A trip from Houston to San Antonio springs to mind, where the person just ahead in the line for tickets had massive knife scars on his face.
Sitting on a bus allows you time to think, or chill, watching out the window as an unfamiliar landscape passes by.
There’s no need to know the road code, remember which side of the road to drive on, or even remembering when to indicate – that’s all taken care for you by the driver.
Sometimes bus routes can be confusing, which is where the Rarotongan system shines above all others for simplicity.
Clockwise or Anti-Clockwise? Round the island’s main road to the left, or to the right? It’s simple. Delightfully simple.
And there is another joy for people on a Rarotongan bus, particularly tourists, and that is an amazing character known as Mr Hopeless.
As you hop on his bus Mr Hopeless greets you in a friendly fashion and proceeds to say that “I’m on day release” from prison and then launches into the kids’ song The Wheels on the Bus.
Some tourists smile uncertainly, others are completely nonplussed. However, by the time they hop off the bus they will have been won over by Mr Hopeless and his never-ending supply of jokes, songs and one liners.
Well, not everyone it seems.
A complaint was made to Cook’s Island Bus Passenger Transport that Mr Hopeless was culturally insensitive when he told a couple of jokes about New Zealand Maori.
More about that later.
A local hops on carrying a box of beer. Mr H tells him to stop drinking. And to remember to be back at the prison by 5pm. “He’s my cellmate and that’s food for our prison cell.”
Next up a tourist proffers a bus ticket, which he clips. “Keep the change,” he says with a straight face.
Then with an excellent voice he begins to sing Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, pausing only at the next bus stop to deal with new customers.
“That’s 13 million euros,” he says to the surprised patron.
The next in line hands over their cash and he says: “That’s 18 billion euros change. You’re very rich now.”
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah …
Again he breaks from that beautiful song, looks up in the rear-view mirror and asks: “Anywhere you want to go? China? Syria?”
“Then he answers himself. “Noooo, you don’t want to go to Syria.”
Then he checks where the passengers are from. Most are Kiwis. There is one lone Aussie – he’s the one with the camera and notepad.
Having not heard Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport for quite a while the song is appreciated.
The day is drizzly and bus rattly but during his routine Mr H steers us safely around the coastal road. On the road ahead two lovely ladies are walking slowly.
Mr H says: “Can someone drive the bus? I want to go for a walk.”
Laughter erupts. Everyone is having a good time.
Waltzing Matilda is next in his repertoire and following the chorus he asks what’s the name of the swagman.
Running the lyrics over I can’t think of it, it’s not even mentioned … and then he tells us.
“It’s Andy. Andy sang … Andy watched … Andy waited …”
Oh very good.
Then he passes two cyclists and yells out the window: “Eat my dust!”
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah …
Then come a couple of jokes that you know instantly were the ones that caused the moaning from a clearly humourless passenger.
“What did one Maori statue say to another Maori statue?”
Half the Kiwis in the bus answer it before he can.
Oh it’s an oldie but a baddie.
“What do you call a Maori up a pole?” he continues.
Again the Kiwis answer. “Black Power.”
They are the weakest of his jokes to date but everything else about Mr H’s commentary is funny and informative. He tells people where good restaurants are, to be careful of swimming near the entrances to the lagoon and to make sure they wear reef shoes because of stonefish. “That’s reef shoes, not high-heel shoes.”
An elderly man and his lady get off the bus and as he passes by he is told: “Don’t forget your wife. I mean, the boss.”
Two German travellers then hop on. He clearly remembers them from a previous trip.
He begins How Great You Are and as we pass Government House says to everybody and nobody ...
“If you come back this is where I’ll be. Living in Government House. I’ll be Sir Hopeless. I’ll be the main man.”
A passenger wants to get off at the Youth With a Mission complex.
“We just passed it,” he says, “you should have told me that last year!”
Then, moments later, he breaks into another massive grin and says “Just kidding … it’s here.”
The bus breaks up.
Next up we stop at a resort and two young women clamber on.
“Are you staying here?” he asks seriously.
“Yes,” one answers.
“710,” she says as he loudly invites the entire bus to a party in their room that night.
Then he croons Willie Nelson’s Of All the Girls I’ve Loved Before.
Driving by a police checkpoint he hides his face from them with his clipboard. A young policeman signals to him.
“That’s my stupid nephew,” he says.
More parts of songs flow. Elvis’ Wooden Heart, Bohemian Rhapsody and the South African and New Zealand national anthems.
Then another Kiwi joke.
“Who said the first Maori words?”
Even the New Zealanders seem a bit stumped.
“It was Eve,” he says, “She said to Adam ‘here am I’ (haere mai).”
I turn to a Kiwi crew sitting opposite me and ask them what they think of subject matter.
Janella O’Connor, of Paeroa, says she thinks it’s fine.
“He picks on everybody. He shares the love.”
Folk stand to get off to be greeted with “Take your time … and hurry up!”
All too soon we are back at Cook’s Corner in Avarua and our journey is over.
It has been a really fun spin around the island with a driver who should be protected as a national treasure by the Cook Islands.
I wait as the other passengers hop off and then I chat to Mr H who, without his audience, becomes Apu Simpson.
I tell him I have toured with him before, about five years ago when he was working with Raro Safari Tours and he nods.
He needs to have a break before hitting the road again and so I quickly ask him what he felt when he discovered someone complained about his efforts.
“I was shocked when I heard. It was the first time someone complained.”
Ah well, I told him, some Kiwis do get a bit sensitive.
He nodded. “The thing is the jokes are from them, not me.”
I nod back. All I can say, Mr Hopeless is don’t change a thing. You are a star.