My brother and his partner lived in the Gold Coast for a few years, and so once a year, we – my partner, my daughter, and I – would take advantage of the free accommodation and fly over for a holiday from Adelaide. The first couple of times, our low budget and naivety of how terrible the public transport system was (and actually, the drivers in general), gave way to quite a few adventurous moments. Although, most of the time it just led to sitting and waiting for a bus that never showed up. We eventually started hiring a car.
This piece is a little story of our very first experience arriving in the paradise that is the Gold Coast.
The Bus Driver
We stepped off the plane and walked slowly down the concrete path, trying to keep in a straight line with the other passengers as they moved toward the long industrial building that was Coolangatta airport. The two or three palm trees sparsely placed in between the flat grey expanse of the runways were the only thing alerting us to the fact that we were now in a tropical paradise.
My first encounter with a person from inside the airport was an unhelpful attendant. The bright orange sign behind him reading: Sunshine Coach Tours, looked to be a cheerful attempt at brightening up the otherwise unhappy and dreary demeanor of all who were trapped inside this airport box. When I said I didn’t want to pay the $120 “for a coach who took you to your doorstep”, we were sent outside to wait on the median strip for a public bus.
We dragged our luggage outside, and as there seemed to be no signs, we stood in a random spot in a hope that a bus would just turn up. I then heard a voice in front of us that said, “are you getting on?” I had barely time to look and discover that a shuttle bus had materialised before us, before the woman driver then yelled, “hurry up, get on, get on!”
Shocked by the outburst, we madly started manoeuvring our luggage, along with ourselves, up the steps of the tiny bus. As we all squished on board, I looked around and saw there were a handful of other passengers, sitting obediently, hugging their bags and suitcases, surprisingly tightly, and staring out the window with a slight look of, was it – fear – in their eyes? It was then that the bus driver looked directly at me and barked like a threatening dog. ‘Hurry up!”
We took off. How the driver got the little bus to such a speed so quickly was beyond me. My partner, my seven year old daughter, and I, were flung violently forward. I desperately grabbed at the nearest seat I could, and wrenching my daughter onto my lap, I had one hand holding her, the other firmly gripping the bar in front of me. I had barely come to terms with the alarming speed at which we were traveling when the bus then suddenly pulled to a screeching halt.
The same scene we had been part of minutes before was re-enacted before us, and the next lot of passengers, who, shocked like us by the manner of this crazed driver, dutifully tried to get on as quickly as possible. Then, all of a sudden, and very unexpectedly, the driver shot out of the bus, looking like a short stocky bolt of lightning as she sprinted toward the Virgin Blue terminal, and then disappeared. Before we had time to wonder what was going on, she was back, and we were off again, just as the new lot of passengers had sat down.
It might have been a race track: the turns, the curves, the weaving in and out and dodging of other traffic. It was mesmerising in an insane kind of way. Then, we again pulled to a sudden stop. This time, the bus driver started beeping madly on her horn. It took a moment to realise that she was beeping, not at people, but at the red traffic lights which had forced our vehicle to a halt to let the opposing traffic go.
I held on for dear life as the lights turned green. I then sighed in relief when the bus made its next stop and the driver screamed at everyone to get off. There were a few moments of shuffling as people exited the bus, luggage in hand, as fast as physically possible. One couple, who may have been from Germany, turned back to ask which bus they should now catch. They were met with a loud door slam and a cloud of dust in their face. We all just stood in stunned silence as the bus sped off.