Confirmed: I am officially too old to consider a Greyhound bus ride fun, exciting or adventurous in any way. Yes, admittedly, there WAS a time when I thought it was just grrrreat (!), even after the “dirty old man incident” in my mid-twenties (which consisted of a pair of dentures, a trenchcoat and only one seat left on the bus).
From San Diego to Pennsylvania. From New Orleans to LA. From Taos through Arizona. Now from Grand Junction to Alburquerque in a sudden work-related change-of-plans. I go solo, an experience that has its own particular flavor to it. In solo travel, one gets use to their own company and has the time and space to hear all the annoying and insignificant ramblings of the mind. As I role along in this bumpy melting pot of humanity, I’m bored with myself already.
I’ve ridden “the dog” on a number of occasions and always managed to find the ironic humor in the blood-curdling screams of unhappy, cramped children and in the shifty presence of the passengers who choose to sit in the back of the bus (they usually wear sunglasses and have an affinity for looking aloof and uninterested).
It is all just manifestations of the American experience, my niave younger self use to think. I guess I have always been a patriot in my own way.
It has admittedly been years since I piled on to one of these things, squishing myself into a seat sardine-style and nestling myself around my carry-on luggage (“Whatever you do, don’t let the bus attendants take care of it,” the reservationist said to me earlier with a raised eyebrow).
Is it just old age or has Greyhound actually gone down-hill in recent years? Is that even possible?
Yes and no. Beginning in 2003, Greyhound Lines Inc. began cutting corners, an unfortunately consequence of
traveler attitudes and heightened security costs in a post-9/11 world. During that time, close to 29% of their destinations were eliminated and the company laid off 20 percent of their administrative and management personnel. In 2007, the Swedish company FirstGroup purchased the hundred-year-old bus line (which was at the time owned by Laidlaw of yellow school bus fame) and promptly launched a campaign to draw in younger customers with flashy paint jobs, plugs and Wifi in the coaches and an ad campaign that announced “The New Greyhound.”
What about savings to the consumer? Surprisingly, a cost for a ticket runs the gamut. According to one study, sometimes they are less expensive than airfare or Amtrak, sometimes on par and sometimes, a Greyhound ride can actually cost more.
I suppose martyrdom in the name of saving a buck no longer applies. Neither does stereotypes, to be fair. The average Greyhound passenger is middle-class, well-educated and owns a car. Go figure!
Even more surprisingly is the fact that FirstGroup’s overhaul, although still not addressing the on-going problem of massive overbooking, apparently included added legroom. This, to me, makes no sense at all since its 15 minutes into the ride and the right side of my butt is numb, I can’t feel my left foot and every time we make a turn I have to brace myself so that I don’t slide into the studious young girl who is quietly reading in the seat next to me. I’m not a person known to have giraffe legs, but any means. I’m only 5 foot 4 inches tall.
Ouch, nerve pinch.
Then I see a pale-looking, sweaty-browed individual with liquid on the front of his shirt running towards me, making a bee-line for the bathroom. I pick up my bag that is jutting out into the aisle just in time so that he doesn’t trip.
Okay Gentle Traveler, what advice do you give for this kind of sit-u-a-tion?
Something about breathing, to be sure. Calming the mind. Taking in the experience. Asking oneself: What are we here to learn?
Never take the Greyhound again? Duh.
I try the breathing….
In. Out. In….
I think I’m allergic to the voice of the man who is sitting across from me. He is patternistically cussing angrily and quickly apologizing into a cellphone in loud, New York-accented Spanish.
I gulp and diligently continue the breathing thing, inhaling the sticky-sweet smell of vomit residue, smelly feet and the blue stuff they put in the bottom of the bus toilet bowl.
I suddenly miss Via Allegro, our1986 RV, something awful. Even though it’s little and crammed with all the stuff we have collected along the way (we have discovered a love of small-town thrift shops- not good), I crave it’s crumpled floor rugs and peeling wallpaper. I miss Shane’s steady, concentrating presence (Shhhh, only yes or no questions please. I’m trying to concentrate) in the driver’s seat. I miss all our goodies on the dashboard— my rubic’s cube, my dolphin candle, his plastic golden Buddha, the bobbly-head, guitar-playing alligator I bought at Dollar Tree, the little rocks I picked up from God knows where, the bags of sand we have gathered on beaches all along the Pacific Northwest, neatly tagged in Sharpie, awaiting a proper glass-vial home.
Most of all, I miss LEG ROOM, for crying out loud, the very thing that the Swedes promised would happen in the era of “The New Greyhound!” My entire back end feels like it has been submerged in ice.
And the guy who was yelling into the cellphone just a few minutes ago has dropped something under his seat. This causes him to bend down in the 6 inch-wide aisle with his saggy, grey sweat-panted rear end strategically positioned right in front of my…
Never mind. I think I’ll go somewhere else now, thank you very much. A first class seat on an airline bound for Paris, the taste of champagne on my lips. A stretch limousine cruising through wine country. A bullet train through Tokyo, my briefcase neatly stowed under a smooth, clean bench. My own two feet, walking a beach. And suddenly, I am no longer a human pretzel curly-cued into a seat barely big enough for half an ass. And that is not poopy diaper I smell (No, no, noooo!) but the refreshing scent of plumeria wafting on a warm Hawaiian breeze …. Ahhh….
Calgon, or some mentally-derived, organically-based, aromatherapy version of the same, has indeed taken me away…
Bye bye for now.