Friday, November 3, 2006

Traveling by Bus

I have ridden buses many times in my life. Yellow school buses when I was a kid, yellow buses and larger buses in Belize, Central America, buses in numerous cities (e.g., LA, NYC, Honolulu), but nothing ever really prepares a person for the Greyhound Bus experience in the U.S., or in this case, North Carolina.

But before I get to that story, I would like to share a short tidbit from my bus ride in LA on the first night of my trip.

Van Nuys Fly-A-Way Bus to LAX Airport

The bus driver for the Fly-A-Way was a young, somewhat attractive, female with a somewhat pleasant personality (the word for today is 'somewhat'). She started flirting with the somewhat attractive guy across the aisle from me (I tried not to take offense as she seemingly skipped over flirting with me - ouch!). Anyway, as we pulled into the madhouse called LAX airport, she started writing her phone number down on a piece of paper to give to the obviously-more-attractive-than-me-guy. She did this while somehow avoiding traffic accidents. If this was not bad enough, the obviously-more-attractive-than-me-guy encourages her reckless behavior by asking for her address as well so "I can send you a postcard from my travels" (note: he was flying to Sacramento and back - woo hoo. I want a postcard too!). Yeah, she bought that line.

Anyhow, after many near misses with other buses and cars, she finally got her info written and delivered to the (okay, I will say it) ATTRACTIVE guy. Anyhoo, he gets off the bus at terminal three. And I swear this is true, the baggage guy at the same terminal followed her back on the bus to get her phone number. This gal was impressive. As I watched her write it all down with her left hand (I have nothing against lefties - I was just pointing it out), I noticed the engagement/wedding ring on her finger (yikes). Then I felt somewhat bad for leaning over and suggesting she just have business cards printed with her digits (I was just thinking of her being a safer driving).

The Greyhound Bus

One of my original plans for this trip was to buy a 30 day pass on Greyhound for $500-600. But after hearing my aunt and a buddy give me heartfelt warnings, I decided to do some internet searches for people's experiences on this mode of transportation in the U.S. After reading the colorful commentaries, I decided I would limit my exposure, and only take short-in-duration bus trips. When I read about the bus stations, they talked about how the stations are usually filthy, in the worst part of town, and to be cautious of being victimized in and around these places.

Anyway, I show up at the Greyhound Station in Raleigh, NC. It was all I imagined it would be. It was not in the best part of town, AND it was certainly not clean. But the people in Raleigh must have read the web pages too, and were obviously concerned about safety, as half of the building was a bus station, and the other half was a police station (seriously). I actually felt better seeing this until one of the police officers walked down the hall past the police station entrance, realized his mistake as he entered the bus station, got a panicked look on his face, put his hand on his gun, and slowly walked backwards back to the police station (okay, I might have exaggerated this somewhat).

So, I buy my ticket for my 3.25 hour ride. In the 1.5 hours I was in the bus station, I had a few interesting experiences, starting with the bathroom ... I am in the bathroom standing at a standup urinal (sorry for the visual), when a guy in cut-off jean shorts stands next to me to use the restroom (once, again, sorry for the somewhat disturbing visual). He looks over at me and starts talking to me. I am trying to be polite, when he says "I have a tumor in my knee, they may have to amputate." Then he sticks his leg out next to mine to show me his knee, all the while still urinating (again, sorry for the disturbing visual - but, just remember, I had to live it). I glanced down (to be polite), tried to avoid seeing his privates, mumbled "that is a bummer", zipped up, washed my hands, and got the heck out of there.

I headed over to the soda/tea/water machine to buy some water, when a different guy ambles up next to me, leans my direction, and starts singing in my ear "I want coffee, I want tea, I was some Java Jive and it wants me ..." (I actually knew this song, but I did not join in). He keeps looking at me, smiling, and singing, so I smile back, nod at him, and slowly side-step to the next machine, buy a soda, and go sit down.

At this time, I see a janitor come out of the women's bathroom and pour high concentrate toilet bowl cleaner (the pink kind you have probably seen before) into a mop bucket and start to mop the floor. You know a place is filthy when they use toilet bowl cleaner on the floor. The fumes got so overwhelming, that myself and others moved over to the door and crowded around it to get some fresh air. (point of note - you are not supposed to stand outside where the buses are at). I am standing there with the others, when cut-off-jean-shorts-guy nudges up beside me and says "Hey dude, I have a tumor in my knee, they may have to amputate." And he once again, sticks his leg out for me to see. I guess he did not recognize me with my pants pulled up. I gave some appropriately sympathetic comment and moved back into the aromatic, fumigated main room and sat down beside a man who was either sleeping or had passed out from the fumes.

As I looked around the room, it was a mix of age groups, mostly Caucasian and African Americans (which fits the demographics of NC). There were a few college-student-looking-people with hiking packs; a few homeless-looking-people (not sure if they were going to ride the bus or were just trying to find somewhat of a shelter to rest); a few people who looked pretty strung out on methamphetamines (very emaciated, yellow teeth, picking at their skin, looking around in fast motions - paranoid); a few people who looked completely zoned out from either the fumes, long days traveling, or recent use of depressants; a couple of military guys; a few people who looked like they were going to visit relatives (since they had bags and gift-wrapped packages); and a few other diverse people. I am not sure where singing-man went.

The bus shows up 30 minutes late. We all rush up to get in line so we can get a prime seat on the bus. I don't know what a prime seat is, but I did not want to miss out. Luckily cut-off-jean-shorts-guy was way in the back of the line. As we are loading on the bus, the driver takes our tickets. Similar to reports on the web pages, this driver was not a pleasant person. He was rude to everyone (except one lady in a fur coat - to be discussed later). He kept saying "Hurry up. THIS is the reason the bus is late. YOU people are too slow. Move along!" He even got into two verbal altercations with passengers ahead of me.

When it came my turn, I quickly walked up there, smiled real big, and said "Good day sir" and "thank you sir", hoping to direct his wrath away from me. It worked, and I got into the bus with no problems. Later I heard the driver yell "If you got a problem with your leg, then keep it to yourself!" I guess cut-off-jean-shorts-guy was getting ready to get on the bus. I quickly moved my bag into the seat next to me (I know, for shame!). The last guy to get on the bus was singing-man. He started walking down the aisle, made eye contact with me, smiled, and directed his singing towards me as he changed his tune to "I like coffee, I like tea ..." I have to admit, it made me smile, ... well, that is, until the bus driver got on the bus and yelled at a man for sitting in the seat behind him "DON'T YOU KNOW that NO ONE is allowed to SIT in the FRONT ROWS of a bus unless it is completely full? Now get your A** out of that seat and move somewhere else!" The guy in front of me looked back and whispered "I knew that was going to happen. That was hilarious." I just felt embarrassed for the guy who was sulking down the aisle. But I did learn a valuable Greyhound bus riding, unspoken/unposted rule - Do not sit in the front row!

The bus ride itself was mostly somewhat boring except for two things - (1) seeing the names of stores in NC (which I will chronicle in tomorrow's update), and (2) the fur-coat-lady ...

Okay, so there was a somewhat attractive female across the aisle wearing knee-high, lace-up boots, jeans, a stretch t-shirt, and a fake fur - she had the whole Janice Joplin / Courtney Love image going. Well, I listened to her talk to the guy in front of her, and she said "I travel the bus between Raleigh and the marine base at Lejun 3-4 times a week. I meet a lot of really nice people, and I do a lot of networking with new clients on the bus." It was at this point, I decided not to use the bathroom in the bus or to let my bare skin touch anything. Since there was no movie on the bus, I guess she was the entertainment for some (ewe, that was soooo bad - forgive me).

In closing ... when I had originally planned on doing the 30 day bus pass, I envisioned myself sleeping on the bus, reading, relaxing, enjoying the scenery, and so on. I think this is more descriptive of the express bus service from Cancun, Mexico to Chetumal, Mexico, not the U.S. Greyhound bus. So, I am glad I listened to my aunt and my buddy and limited my Greyhound experience to a few short distance trips - whew! I am somewhat, no VERY, relieved!


Since posting this, I received a comment from my buddy Aaron who said, "You most be getting jaded in your old age, there was a time when you would’ve joined right in singing that song. Of course, that would have been in Oklahoma, and there probably would have been only one weirdo/drugy/schizo around, not a bus full of them." He also shared his experience on the Greyhound bus, and one line especially made me smile, "Other than being dressed in jeans and t-shirts that were obviously a little to nice for the crowd, we were doing our best to fit in." :)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Next time I get on a Greyhound bus, I'll make sure NOT to sit in the front row! :)