Adventures in bus riding, part 1

You go ahead and drive. I'll just sit back hear and try not to talk to anyone. (courtesy of http://www.clevelandleader.com)

You go ahead and drive. I'll just sit back here and try not to talk to anyone. (courtesy of http://www.clevelandleader.com)

Traveling long distance by bus is terrible. How terrible is it? You really want to know? Can I get a “how terrible is it, Norm?” It’s so terrible that it requires a second (and third) post to fully appreciate the heights, err, depths, err, breadth of… well, it’s really bad. And for those wondering, I haven’t run out of unemployment minutiae to jabber on about. We’re only up to post #159; I’ve not yet begun to whine. Besides, my last bus experience bruised my fragile psyche, and I simply must explore it further to avoid further damage and future therapy.

One day I’ll find a job and achieve my goal of never having to ride the bus. And on that day, I’ll happily raise my hand over my shoulder and extend my middle finger as I stroll south from the Port Authority to Penn Station. Please don’t misconstrue this as a personal affront, should you be happen to be within range, unless you’re one of those financial types who turned my retirement savings into a two-week vacation fund, then it applies to you too. But one part of the bus experience will be missed and can never be replaced. The people watching on the bus is some of the best around.

My last trip to Maryland started with an early-morning subway ride to Times Square and a long slog through the underground walkway and wave after wave of commuting humanity to the Port Authority. The line for the Washington, DC-bound Greyhound bus was long, much longer than it tends to be on a weekday morning. It blended with the Philadelphia line; who was in line and for where wasn’t clear. I found what appeared to be the end, dropped my duffel and took out a magazine. There are no assigned seats; everything is first come first served. It looked like the next bus might fill up without me. A woman parked her baby carriage right behind me. Her baby shrieked and cried, occasionally breaking to cough and sniffle. As we waited, the woman edged the carriage closer and bumped my heals. I stepped forward a little, but she did it again. I stepped forward again, and she did it again.

As we played our little game, another woman, dragging her beat-up luggage, approached a couple ahead of me in line. She asked a question, and received an answer. They turned away, and she continued to stand there. It was the old “blend and butt” trick played to perfection. I’ve seen it a thousand times, mostly at the bus station and in France, and when the line is long. The perpetrator associates herself with someone at about the line’s halfway point. Those further up in line will defend their position. But those further back generally don’t care enough to risk confrontation. The perp then makes conversation with someone in line or stands close enough to seem part of the group. As time passes, she becomes part of the line. People notice, but rarely say anything.

The line started to move, and the “Try to Get Norm Sick” game ended. The mother and baby weren’t even in line. So her likely next gambit – sitting next to me and aiming the crying, coughing baby directly at my open mouth – would not come to pass. I was the second to last person onto the bus. And I only made it because a woman and her teenage daughter, not willing to sit apart, got off. The line jumper would have taken my spot. And I would have seethed and waited for the next bus while she rolled down the New Jersey Turnpike.

I took my seat and cleaned my hands with hand sanitizer that I created as a conference promo item for my last employer. Andrew – our hefty and hearty driver – eased the bus through Hell’s Kitchen and into the Lincoln Tunnel. The old lady across the aisle pulled out a sleeve of Lorna Doones – the cookie of choice for grandmas everywhere (including mine) – and ate one. I spent the next 20 minutes plotting how to get one before giving up and falling asleep to The Clientele on my ipod. I woke up when the music stopped; my ipod randomly pauses for no reason. The old lady was pulling out her transistor radio and situating her foam headphones on her ears. I hit play and tried to sleep again. My neck and rear end were already too sore to even feign relaxing.

The bus pulled over at a rest stop just past the Maryland border. People spilled out and rushed inside, returning ten minutes later with coffee and fried chicken and smelling of cigarettes. The bus filled up again, but the couple who were sitting behind the old lady were missing. Through the window, I could see them smoking and relaxing on a bench about 20 feet away. Finally the driver went to talk to them. The conversation got a little animated. It probably went something like this…

Driver: Everybody’s waiting on you dimwits to finish smoking.

Couple: We’re more important than everyone else. Let them wait while we enjoy life’s finer pleasures (tobacco and turnpike rest stops, that is).

Driver: Ok then, we’re leaving without you. Good luck with the walking and the Cancer.

Couple: No wait, we’ll be right there.

Five minutes after the driver returned, so did the couple. The bus left, and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

My dream… to not ride the bus

Adventures in bus riding, part 2

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One Comment

  1. Meg wrote:

    try the Chinatown bus. More convenient, cheaper, faster and consistently less annoying clientele. I always take it from NY to DC or Baltimore.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

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  1. Adventures in bus riding, part 2 | Jobless and Less on Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 7:00 pm

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