John's on the Bus by John L. Neel

"He says we are out of oil," the pretty girl who spoke English told us.  "Oil?!" "Petrol."

We were in the middle of nowhere Turkey and out of gas.

Jim and I had decided to go skiing on the Turkish Economy Plan.  We had Friday and Monday off, so we jumped on a bus from Izmir to Bursa on Thursday after work.  We checked in to what was once the best hotel in Bursa, a beautiful old ski chalet, famous in its day, before the hotels and the tourists moved to the top of the mountain, called Uludag.

The place was still beautiful, lush, with an entrance that spoke of its grandeur and a lobby and bar like nothing I have ever seen in Turkey.  The prices were cheap.  We were among the few people in the hotel at the height of the skiing season.

My room was opulent with a giant four-post oak bed with a four-foot thick feather mattress and fine Turkish linin sheets.  The beautifully enameled claw foot tub had to be the biggest tub I had ever seen and held well over three feet of water.  The water coming out of the tap was the hottest I had felt since arriving in-country back in December.  I thought when I first saw it, that it would be perfect for sore skiing muscles and proved to be just that.

Morning came early.  We ate a free breakfast on the hotel of kalamata olives, feta cheese, and rosehip jam and honey on toasted Turk Ekmek.  The Turkish Kahve, which I had only begun to appreciate, went amazingly well with our meal, though I was not, at the time, a coffee drinker.

We caught a Dolmus or shared taxi up the mountain with a couple of other adventurous types and got out at the base of the slopes at the ski rental place.  We rented skis, boots, and poles for the next three days and unlimited lift tickets.  Jim watched our kit while I went into the Pro Shop and bought ski pants, then we jockeyed our way into position, to get on the T-bar to the top of the intermediate slope.  It had been a while since I had been skiing and this was only my second try.  I wanted to take it slow.

We skied for three days, non-stop, skipping lunch and skiing until dark.  It was fantastic and I was getting good.  Jim had moved to the advanced slopes, so I got to make lots of new friends on the t-bar going up.  One was an incredible beauty, dressed to the nines in the most fashionable kit, with beautiful skis, usually the kind of girl you see hanging out in the ski lodge but never on the slopes in Turkey.  After skiing together on the middle slope, she suggested we try the advanced.  What else could I do, but go? My first fall was epic and she cut an edge and sprayed me with snow as she went by.  I caught up to her and beat her down the hill, it was the only way I could save face.  Might as well laugh at something like that.

Every evening we would catch a Mini-bus back to Bursa, have a great meal of fine Turk food, have a glass of Raki or two in the bar, then head to our rooms.  I always soaked in my tub and took a few Motrin for those muscles that I rarely use.

The third day, Sunday, the conditions were perfect and by mid-day, the crowds began to dwindle.  As soon as we got to the bottom, we got right on the t-bar or the lift and headed straight back up.  We made so many runs that the staff at the bottom knew our names and stopped asking to see out lift tickets.  We skied well after dark under the lights.  It was perfect!

There was one problem--When we turned in our gear and went out front, there wasn't a mini-bus, Dolmus, or car in sight.  It was too far to walk to Bursa.  The temperature was dropping quickly.  Jim had twisted his ankle on his l ast run and was hobbling around.  We had already blown most of our money and couldn't afford a room, much less two rooms for the night.

About the time we decided to go to one of the hotels and see if they could call us some sort of transportation, around the corner, came a Mini-bus.  I sprinted after it, got the driver to stop, and asked in my fledgling Turkish for a ride to Bursa.

"Lutfen Chauffeur Bey.  Bursa'ya, Gitmek Istiyoruz." When pressured, my Turkish can be awesome.

He gave me a very terse and emphatic Turkish no, "Hayir Yok," and started driving.

As I stood there, dejected, freezing, I heard a flood of female Turkish voices, speaking very loudly and quickly, coming from the van.  The van stopped and a young Turk in ski suit and glasses got out and said, "Gel Gel," Come Come.  I waved for Jim, helped him get in, then climbed in behind him.  We had joined a bunch of college kids from Izmit, headed back to school after a weekend on the mountain, five guys and six very pretty girls.  The one sitting next to me, Gamze, which means Dimples, was stunning.

Only one of the kids spoke English.  I don't remember her name.  I'll just call her Gamze's friend.

As we headed down the mountain, we talked, they talked, and Gamze's friend translated.  They seemed very excited to meet some Americans and were interested to find out we were soldiers.  We talked about what they were all studying, where we lived, where we were from.  My mention of Alabama started them all singing Sweet Home Alabama; I've never met anyone in the world who didn't know that song.  That started a sing fest in the back of the bus...until the van driver turned off the radio and began talking very fast.

Yep! We were out of gas, and worse, we were only about halfway down the mountain.  The driver thought he should catch a ride down to town and get a ride back with gas.  The problems with this were many, no heat, dangerous, and we had not seen anyone else on the hill who might be coming down.  Most of all, I did not trust him to come back until morning.

I made another suggestion.

We were stopped almost at the top of a small rise.  "Why don't we just push the van to the top, jump on, and coast to the town? It has to be mostly downhill."

And that's what we did.  We all piled out, pushed the van to the top, and ran to jump on as the driver let it begin coasting down the hill.  I was fastest and probably the craziest, so I made sure all of the kids were back on the bus before jumping in.  The driver would let completely off the brakes when he heard everyone chanting, "John's on the Bus, John's on the Bus!" I positioned hurt Jim in the passenger seat to make sure that Chauffeur Bey didn't leave any of us.

Each time I jumped back on the van, the only seat left for me was the one next to Gamze.  I was fine with that.  It gave us plenty of time to misunderstand each other.

We did this every time the bus stopped, over and over, until well after midnight when the van coasted into town.  We gave the driver some cash, kept his keys, and sent him for gas.  While he was gone, a street dance party ensued around the van to the tunes on the radio.  When the driver came back, he took us all to our hotel, and the party continued in the hotel bar.  The staff joined in, happy, I'm sure, for the business.  Closing Time could go to Hell.

Traveling in Turkey is always an adventure.  When traveling there, you just have to be flexible.  Where else could you ski for three days, for about $70 total, run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, on a freezing night, and end up dancing in the street to Foreigner's I Want To Know Where Love Is, with a gorgeous Turkish college girl named Dimples?

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