Poor Economy by Frank Kusy
I can't remember where I saw the advert for the Economy bus to Athens. All that I can remember was that it was ridiculously cheap.
The booking company was called Economy Holidays, and it was run by the appropriately named Mr Economous. His brochure – which featured a picture of the corpulent Greek – promised to get me to Athens in 36 hours. In fact, it took nearly five days.
The reason it took that long was that Mr Economous was a crook. Things started out okay – the bus reached Dover with no trouble, and a smooth crossing by hovercraft to Calais put all 40 passengers in an optimistic frame of mind. Then matters deteriorated.
'Where's the bus?' said Roger, our party leader.
'What bus?' we chorused.
'The connecting bus to take us on through Europe!'
We stared around us. The coach terminal at Calais harbour was empty.
'I'll get on the blower,' said Roger, scratching his head. 'There's got to be a reason for this.'
The next day, having returned to Dover, we learnt the reason: Mr Economous had absconded with all his company's funds and was being chased up the M1 motorway by the highway police. While we awaited the arrival of a Daily Mirror reporter to publicise our plight, eight more people got fed up of waiting and returned to their homes.
Around noon, Roger had some heartening news. 'The police have tracked down Mr Economous!' he told us. 'They found him eating some sandwiches in a lay-by near Bristol, and have hauled him back to London!'
'So, are we still going to Athens?' I asked sceptically.
'Oh, yes,' beamed Roger. 'They've promised us a coach!'
He wasn't beaming long. Six hours later, having returned to Calais, a coach was sighted. Unfortunately, as it weaved its way dangerously towards us, it became apparent that the driver was drunk.
'I sorry I late,' slurred the balding Pole out of the window. 'I stop for the vodka.'
Roger was a big man. And he was definitely not out of shape. Moments after the bus came to a halt – only a foot away from the edge of the harbour – he reached into the driver's cab, dragged the occupant out of it, and beat him to a pulp.
'That was a bit drastic,' I commented. 'Couldn't you have waited till he sobered up?'
Roger blew on his knuckles. 'Not really,' he said grimly. 'That bus was missing a wheel and the fuel tank had a bad leak in it.'
On the third day, back in Dover, four of us made a flying visit to Mr Economous's London office – with a phalanx of journalists and police in tow – and demanded another bus. And to our great surprise, back in Calais, another bus did turn up: this time with all wheels intact and a sober driver.
The driver may have been sober, but he had no idea where he was going. We proceeded around Austria in circles for a further day until he was forced to buy a road map from a ramshackle gas station on the outskirts of Villach. Two of our company wandered off to buy some chocolate and never reappeared. I often wonder what became of them.
Getting to Athens proved the best part of the holiday. By the time we arrived, on the evening of day five, the 13 remaining passengers had formed strong bonds of friendship. The rest of the trip, perhaps inevitably, was a bit of an anti-climax: we toured the sights of the city together, we took a boat trip to Poros together, and we took a lacklustre trip to Delphi together.
It was a pity about Delphi. I had read so much about the famous oracle there, and had been dying to ask it a question.
'Here, see!' said our guide as he took us to the ruined temple to Apollo. 'Here priests inhale fumes like ethane from fissure in rock and fall into ecstatic trancing!'
I looked around. There wasn't a fume in sight.
'Where is fumes?' I asked the small, grinning guide. 'I want to have trancing!'
He giggled and held a smouldering cigarette to the rock. 'There is fumes!'
While the rest of the group moved on, I found a toppled temple column and sat down on one of its large granite rings.
Then, when I was sure nobody else was looking, I tried to commune with Apollo.
'Oh, great god Apollo,' I wedged my eyelids shut. 'I know you don't exist, but just in case you do, tell me please, what does the future hold for me?'
There was a long silence. So long that I feared I had not been heard.
Then Apollo spoke. 'Hey, mister!' He said. 'Is that man-made?'
I opened my eyes to be confronted by a large, smiling American.
'What?' I said.
'That ring-a-ding thing you're sitting on. Is that man-made?'
One last event remained to be crossed off our party's Grecian bucket list – the famous Daphne Wine Festival.
'Blimey, only 50 drachmas (2 dollars) for as much as you can drink!' I announced on arrival. 'And look, they've got about 60 barrels of local wines to choose from!'
I'll never know how I got back to my guest house in Athens that night. All that I knew was that I woke up next morning – on the roof, in my sleeping bag – with the sun beating down on my unprotected face and flies in vast numbers buzzing around my head.
'Oh...my...God,' I slowly intoned to myself. 'This...is...the...worst...hangover...of...my...life.'
Then I compounded my pain. Automatically reaching for my water bottle, I lifted it to my parched mouth in the full expectation of cool, rehydrating H2O. What I got instead was a glug of sour, dehydrating Retsina which I forgot I'd smuggled out of the festival.
As my stomach rebelled and I struggled to get my head out of the sleeping bag, I made one silent determination: I was never going to drink wine again!