Book 1 Ch.5: The Matrix in Bus № 17

The years following the turn of the millennium brought out many wonders that changed the shape of the world forever. Cable television had become passé. Mobile phones had replaced email addresses as the absolute symbol of royal lineage. A new website called Google apparently made cooking-up research assignments over dial-up connections slightly less painful.

Over the next two years, though, most of these wonders of human evolution had become the new normal. Topics worth entire shows on the Discovery Channel in 1999 elicited slightly less than an enthusiastic “meh”by 2002. Roughly coinciding with the time when all their programming shifted away from sharks and sci-tech, into an endless loop of World War II and Hitler conspiracy theories.

And yet, for the longest time, nothing created as deep an impact on civilization as a whole as The Matrix movie. Nothing could possibly have made people stop being in awe of The Matrix… Except the subsequent sequels of course, that managed to turn everything seemingly meta into flying kicks and constipated grunts. But I digress…

For years, right from the dawn of the most rudimentary language, and all the way through to mid 1999, smarter people debated politics and religion and tax laws — subjects you’d need to have a certain depth of proficiency in to even participate.

Pseudo intellectuals had no say in such discussions. After all, these were topics that required research and well thought out arguments. But The Matrix changed the game. Suddenly, you could pretend to have deep intellectual conversations based on a movie and arm chair thought experiments.

So day after day, lesser minds like mine would get together and debate about why we were all basically living in the Matrix — about how life as we knew it was obviously an illusion. About how the chemistry lab assistant was almost definitely the result of a glitch in programming that our OOPS professor couldn’t debug.

But all of these debates were scheduled for only once I reached the sacred grounds of my college. The long bus journey to and from was mostly passed in sleep and silence.

Since my college had been constructed somewhere only reachable through spacecrafts and timewarps, the only practical means of transportation was the college-operated bus fleet. Not that private transportation was not allowed, but nobody wanted to get on a roadtrip through dirt tracks and chicken coops for three hours, twice a day.

Our college bus drivers were of two types. First, there was the angry retiree who was clearly far too old to be on the road. He’d seen the best and the worst of traffic, transporting people from the time the first wheel came into being. And he’d realized that as long as he kept the engine running, you were eventually bound to reach the destination.

The second kind of driver was younger. A psychopath who was supposed to serve multiple life sentences for manslaughter, but was pardoned by a presidential plea in the last minute. And the college decided to give him a bus full of eager kids just for kicks.

You were officially sorted into a bus route based on where you lived. But through some ingenious algorithm, the college seemed to sort students based on specific stereotypes. Bus 35 had the cool kids who were dropped and picked up from their stops in Ferraris. Bus 6 had the culturally inclined, who filled their journey with music, dance and bad poetry. Bus 26 had the cowboys with their serial killer driver…

I was sorted into Bus no. 17 — a refurbished garbage truck filled with other “nothing remarkables”. And driven by what I can only imagine was the mummified remains of the first Pharaoh’s charioteer.

You can tell the character of a college bus by looking at its aesthetics. The cool busses had snazzy curves. The artsy ones had big stickers of puppies and rainbows covering the rear glass. Bus no.17 was a giant cardboard box with gaping holes on the roof and windows that won’t open.

My day started before the break of dawn — when I’d trek to my stop and wait for Bus no. 17 to roll by. The first rays of the sun were not particularly beneficial to the cataracts in the driver’s eyes, so the only way to catch his attention and make the bus roll to a stop was to dive in front of it and hope to not die. Some days he’d stop, grumbling at the obvious inconvenience caused by my mere presence. Other days he’d continue rolling onward, forcing me to scurry behind the crawling bus until it halted at the next stop.

I usually sat next to an enterprising gentleman who filled me with interesting stories about celebrity gossip and the agricultural output in far away villages. Sleep and blankly staring into the window were more pleasant options. But this day, the gentleman had more important things to attend to and I wasn’t feeling particularly sleepy, which meant I had to find other means to entertain myself during the 3 hour journey.

I knew there were two other fellow humans in Bus no. 17, but an opportunity for conversation had not presented before us yet. You never know — perhaps we could have deep, fulfilling conversations. Perhaps they could impart life lessons that would change me forever.

“I saw this movie called the Matrix yesterday”. I could hardly eavesdrop anymore over the pounding in my chest. These were the kind of people I’d hang out with. My kind of people.

I cursed myself for not engaging in a conversation earlier — six months of lost genius that I’d never get back. I dreamt about the long, deep philosophies we might fill our bus journeys with over the next three and half years.

Intellectual debate — here I come.

I just had to wait for my cue now— “Perhaps we’re already living in the Matrix, and just don’t know it”. After all, I’d rehearsed the lines a hundred times already in various debates, and yet the counter arguments had managed to survive way past any semantic satiation.

“There was this police officer. And he could go wherever he wanted through the telephone…”

Teleporting police officers. I went back to staring out the window. This was Bus 17 — where hopes, dreams and people fossilised into diamonds over a one-way 3 hour journey.

This story is part of a running series about tales and non-incidents from my college life. If you liked this story, let me know by hearting this post…

Previously on my Four-year Transforms:

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