The Swedish Bus System
by Dr. Phage


hen you have a bus-pass here, it is not used by showing it to the driver, as in the USA and other parts of the Third World. No, it is a high-tech marvel, a magnetic card which emits some kind of ray --- I suppose they are called B (for Bus) Rays --- to a scanning device mounted behind the driver. After getting on, you hold the card up to the scanner, in just the right orientation, and press one of seven buttons on the device. If you do it right, the scanner detects your B-rays and can tell not only that it is you, but even when you last used the card, and on which bus. When you do it right you are rewarded by a green light, which announces to the world that you are legal. I never am.

In my case, what always happen is that a red light flashes, bells ring, sirens go off, and everyone in the bus is informed that I am a hopeless nincompoop. At this point, the driver carefully tells me what to do, but of course he does so in Swedish, perhaps saying: "Nej, nej, you are holding the magnetic card backwards and upside down." I don't understand a word, of course, but smile idiotically and fall back on my small store of memorized Swedish phrases. "I'd like the shrimp salad, tonight," I tell him, in my best Swedish accent.

"You need to turn the card around, and press button 3," he says, attempting to demonstrate with his hands. "Where is my umbrella?" I reply brightly. People behind me, waiting to have their own cards scanned for B-rays, begin to shuffle a little. "Listen buddy," the driver says, "I can't start the bus until you work the card-scanner right." "Can you show me one in a larger size?" I tell him, simultaneously flapping the magnetic card ineffectually against the scanner, the window, the back of the driver's head, anything in the whole general area. The light stays red.

The line in back of me continues to build up. Although they are unfailingly polite, as Swedes always are, I began to have paranoid fantasies about what they may do to me if I never get out of the way. It is plain that there is something wrong with my B-rays, so I give up on this high-tech adventure, return the B-ray card to my wallet, and attempt to pay cash. "Is there a bath on this floor?" I ask the driver, fumbling out the largest Swedish bill I have. The driver regards me wearily, and hands over a ticket and a small mountain of coins in change. "So nice to meet you," I say, deftly sweeping the coins to the floor. Then I drop to the floor myself, scoop up most of the change, and proceed on my hands and knees to the rear of the bus, hoping to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Well, they are all very polite, these Swedes, and I think they are kindly, sympathetic to the mentally challenged. They are aware that we monolingual Americans belong in that category. In point of fact, many Swedes speak at least a little English, and some are fluent, so an English speaker cannot really get into trouble here. I even succeeded in buying some underpants the other day, possibly of the right size. I just asked the shop-clerk about the shrimp salad and my umbrella, and she immediately got the message and switched into English.

§     §     §

he BioMedical Center or BMC, where I am a visiting researcher, is a vast structure of interconnected wings, like a giant's leggo construction. I live in the guest-quarters, at the SE end, and work in a department at the NW end, separated by about 10 wings. Every day at 5:00 PM promptly, computerized doors lock between each wing. Naturally, I have a computer card which emits D (for Door) rays for the main door, and two passcodes. Neither my D-ray card nor the passcodes, nor any combination of them, open any of the internal doors between interconnecting wings on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th (top) levels.

Fortunately, all of the wings are interconnected without locked doors at the basement level. So, to travel between my room and my department, I have only to take an elevator down to the catacombs and travel through the labyrinth of corridors there, navigating between SE and NW. The general atmosphere down there is reminiscent of the space freighter in "Alien," but not as well lit. A young woman in the lab has been living in the guest quarters for two months, and is still scared to go down into the catacombs. But, compared to the bus system and the mysterious B-ray card-scanner, the catacombs hold few terrors for me. I have an orienteering compass to find my way, and sometimes I pay out a ball of yarn to find my way back --- but, of course, I never find it and have to discover a different route each trip. To speed my progress, I borrow one of the many skateboards that the BMC technicians leave scattered about in the corridors. At least I hope they were left by technicians, and not by guests of the BMC who never made it from one end to the other. I haven't noticed any skeletons down there, but of course the light isn't too good. Perhaps I should purchase a searchlamp, when I next take the bus into town, if I get there.

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