For me, it was February 2007. That’s when I “got so funny.” I was on a broken down bus, on the side of a highway in Quebec, at 11PM. It was cold. No. It was freezing. People were panicking. I was funny, allegedly.
I was in Grade 10, going on a field trip to Quebec City for three days (it may have been four). We went to see the Bonhomme Carnaval and every other “visit here if you’re on a school field trip” destination.
We ate at McDonald’s every day.
Anyways, it turned into the field trip from hell, except it wasn’t hot. That proved to be a problem.
The bus ride from school to Quebec City was eight hours according to Google Maps. I had never been on a bus that long, so I was excited. I wanted to see how long I could last before I wanted to be anywhere other than that bus.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a yellow school bus. It was a charter bus. TVs, reclining chairs, and a washroom at the back. To quote Kevin from Home Alone, “Luxurious, and spacious.”
Before we left the school, I put on snow pants and a winter jacket. At the time, it wasn’t that cold where we were. I don’t think there was much snow, if any, on the ground. So other people going on the trip opted to dress with less layers.
I think they thought we would only ever leave the warm bus to get food, or enter the hotel. And neither would consist of us being outside for more than one or two minutes. So dressing lightly made sense.
But I knew Quebec would be much colder than my hometown; I prepared properly.
So we’re on the bus and as night comes we basically have the highway to ourselves. Only transport trucks were around us. If you saw a car, you were probably lying.
We’re 40 minutes away and it’s just after 9PM. Great, we’ll arrive by 10PM. Perfect.
And then the bus pulls over…
Pulling over on the highway is never a good thing. Houston, we have a problem.
The driver said he thought we had a problem, but I’m not sure he knew what it was, initially. He got off the bus to check things out, while 30 students stayed seated and told not to worry. Fine. He’s just gonna walk around the bus, maybe get a flashlight, check things out, and we’ll be on our way.
Only that didn’t happen.
For lack of a better phrase, the bus broke down. Caput. We were stranded on a highway.
Alright, just call the bus company and get another bus to come pick us up. That’s the solution here, right? Wrong.
The driver called the bus company and what do they send? They sent a mechanic. A freakin’ mechanic! It’s pitch black outside, there are kids on a bus, and they send a mechanic! Incredible.
So the mechanic arrives and takes a look at things. Verdict? He couldn’t do anything to help us. What a shock.
By this point a lot of people on the bus were freezing. And panicking. They weren’t prepared for the cold. Some asked to access their clothes under the bus to get some more layers, and were allowed. But those clothes weren’t exactly warm either.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting there nice and toasty in my snow pants. I called my parents to let them know what was going on.
“Hey, the bus broke down and we’re stranded on the side of the highway about 40 minutes from the hotel.”
“Okay. We’re just about to go to sleep here.”
Amazing. They weren’t even panicked. I was surprised by that. Sure, they asked me if we were alright and if they were sending another bus. But the initial reaction was just so ho hum. I found it hilarious.
It made me realize that this wasn’t really a big deal. It would just be a great story to tell in the future.
I don’t know what came over me, but I turned into a comedian on that bus to the people sitting around me. Maybe it was because I was tired and got loopy, or people were panicking and I wanted to try and lighten the mood. I was probably tired and got loopy.
At one point, my friend said to me, “When did you get so funny?” I’ve never appreciated a backhanded compliment so much in my life. Up until then, I was kind of always serious in the school setting.
There was like a “Home Paul” and a “School Paul.” They had different personalities and had never really meshed completely.
That night, I felt like I finally put them together.
I don’t remember anything I said on the bus, but people were laughing, and it felt great. I always knew I had a witty sense of humour but never really showed to it people outside of my close friends, or outside of school.
Back to the bus debacle. After the mechanic left, we got in touch with the bus company again and they refused to send us a new bus. Something about it being too late to wake up a driver and get a bus out to where we were stranded.
Really? So what do you want us to do? Curl up on a bus that is getting colder by the second and stay there for the entire night? I think some of us joked about starting a fire outside and pretending we were on Survivor. Road kill would have made for an easy breakfast. It’s the cereal of the “stranded on the highway” lifestyle.
I didn’t really understand why no one was trying to help us.
Then it was ultimatum time. The driver told the bus company that if they didn’t decide to send another bus within 20 minutes, we would get the police involved.
By this point, we had been stranded on the bus for almost two hours. It was closing in on midnight. We were supposed to be at the hotel at 10PM! Nope.
The bus company acquiesced and a new bus was on the way. It arrived about 40 minutes later. We arrived at the hotel around 1AM. We had to be up by 8AM the next morning, I believe.
So of course we all just wanted to go to sleep. Nope. The hotel bought us pizza! How thoughtful. Except it was the worst pizza I’ve ever tasted in my life. It was just..so..wet. I don’t know how else to describe it.
You picked it up and liquid was dripping from it. I thought it was oil. I also thought it must’ve been a joke. Nope.
We woke up the next morning and were told we had to walk everywhere that day. EVERYWHERE. The bus that brought us to the hotel had taken off because they were going to fix the one that broke down and give it back to us. Oh, how nice.
I don’t think anyone minds walking around a place they are visiting. But I do think everyone minds walking around a place they are visiting when it’s -30 degrees celsius.
I’m not exaggerating the temperature. It was that cold. We walked everywhere that day.
So when people complain about how cold it is outside during the winter, I think back to this trip every single time. You don’t know what cold is until you walk around Quebec City all day in -30 weather. Sorry, but you just don’t.
The rest of the trip was great.
We got back home a few days later and couldn’t eject a VHS tape (maybe it was a DVD) because the machine on the bus was frozen shut. Of course it would be.
It was a memorable trip for many reasons. What I remember as much as anything though, was being told I was funny. I know humour is subjective, but it gave me a lot of confidence to just be myself around people and not take school so seriously.
That was a big thing for me at the time.
See, being stranded on the side of a highway for three hours isn’t so bad.
“I just wanna make you laugh, I just wanna see that smile.”