Science Seen Time One author Colin Gillespie helps you understand the physics of your world.

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Day Bus in Kruševa

After some sunny days in Beograd we take a bus to Priština, a 5½-hour ride, or so we think. There are overnight buses but we decide to take the day bus. It leaves at noon. It is a clean but hand-me-down Mercedes with two drivers and is almost full. All locals, except for us. I know because the backup driver takes our passports and their i/d cards.

Two hours out, we turn off the freeway on a narrow road. The bus stops in respectful silence for a funeral. A tractor pulls the coffin on a leaf-wreathed trailer followed by a hundred walking mourners.

Soon after we set off again, a noise begins abruptly; it’s a screech that turns into a shudder every time the bus slows down. There is a burning stink. Backup driver’s talking to his phone.

Some time later we pull over in the outskirts of Kruševac. Our driver hustles out and hops into a passing car. His buddy speaks at some length to the passengers before giving us the English version: ‘We take half-hour break.’ Outside I walk back and feel a blast of infra-red waves at three paces from the right rear wheel. Either brake or bearing must have seized, I think. A half-hour? I think not.

I am impressed when only minutes later a small truck pulls up and out springs our bus driver with a guy dressed like a mechanic who, two seconds later, is beneath the bus. He jacks it up. They fire up a compressor on a trailer and attack the ten wheel nuts. When the double wheels come off, deep gouges in the brake disc and grimaces from mechanic-man, whose fingers must be singed, confirm the problem. New parts and then a half a day, I think. I look around by new-formed habit for a close-to-hand bus station. No such luck today. Tractors mingle with the local traffic. People on foot and the odd one on a bicycle glance with scant interest as they go by. In the yard beside the bus a cock crows. Sounds derisory but it’s a comment that I know is only in my mind.

The mechanic’s name is Marko, I soon learn. He and his helpers―our two drivers―surprisingly seem undeterred. They assault the huge brake caliper; mightily they struggle with the rusty bolts and it comes off. What good’s that? I wonder. Then they show their hand: They plug the open brake line and they bolt the double wheels back on.

Unbidden the phrase leaps to mind: If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off. Must be Biblical, I think. Apt to the occasion. If thy right brake stinks then cut it off! I’ve been chatting with a government official. He just looks at me and shrugs.

Moments later the brake’s in the truck. Marko, with calm satisfaction, dusts his hands together and, (like Superman, my wife remarks) heroic task completed, he takes off. As does the brake-deprived now-night-bus to Priština.

   

Under the bus in Kruševac

Under the bus in Kruševac

      

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