadcast with volume off. Dialogue captions crawled across the screen. As I watched, the announcers were revealing the three finalists in the race for prime minister.
Somehow I’d managed to visit England at a time of political vortex, arriving the week following President Trump’s visit and amidst the chaos of an election. Or seeming chaos. The consensus seems to be that Boris Johnson has a lock on the prime minister’s spot. I looked around the room to measure reactions to the latest news, and there were none. Most people were either consulting their phones or staring into blank space.
What if no one cares?