There are a few things in my new life that I'm able to do comfortably. I can walk to work, shop for most things I need, buy a ferry ticket, use the appliances in my house, and - I thought - handle the bus system. I ride the bus several times a week - sometimes multiple times on a Saturday or Sunday. When I first started riding the bus, I was pretty edgy and unsure of what was happening, but over time I became more and more comfortable. Tonight, everything changed when I got on the bus for a 10 minute ride home and arrived home an hour an a half later.
Now, dear reader, you are fortunate in that you already know the outcome of the story in that I could not be blogging were I still on the bus. But try to imagine that you are living through this with me.
At 7:25, I hopped on a bus in the middle of town that was aimed in the direction of my house. All my past bus experiences had taught me that if you are at this point of the town and the bus is aimed at your house, it goes to your house. No deviations. Well, about 5 minutes into our journey, the bus deviated.
I wasn't too worried as we made that first turn, because I've been on buses going the other way that take a short detour and come right back to the main road. Well, we kept going. I also know there are buses that go up and down Wakkanai - normally I take buses that go across Wakkanai. I figured that I would be somewhere familiar any minute, and then everything would be fine.
Normally, bus fares in the city run from 210 yen to 240 yen. I can go from my house at one end of town all the way to Cape Noshappu at the other end of town for 240 yen (less than $3). There is a lit sign at the front of the bus that tells you the amount you have to pay based on where you got on the bus. This evening, my fare was being tracked in section 1. I saw section 1 go from 210 to 230, which is an odd ammount for riding around the city. When I saw it suddenly jump from 230 to 360, I knew it was time to implement an action plan. I didn't want to panic too early, as it would be really embarrassing to have a conversation like this:
Scene starts: Ring, Ring
Supervisor (having a peaceful evening at home): "Hello?"
Me: "HELP! I'M ON THE WRONG BUS AND AM COMPLETELY LOST AND MAYBE IN CHICAGO AND...oh, never mind, we just took a small detour..."
I also didn't want to have a conversation like this:
Scene starts: Ring, Ring
Me (on the bus): "Hello?"
Supervisor: "Uh, Liz, it's 10:30 Monday morning. Why aren't you here at work?"
Me: "Well, I took the wrong bus, but I'm pretty sure it will be heading back to Wakkanai any minute."
Supervisor: "What's the last place you passed?"
Once I saw that fare jump to 360 yen, I was fairly assured we had passed conversation 1 and were quickly headed to conversation 2. I also saw that we were rapidly leaving the lights of the city behind and the bus was accelerating past city speeds. By this point, I was also the only passenger on the bus. I quickly ran through my options, as the bus was still moving along at a fast clip. I decided against 3 options: leaping off into the dark night, crying, and telling the bus driver I was lost. Leaping off into the dark night would merely have left me lost in the dark night rather than lost on a nice bus with lights, crying would just have given me red eyes, and I didn't know how to tell the bus driver that I was a dork who got on the wrong bus.
I decided to call Mike, the ALT who has already been here a year. I've only seen him a handful of times - I think twice when his girlfriend was in town and maybe two other times. However, I figured that he would probably be the easiest help out of my predicament, and if I were hopelessly lost, he would be able to tell me how to tell my supervisor how to find me. Our conversation went something like this:
Phone: Ring, Ring (only it's an annoying phone and I can hardly hear when it rings)
Mike (who at this point doesn't know what he's in for - poor guy): "Hello?"
Me (quite calmly): Hey Mike, it's Elizabeth. I hope I'm not interrupting anything...heh heh heh...I've gotten myself in a bit of a pickle.
Well, we were on the phone for quite a while as he tried to figure out where in the world (or at least in Hokkaido) I was! Next to the fare sign is the name of the next stop, but as we all know, I'm basically illiterate. I've learned katakana and hiragana, but the bus signs are generally composed of 3-5 kanji. I know very few kanji. Now, I know the kanji for the stops around my house, but we weren't exactly in my neighborhood. So Mike is reading the bus schedule and I'm trying to describe what the kanji look like, but the stops keep changing. Sometimes I know one of the kanji, sometimes I know the English meaning of the kanji, and sometimes I'm just trying to describe what it looks like. "It's like the one for tree but with two things coming out of the top so it kind of looks like an asterisk!" A recorded voice also says the name of each stop, so when the voice started speaking, I would try to hold my cell phone up so Mike might be able to hear where I was. Eventually he figured out where I was and where I was going, so he told me to get off at Noshappu and he'd meet me and help me get home. I couldn't figure out how I'd wound up over there when I'd been going the opposite direction to begin with! So, we hung up and I rode for a while. Finally, I heard the voice say Noshappu, and I paid my 670 yen and got off that crazy bus ASAP!
As the bus drove off into the dark night, I looked at my surroundings and began to think that perhaps something was not quite right. This was not the Noshappu I knew and loved. I was standing in a small patch of light, surrounded by...nothing. There was one building set back from the road a little ways behind me, but other that that, nothing. Well, my senses, honed from years of living in Jackson, were all screaming "AAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!" I looked at the bus stop sign and it said Noshappu 5. I really wanted to start walking, but they always say that if you are lost, you should stay in one place. So, I found a little spot where I could easily see the road yet not be easily seen from the road and tried to wait patiently.
Eventually, Mike arrived at the main Noshappu stop and saw that I wasn't there. He called, and we figured that I was at the opposite end of the Noshappu district. So, he started walking my direction and I set off toward civilization. The one nice thing about walking outside the city in the dark is that you can see the stars really well. I could also see the shadow of the hills that surround Wakkanai. I felt a little like a wandering hobo or something as I headed down the road with my backpack (which was rather heavy, if you ask me).
Finally I met up with Mike and we walked the rest of the way to civilization! Lights! Yea-a-a-a-a!!! Thankfully, there was a bus waiting at the Noshappu stop (that's where they turn around to go the other way, but they usually sit there a little while first). Pretty soon (and uneventfully), I was back to my own humble abode.
When I got on the bus this evening, I didn't bother to look at the front of the bus to see where it was going, but no matter what it said, I would have boarded the bus anyway! Unfortunately, I don't know how to avoid that bus in the future, so I may accidentally take that crazy ride again. I think I know what to do now, though. But, how many other crazy buses are lurking out there? How many wild rides have I avoided by simply being in the right place at the right time? It is so weird to have something you finally feel comfortable with taken and shaken! I sure am glad to have a cell phone!
Well, we'll see what adventures tomorrow brings!