Seattle? By Bus?

Last Friday night I boarded a Greyhound bus from Washington to Pittsburgh. The trip normally takes about 4 hours by car, but this ride would last 6 hours and 15 minutes, mostly because the bus stopped in Baltimore and for a 1/2 an hour break in Somerset, PA. But I’m getting ahead of myself. See, I like taking the bus. It feels safer than flying, and offers plenty of quality down-time, and you can stare out the windows at the countryside, which is better than seeing clouds or non-stop blue sky any day.

Our driver, named Leverett, brooked no funny business. He started out with the list of rules that we, as captive passengers, had to live by. Most of the rules were good rules, in fact. Like rule #6: If you are playing music on any sort of walkman, or music player, you must use headphones. And corollary #6a: These headphones must be set at a volume so that only you the listener can hear the music. He backed it up by telling the guy across the aisle to lower the volume on his headphones before we even left the station. You da man, Leverett!

Other rules seemed obvious, but apparently, passengers must be told that under no circumstances should they place bottles or cups on the floor or in the toilet. Lesson learned — in the middle of the night I noticed that my shoulder bag, which I had stupidly placed on the floor at my feet, was slightly damp from a sticky river of Coke™ that had made its way from a bottle/cup on the floor about 3 rows behind me. They could have started the rules in the station itself. Though it’s first come, first serve, at least 3 people felt they could just jump in line ahead of the rest of us.

Greyhound has always been cheaper than flying, and thus the passengers tend to be poorer than those on airplanes. So you don’t get the folks changing into their Abercrombie & Fitch terrycloth tracksuits after departure. You get a large minority population, college kids, and at least one single mother + infant. I’ve noticed that in my last few bus rides, a significant number of riders are Latino, which wasn’t the case back in the 70s when my parents and I would ride on ocassion. Back then, too, you’d see guys in movies getting released from jail and being given a Greyhound bus ticket. That was enough to make one of my Hindi teachers avoid Greyhound whenever possible.

We arrived 15 minutes early to Pittsburgh, despite getting lost on the mean streets of Baltimore (you know you’re lost when the driver stops at a 7-11 and asks for directions and ends up driving through a police sobriety checkpoint 5 minutes later.) Leverett spent the last 10 minutes of the trip announcing a list of all cities that you could take connecting buses to from Pittsburgh. He may as well have said “anywhere in the U.S.” because it seemed like he mentioned every city on the map with a population over 500,000. This list included places like Topeka, Phoeniz, Los Angeles, and Seattle. By the time Leverett mentioned Seattle, I guess one guy in the back had enough. I’ll try to put down his monologue verbatim, but I’m probably short a few “motherfuckin”s.

“Seattle? On the bus? That’s motherfucking crazy! Seattle! Damn! Who the fuck wants to go to Seattle? By bus? Goddamn! It about killed me just getting to Pittsburgh, but Seattle? I mean, damn, I gotta see this! I’m goin’ over to the line for the Seattle bus. I gotta see those motherfuckers. I think it’s time to call up alcoholics anonymous, ‘cos they must be drunk! Seattle? Goddamn! On the bus?”

Someone, somewhere, is on a bus to Seattle from Pittsburgh. God bless him. God bless Greyhound.


One Comment

  1. I agree with you: using Greyhound is the quintessential sociological experience. Very interesting, if you’re able to endure the typical artic
    AC to be found inside their buses (even “Let’s go USA” mentioned it)

    Back in 1990, I bought a multi-stop ticket from Albuquerque, NM to San Francisco, CA, with a stop in between at Flagstaff, AZ to go see the Grand Canyon.

    It was one of the luckiest journey of my life. At Grand Canyon, I didn’t have a reservation for a hotel room, because my 19 y.o. idea was to hike all day, and then sleep at the bus station. But when boarding the bus in Alburquerque I decided to sit next to a redheaded woman in her thirties. She seemed the most normal of all the rest. It turned out that she was from England, also heading to Grand Canyon by herself, and had booked a double-room (for a very reasonable rate) and would be happy to share it with me. We spend the next three days together and she was the perfect travel partner, since we had the same interests. We continued to write afterwards for some years. But not anymore.

    But from Arizona to SF, in the 24-hour journey, I share the bus with the most diverse people. The guy next to me was also a Brit, going to the same destination as mine. Good looking, but I think he was gay. Then a low-income white familie with 3 children. But for me, the most interesting person, was an old, thin, elegant -even though you could see he was poor- African American man. At night, before sleeping, he would spend at least 30 minutes grooming his straightened hair, and ending this ritual by placing, very carefully, a hairnet on top of the rollers he had previosly put on. And since I have never met a man paying that much attention to it, I found the whole process fascinating,

    And like your driver, when reaching the Bay Area, ours also couldn’t find his way into San Francisco. The good thing is that after the first wrong turn, he asked if any of us did. And one did, so we arrived safely and quickly. He was a Latino.


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