Friday, June 24, 2016

Beware Of The Bus

I know I am not the sharpest monkey in the sea. So I don't really like to give out a lot of advice. But I do have some things I feel I must share with the world. I must warn the masses. If I don't at least try, I will forever feel guilty just thinking of all the innocent people who blindly step aboard a cross-country bus without understanding what they're getting themselves into. 

So I'll say it now: Never take a Greyhound Bus Across The United States. There, said. Oh, you need to know why? You're not satisfied just to be told, you want a plethora of reasons, too? Never fear, I will give you as many as I have, and that's a lot. First I'll tell you about my adventure, my Greyhound-centered trek from Portland, Oregon to Traverse City, Michigan, in minute detail. When the dust settles, I'll shift gears and provide some nifty hints & tips for those of you who are actually planning on taking such a trip, despite my warnings. 

I know some people may read this and shake their heads and say to me: Hey, I've ridden on these buses lots of times! What's the big deal? You're totally overreacting. But I don't care. You may not have had the same experience I did; you may love Greyhound. But this is what happened to me. You may say I have no right to complain, since I didn't pay very much and I got to travel quite far. And that's very true. But the point is, I didn't know what I was getting into when I bought that ticket. I want people to know about what it's really like... well, what it was like for me... so they can make an informed decision. See, it's a public service announcement... in disguise

* * *

June, 1999 -- I was 18 at the time... young and naive. All I knew was that I wanted to accompany my cousin Sarah to Michigan. (Her family lived there.) At first, we talked about driving. But two teenage girls driving cross-country, staying in seedy motels... um, thank you, no. And then we found out about this deal Greyhound had going... you could go anywhere in the continental U.S. for the low, low price of $40, as long as you booked two weeks in advance. 

And as long as you did not mind being treated like cattle. 

...Except they forgot to mention the cattle thing in the brochure. 

We were just like, Hey! 2,000 miles on $40! Sounds good to us!

Two weeks later, we arrived at Portland's bus terminal with our luggage -- a few carryons each, a duffel, a suitcase, and a Big Box belonging to Sarah. (She was planning to live with her parents for a while.) The place was pretty empty, so we sat down on a bench. Then we noticed some people starting to arrive. And I don't know how it happened, but a longass line just suddenly formed. We quickly joined the line and waited.

We were the last two people to get on the bus. Luckily, the remaining seats were actually together -- in the last row. In the nether-regions of Greyhound land, right next to the glorified port-a-potty, were our seats. And it wasn't just that we got two seats in the last row. The last row, you see, actually had three seats. It was one mutant of a seating establishment. A middle-aged lady was sitting in one of these three seats. And when she saw that Sarah and I wished to sit by her, she became very angry. She bitched about having to move over, since she'd recently had surgery or something and was in pain. But we had no choice. 

And so we sat. The bus started and the ride began. 

It was nighttime, so we were bored out of our skulls for the first few hours, squished like sardines and scared as hell. The night was long, and we made a stop around 3am. Sometime between this stop and daybreak, the bitchy lady had a personality overhaul and started being nice. She wanted to converse. But at the next stop, when Sarah and I got back on the bus after getting food, the lady was gone. Seems another bus was convoying with ours... and it was less crowded. So she left for greener pastures. Which meant that from that point (I think we were in Idaho) until we got to Salt Lake City, Sarah and I had a three-seater bench all to ourselves. It would have been a whole lot nicer if the back of the bus didn't smell like the outhouse that time forgot, but hey... can't be picky, I guess.

There was a lovely family sitting in the seats in front of us. It consisted of parents and two small boys. One of the boys told us his name was Alex Rodriguez. But not the realAlex Rodriguez, mind you. The fake one. The kids had a whoopee cushion and they kept inflating it and then pressing it so that the saliva-ey air would whoosh out. I got showered on more than once. The kids' parents thought they were adorable. 

In Salt Lake City, we had to change buses. This meant we had to get our luggage, including the Big Box, and take them into the bus station and wait. Those of us waiting for the next bus formed a line inside the station. Sarah and I were about 15 people back. The line began to move as the bus began to load. All of a sudden, people started going absolutely insane. Whole families started just... cutting in line. People were pushing. And there was absolutely nothing we could do about it, short of taking out old ladies and knocking over children like dominoes. Which, I might say, was mighty tempting.

Trying to keep our place in line while keeping track of our luggage was no easy task. At one point, I needed both hands to grab my stuff, but I needed to have my ticket ready, too. So I did what any normal person would do. I put it in my mouth. Okay not IN my mouth, but between my lips. Come on, haven't you ever done that with stuff? Actually, I don't think I've done it since that fateful day. Those tickets, you see, have this kind of glue on them. And wouldn't you know it... the glue is activated by moisture. Hurray! So yes, the ticket adhered to my lips. And in detaching it, I managed to start bleeding. So that was fun. 

By the time we got outside, we were starting to worry we might not get a seat on this bus. Sarah had to deal with giving her Box to the guys handling the luggage. I told her I'd get on the bus and save her a seat. 

Hey, so why is it that when people travel by themselves, they always have to start a new seat? DUDE, JUST SIT WITH SOME OTHER STRANGER AND LET PEOPLE TRAVELING TOGETHER HAVE ADJOINING SEATS! I mean sheesh, do you think by some miracle the bus won't be totally full and that you'll have no one sitting next to you? Dream on! This is Greyhound! Overbooking is their specialty! Anyway, the sight that met me as I climbed aboard that bus was as follows: there was pretty much ONE person sitting in every double-seater throughout the entire bus. This would not have been an issue if all those morons hadn't jacknifed the line, but... *deep breaths*... okay, so I knew I wanted to sit by Sarah, so I did something very unlike myself... I asked this guy (who we'd had some friendly conversations with while waiting in line) if he would pleeeease let my cousin and me have his double seat. (He was traveling alone.) Normally I would never be so bold, but he'd seemed nice. He gave up his seat for us. To that random man, I will always be grateful. 

I was now sitting in the front row of the bus, in the seat right behind the driver. I put a bag on the seat next to me, to save it for Sarah. More and more people got on the bus... but Sarah was nowhere to be seen. Then this Greyhound employee got on and started counting seats, saying something about how they didn't think they'd be able to let anybody else on. AUGH! Sucking up an absurd amount of bravery yet again, I told this guy that my cousin was outside the bus and he just HAD to let her on. He said he'd see what he could do. At long last, a couple more people were allowed to get on the bus. One was Sarah. I wanted to hug her, I was so grateful that she wasn't being forced to stay in Salt Lake City.

We mutually agreed that we did not like Salt Lake City.

Hey, you wouldn't care for it, either, if you departed it tired, scared, angry and bleeding. I'm just saying. 

My memories from this point of the trip until we got to Chicago are a little blurry, so I'll just give you the highlights... 

We had a busdriver named Lisa, who was the stuff nightmares are made of. She came on in Omaha or someplace. She screamed at everyone. She didn't yield to pedestrians, and almost creamed an old lady in a crosswalk. She drove over the speed limit (we could see the spedometer from where we were sitting). The funniest moment, though, was when she stopped at a convenience store and let us off (she got off, too). One of the passengers bought one of those tree-shaped air fresheners and decided to hang it near the front of the bus. The guy was honestly just trying to do a nice thing. When Lisa saw it, she freaked out, screamed about how the air freshener was a fire hazard, opened the bus door, and flung the thing out. 

Yeah, she was a character. 

But psycho busdrivers aside, the bus ride itself was pretty bad. The front seat turned out to be the best place to sit, actually, because it meant that nobody in front of you could lean their seat back on top of you. The seats on those buses have this teeny amount of leg room to begin with -- if someone leans their seat back, forget it... you're a pancake. Also, the seats are annoyingly skinny. I was sitting on the aisle, and I had to choose between having my butt pressed against the armrest... or putting the armrest up and risk accidentally falling into the center aisle. 

The other passengers left a lot to be desired. There were a couple of them who stayed up all night, discussing the wrongs of this world, down to the very last detail. There was a baby on board who cried the night away. Even without the noise, sleeping on a bus is just NOT a simple thing to do. You have to sleep sitting up. Leaning your seat back doesn't do much because they don't lean very far, and plus, if you have an angry (or tall) person behind you, they'll shove it forward (sometimes while you're still sitting in it!) I think I got about 5 hours sleep total in 3 days. Before long, I was, without a doubt, in one hell of a bad mood. 

In addition to all the abovementioned stuff... the food? It sucks. You can pack snacks, but for meals you're at the mercy of roadside places and the occasional McDonalds. Most of the fast-food joints we encountered were sort of "usual stops" on Greyhound's route, so they might have been 24-hour places or whatever, but they knew how to handle Greyhound patrons (ie sudden large crowds of hungry people.) 

Not so with a particular McDonalds we encountered in Wyoming or Nebraska or somewhere around there. The "infamous McDonalds," as it was coined, provided some aggravation for us because they were SO FLIPPING SLOW! Our bus driver gave us half an hour to get food. Half an hour = as long as it took for our moronic server actually GET me an Egg McMuffin. All I wanted was a McMuffin with no meat. NOT DIFFICULT. But it took forever. I was panicking, afraid that the bus would pull away before I got my food, so much so that I finally just got mad and said JUST GIVE ME A MCMUFFIN, MEAT BE DAMNED! And the server boy gave me one and I pulled the meat off myself and tossed it. Stupid, stupid minds! 

In Chicago, we changed buses again. The bus going up to Traverse City was less crowded, and I almost got some much-needed sleep. So WHY the bus driver felt it would be a good idea to blare polka music out the bus speakers is anyone's guess. I woke up to that crap and seriously thought I'd died and gone to hell. I had the overwhelming desire to pull the driver apart by the limbs. Luckily for him, I was too tired to complete this task. 

Finally, we arrived at our destination... and were so relieved to be stepping off that retched form of transportation. In the end, I guess we got our $40 worth. We were treated like garbage. We FELT like garbage. Not long after the trip, I compared the bus ride to riding in the back of a truck on a bed of nails. THAT bad. Of course, sleep deprivation will do things to you. Like make you unusually bitchy.

Never again.

Tips For Surviving Greyhound

If you absolutely must take a bus trip, you should bring along the following items:

On your body 

*Clothes, obviously. Layers are good.

*Comfortable shoes.

*A watch. Nothing expensive, just something that does the job. 

In your pockets 

*Money. Don't bring a ton, but bring enough to get you three meals a day at fast-food places.

*Kleenex. Unless you never need Kleenex. I always do. Bring some.

*Your I.D. 

In a waist pouch or something that you keep on you at all times 

*Your bus ticket and schedule.

*Calling card/phone numbers of people/motels/taxi services at your destination.

*Earplugs -- several pairs.

*Travel toothbrush, paste, and floss. You can always use the McDonalds bathroom to cleanse your teeth. At 6am, nobody's going to care.

*Tic-tacs or mints -- for those times when your mouth feels all gross but the next stop's not for two hours.


*Tylenol & lots of it.

In a carry-on 

*A couple of books or magazines, to pass the time.

*A good road map detailing the path your bus is traveling, or a small atlas. It really helps to have a point of reference in the middle of the night when you pass a sign for a podunk town you've never heard of. And it's very encouraging to be able to track your journey/progress.

*A few snacks. Nothing greasy or fattening or too sugary.

*A bottle of water, maybe more (you can bring one and fill it up in sinks along the way, assuming you trust the local water.) DO NOT drink soda on your trip, unless you're a caffeine addict or something. To keep your stomach happy, stick to water. 

Other hints... 

*The bus will make numerous stops along the way... at rest areas, official bus stops, and fast-food restaurants. The driver will often announce a stop about an hour or two before making it, but he will also tell you how long you'll be there (15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour.) There will be restrooms at all of these places. Never use a back-of-the-bus bathroom unless it's a complete and total emergency. For they are gross. 

*At fast-food places, order the least-greasy foods they serve. 

*Don't expect to be able to sleep. If you go in expecting it, you'll just become frustrated and angry. 

*Prepare yourself for crying babies, snoring, people who won't shut up, people who kick the back of your seat without pity, and psychos who babble to themselves. It's all part of the experience. 

*Don't go. Don't take a bus anywhere. They suck -- duh! What do you think I've spent the last x paragraphs trying to tell you? MY GOD, MAN! DON'T BE A FOOL!

You heard it here. Now heed my advice or suffer the consequences.

This article was originally published on my old website on September 22, 2005, describing a trip I took in June, 1999. The information/hints might be a bit out of date by now. I wouldn't know. Greyhound, you are dead to me.

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