Pretty much every large city on the planet is doomed. That's my view after travelling into my nearest one over two days last week.
There was a conference in the city centre and the people who pay me sent me along to it. I could have driven, but thought it better to take the bus instead. And this is what gave me the rather gloomy outlook above.
I'm sorry, but public transport is a punishing experience in pretty much every way imaginable. Let me explain how.
I did not go into this with my glass half-empty. I was rather looking into it with a degree of anticipation. My current commute involves walking ten steps to my car, driving 25 miles to another city, parking up and walking into a building. It's not exactly a taxing process, but neither is it one to fill the heart with joy. Seriously, the A45 to Coventry is not something to stir up the emotions. Unless dyspepsia is an emotion, I suppose.
So I was looking forwards to my bus trip. I'm no stranger to buses; years ago I worked in Birmingham and it was the only way to travel. And I thought it would be the same last week. I imagined myself, leaping with gay abandon onto my allotted chariot, allowing it to convey me, a newly-born metropolitan sophisticate, to the great city. I would be free to do as I pleased once there, with no concerns about parking or the like.
I would be like one of those people in the adverts.Perhaps a skinny latte would be part of the deal? I'd have to find out exactly what a skinny latte was first (is it a type of pullover?) but I'd have this urban living malarkey nailed.
Waiting for the bus on Wednesday morning, most of this vision remained intact. I'd forgotten to factor in the 'walking to the bus-stop' phase of my journey into my timing, meaning a rather hurried walk had been made necessary. There are few things in life to which I attach the 'rather hurried' tag, and walking is evidently not one of them. I may have had a rather unpleasant glow about me by this point.
Never mind, I thought to myself, here comes my bus. I stepped on and dropped my £1.80 into the slot. Then, turning to face my fellow travellers, my heart sank.
Before I describe the scene that faced me, I should say that it is childish and wrong to judge people on their physical appearance. It is the mark of the shallow-minded. God knows I'm well aware of this myself, being on the receiving end of this treatment for much of what I laughingly call my adult life. I'm not proud of what I'm about to write.
It was like the cantina scene from Star Wars, only with a degree of forward motion added to the mix to further refine the horror. I had the distinct impression that they had all been enjoying a diverting conversation before my entry - perhaps about the latest flick-knives, or what's new in garroting - but they fell silent as they regarded me.
I was very conscious that I was wearing a suit. I had shiny shoes, a shirt and tie. It is not beyond doubt that some of the denizens of the bus were unfamiliar with this form of dress. Well, outside of court appearances, anyway. They looked upon me as if I had rocked up as an 18th century dandy, bewigged and carrying a nosegay.
I shuffled to a seat and gathered my thoughts. A man sniffed behind me.
"Not to worry," I said to myself. "At least you can look at the scenery. You can't do that if you're driving."
I regarded the boarded-up industrial units at the end of he road. A dog scratching its bum in the morning sunshine. And a scrawled message on the railway bridge that advised anyone interested that Kelly was, in fact, still a slag. I bring you this information free of charge.
The man sniffed once more.
Thirty seconds later we'd stopped again - people got on, people got off. I was made aware of really tinny music being played at the back of the bus. I don't know who it was who thought that selling very small speakers to teenagers with smartphones was a wise idea, but I would like to shake him warmly by the throat.
The man sniffed. In fact, the word 'sniff' doesn't do it justice. There was a lot going on with that sniff. It was portentous. It had depth. It spoke of medical conditions yet to be catalogued. And it was happening inches from my head.
From my left a young chap was having an increasingly animated conversation on his phone. I'm not one to overhear this sort of thing, but to be honest he wasn't giving an of us on the bus much of an option. I'm sure you'll be interested to know, as we were, that Imran didn't, in fact, go out last night, after some chicken that laid him low. And Ashraf can keep the money he's borrowed if he's going to say things like that. We don't know what Ashraf said, to be fair. Perhaps Imran needed some speakers on his phone, too.
The man sniffed. I was considering fashioning a copy of Metro into an impromptu rain hat.
Every thirty seconds we would stop and the passengers would be refreshed once more. As we approached schools along the route the aisle would fill up with youngsters, full of the swagger, the cheek and audacity of youth that makes others consider smothering as a viable option. An object lesson in language; by all accounts, the phrase "innit?" is to be used at the end of each sentence - even if it's not a question
Half an hour of this endured, the final stop was reached and I was disgorged, flapping and moist like a recently-landed carp, onto the pavement. I did not look or feel sophisticated. It occurred to me that if I worked in town this would be a daily occurrence for me. I shuddered at the thought and hoisted my wildly-heterosexual-manbag onto my shoulder.
And that's why I think cities are doomed. The bigger they get, the more public transport becomes a necessity. Before long, some of the poor souls who have to put up with it will snap. It's a good job we don't allow people over to carry guns, I suppose. The carnage would be biblical.
Right then, where are my car keys? Come to Daddy.