I read of the newly opened bus depot in HWT and it brought to mind the buses of my time. When I lived in Jamaica, JOS was the company that provided bus service throughout the corporate area. Jamaica Omnibus Service or Chi Chi bus as they were called, probably due to the sound heard when the doors were being closed. Needless to say, this was before the name “‘chi chi” took on a whole other meaning. At any rate, the JOS buses were silver coloured with a green trim, if memory serves me right. They travelled throughout Kingston with forays into the hills of St Andrew, meaning up Stony Hill way, down to Golden Spring and further up to Border, which is just that, the border between St Andrew and St Mary. They also went up into the Red Hills area,Irish Town and a few other hill areas. JOS was assisted in moving the people of the Corporate Area and outlying towns, by Penn Overland and McCauley\’s Bus Company. However, JOS was the way Kingston and St Andrew moved. Hubs were downtown in the Parade area, at Cross Roads and up at Constant Spring and Papine.
The buses worked on schedules ( for the most part), had uniformed drivers ,conductors and conductresses and inspectors, whose job it was to make sure that the buses remained on schedule. Some routes,e.g. Constant Spring to downtown, had many buses plying that route as it was a feeder route. You were able to get a bus at Constant Spring heading downtown, it would seem, at 15 minute intervals. Others, well, you had to wait a little bit longer as the route was longer. Which brings me to why I am writing this bit on the bus service back then. I read today of all that supposedly goes on with the taxi men, mini bus drivers, bus drivers and the school girls and I shake my head. Apart from some drivers need to stop at every rum bar for a \’whites\’, I cannot identify with this behaviour. The bus I would take sometimes on the way home from school was delightfully called a \’patty pan\’. Ahhhh , we Jamaicans will find a name for any and everything inorder to have it relate to something from our daily life. I can only assume that the reason these buses were called \’patty pan\’ was because we were inclined to be aqueezed in as tightly as patties were in the pans keeping them warm. These buses were small in frame inorder that they would be able to negotiate the winding roads leading up from Kingston on the flat, to areas in the St Andrew hills. I have memories of many a walk , taken along with all the other able bodied passengers over the hills on Old Stony Hill Road, allowing the bus to be able to make it over the steep hills that seemed to curse that route. Of note, was the hill just above the fare stage at Stillman Road, as nine times out of ten, I would have to walk behind the bus up the hill before climbing back on to enjoy the ride for which I had paid full price.
The benefit of said exercise is that today, I still enjoy walking and have done so long before it became fashionable to walk for walking sake. Back then, I walked so that the bus could drive. My friends and I enjoyed taking the JOS buses as it spelled a sense of independence for a couple hours each evening… freedom to chat with the forbidden boys from other schools as we all went to girls\’ schools. We could have been picked up at school and driven home and we were, for the most part, but whenever we could we chose to ride JOS. If the bus was packed, and usually it was since it was so small to begin with, the trip was slow and seemingly laborious, but jampacked with events. The rear i.e. \’back of the bus\’ was almost always filled with the hampers of higglers returning from market and we enjoyed their give and take among themselves or against any passenger who was foolhardy enough to earn their displeasure. If it was empty, well, we had to hold on because it was always a bumpy ride. For some reason drivers seemed to take great pride in ripping along roads that ran dangerously close to precipices, fired up by the copious \’whites\’ they seemed to take on at each \’fare stage\’. It was not unheard of to have a busload of passengers waiting for the driver to reappear, having nipped in to a bar for nip. He would then race along at amazing speeds to make up for lost time, as well as to show how well he handled himself and the bus even after having his \’whites\’. It amazes me to think that I cannot recall any JOS bus going over an embankment because the driver had lost control. Such were their reputation, the drivers,that is, that as these times, many a higgler would choose to sit atop their hampers, citing that with the fast and swaying speed of the bus, they would end up there anyhow, having slid off the seats.
Ahhhh but those were the days. It would seem that i was either walking over a hill or down a hill. The first, to accommodate the bus making it over the hill as I have said before, or down the hill , simply because each bus that came along was so packed, we started walking home , hoping that at some stage, an emptier one would come by. Did men whistle at us and call out to us? Yes they did! Did they follow up on any of that? No they did not! They were many reasons why we, as school girls behaved ourselves. Apart from the hometraining and community policing, we were proud of the schools we attended and the fact that our behaviour while in our uniforms would count, positively or adversely with said schools in mind. But this is not an article on changed societal behaviour patterns in Jamaica. Rather, it is a trip down memory lane, disjointed maybe, but an homage of sort to a part of history long gone….the Jamaica Omnibus Service aka Chi Chi bus. My how times have changed indeed.