After flying from New York to Toronto, I got on a bus to a little town called Owen Sound to visit my brother. I was nursing an almighty hangover and feeling particularly sensitive to extremity of any kind. Pure laziness and the burden of choosing a seat lead me to the very front row of the bus. Before long the gentle motion and toasty warm cabin lulled me into a deep sleep. When I woke again, a large black woman sitting opposite me was squawking loudly into her cell phone. It didn’t even sound like words, more just aggressive sounds, followed by rasping laughter and a fit of coughing. She was wearing a floral headscarf and had those ridiculously long fake nails. It was incredible she’d even managed to punch the number into her keypad. I couldn’t make out the name on the gold pendant resting in her enormous cleavage, but let’s just call her Cherri.
Further down the road, the driver made the executive decision that we were all getting a little stuffy, and opened the vents to let in an icy gust of Canadian air. This old lady sitting across the aisle from me had the hood of her windbreaker up around her face, clearly about to freeze over. She’d brought her scarf right up around her nose, making her look remarkably similar to the Amish lady sitting in the seat behind her. All you could make out from the pair of them were spectacled eyes and the grim expressions of someone who’s just smelled a particularly wafty fart. Sitting directly behind the driver, I figured it was my responsibility to act as spokesman. Excuse me sir, would you mind awfully closing the vents, it’s a little nippy back here, I said. I’m just trying to make this bus ride as comfortable as possible for everyone, he snapped. I shot the ladies an apologetic look and fell back into my seat, straight into the knobbly kneecaps of the Mexican guy sitting behind me. His eyes kept darting nervously all over the bus, making it impossible to shoot him a dirty look.
The worst had yet to come though. Now that I was fully awake, I’d resigned myself to snacking on carrots and reading the newspaper. The story was about how Internet dating sites had totally changed the arranged marriage game in India. Just after the third paragraph and my twentieth carrot, I heard a blood curdling grunting noise, like a cow giving birth. It was followed immediately by a woman’s shrill scream. I looked back and saw an elderly lady trying to strangle her husband. The only thing warranting that sort of behaviour was if he’d eaten her last Pringle, but they looked more the honey-almond kind, so that was unlikely. Eventually I realised he was fitting and writhing, and the woman was struggling to pry his clenched teeth open. Eventually the bus driver realised something was up and pulled over. Soon after, this crumby looking girl in a grey beanie with a lip piercing called 911. Two paramedic vehicles arrived and it took four grown men to slide a sheet under the old guy and drag his limp body out of the bus. He passed right by my face, looking calm, but confused. His wife followed holding his loafers. She looked mad, like, how dare he go and have a fit? The next bus isn’t until the morning and the country club are expecting us.
Finally, we reached the second last stop before Owen Sound. Any smokers dying for a fag, do it now, the driver called out. You have ten minutes, if you’re not back, we leave you here. Most of us stayed in our seats, staring out the front window to where a blind man was crossing the road. He walked with a kind of mechanical limp, synced perfectly with the tap-tapping of his outstretched walking stick. He had a huge belly and had to lean back a little as he walked so he didn’t topple forward. You could tell from his billowing cotton shirt it was windy out. All he had on was a tattered old cap, the button up and dirty jeans. He must have been beyond freezing. A particularly fierce lick of wind took the hat right off his head. His lumbering figure steadily dropped to the ground in front of our bus. The stick he was holding clattered to the ground as he scrambled around looking for the hat, which was rolling further and further away like tumbleweed. At that point, everyone in the bus had jumped out of their seats towards the exit. We’d all formed a bottleneck at the door - Cherri, the two surprisingly limber old ladies, the seedy Mexican – everyone. But it was the crumby looking beanie girl who ended up busting out of the scrum first and chasing after the hat. She returned it to the blind guy and got back on the bus.
I spent the rest of the trip staring out the window at the moving panorama. The countryside was flat and bare – the time after all the snow had melted, but before anything had mustered the strength to bloom. Naked pine trees stood stark and still, with expressions like they’d just been busted getting out of the shower without a towel. Big swathes of frosted grass covered the ground, and roadside signs read No more apples ‘til September! Contrast with the electric blue sky, it was eerily beautiful – how I think mars would look. And I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be able to enjoy it. At least there were some things, I figured, like simple tomato soup and a toasted sandwich, that didn’t need to be seen to be enjoyed.
- 1 large punnet of heirloom tomatoes
- 1 large punnet of vine-ripened tomatoes
- 2 ripe pears, quartered
- 2 hot chillies, halved
- 6-7 cloves garlic
- 1 large brown onion
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
- ¼ + ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Italian parsley and Greek yoghurt, to serve
- 1 loaf of sourdough bread, sliced
- Provolone cheese, grated or sliced
- For the soup, place chillies, pears, tomatoes and garlic on a lined baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and ¼ balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.
- Roast on a medium oven (350F/170C) for about 40 minutes.
- In a saucepan, fry onion and remaining balsamic vinegar until it browns. Add the roast vegetable/pear mix, stock, tomato paste and lemon juice and simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Season it again with salt and pepper.
- Once the soup has cooled, puree it using a stick mixer or in a large blender.
- For the sandwiches, spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread, and place the spread sides together. Top generously with cheese and then place one mayonnaise side down on a hot skillet, before topping with the other.
- Fry on a low heat covered until the cheese starts to melt, then flip and repeat.
- Heat the soup, top with parsley and Greek yoghurt and serve with the fresh toasted sandwiches and pickles.