Greyhound Tales – Part 1

A typical Greyhound bus. This one is from a promotional photo.

I’m woken from my sleep by the sound of hissing air brakes and the harsh light of the overhead tubes as they spring to life. The driver begins to speak. “OK, folks, this is Salt Lake City. We’ll be arriving at the Greyhound station in just under five minutes and I wanted to let you know a few important things.” As he goes into his safety spiel and the connection information, a speech I’ve heard a thousand times now, it seems, I think back to the beginning of this epic journey. A four-day odyssey across the US, starting in Miami and culminating in a few minutes from now, in Salt Lake City.

It all began at 1 PM on a Thursday, when I was dropped to the Greyhound station in Miami, near the airport. At that time I was unsure of what to expect. I’d taken long bus trips before, but none with a multiple day itinerary. I was used to Greyhound procedures by then, including how to navigate the labyrinthine bus station toilet key acquisition procedure. In fact, that’s how I met my first fellow traveler of the trip. Andhi was a pretty Vietnamese girl who sat next to me on the bench at the station, waiting for her turn to use the bathroom, until I pointed out that it might be better to actually wait for someone to finish and snatch the key from them. It worked. We soon got talking and, for the first time, I found myself effortlessly chatting with an absolute stranger. It isn’t easy when you’re living a life in a city but when you travel, talking comes easily.

You find that days and weeks spent alone and without conversation sharpens the mind to the point where you’re full of ideas. At some point, though, quite suddenly, you also realize that blogging about them or writing them down in a journal doesn’t come close to the ebb and flow of conversation. You need to discuss things with another human being and have them shoot down or validate your thoughts. Andhi and I talked about feminism, movies, art, Vietnam, India, politics, sociology, our pasts and presents, American culture, fearmongering and the futility of security checks at a Greyhound station. When she left at Orlando, I was terribly sad. Our miniature relationship was ending, and it hurt just as much as if we had been lovers forever. We had exchanged numbers and promised to add each other on Facebook, but the electronic version of those four hours on the bus wouldn’t ever be the same.

As I sat in that cold station, waiting for my connecting bus, another fellow traveler on the Miami bus, who I had not paid much attention to, came up and sat next to me. John was a truck driver, or, as he liked to put it, a commercial vehicle controller. It seems someone had abandoned a bus in Kansas City, Missouri, and it was going to be John’s job to drive out and retrieve the vehicle, determine its roadworthiness and drive back to Miami. As a long term road traveler, he had tons of stories and interesting anecdotes to make the miles seem shorter between Orlando and Atlanta, Georgia.

Most of the Atlanta journey was also at night, so I had the chance to finally try out my new neck pillow, purchased for the princely sum of 10 dollars at a Staples. After a couple of night buses, I decided that before I attempted a multiple day journey, I would have to have more support than the default seats offered. Wise choice. We reached Atlanta at about 4.00 AM and I was able to effortlessly swing into action, sans any stiffness or soreness. John had been joined by this time by another lady, Carol, who was moving across the country, from Miami to Nashville. A chainsmoking 50, she was the epitome of an older southern lady. She knew all sorts of dirty jokes and told them to everyone with blushes in all the right places. We talked about how I was necessary to uproot ourselves once in a while. She’d lived in so many places it was getting hard to count them all. Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Tampa, Jacksonville, Richmond, these are a few of the places I remember, but there were so many more. It seems that every few years she gets itchy feet and moves on from where she is. Nashville has a sister that needs visiting and a new life that needs living. We sat by each other on the Atlanta to Nashville bus, John having found a fellow trucker for the next leg of the journey.

The one thing that Carol wanted to teach me was the importance of being able to make connections. “I was in a diner once, in a new city – I think it was Fayetteville.” She would start. “And I was there all on my own, didn’t know a soul and just then these three women came in and started right on bitchin’ ‘bout their place o’ work and I just kind of scooted on over an’ asked them if they was takin’ applications and they said sure! So that’s how I got my first job there and that girl I spoke to, why she became my best friend while I was in Fayatteville.” And that, in a nutshell, was Carol’s piece of advice. Always push. Always ask for what you want. Even if they aren’t the right person, you’ll meet the right person through them.

This is part 1 of a 4-part series. Stay tuned for the following parts tomorrow and the next few days!