Adventures in bus riding, part 2

Don't let the smile fool you. He'll beat your ass if you leave your trash or play your music without headphones. (courtesy of

Don't let the smile fool you. He'll beat your ass if you leave your trash or play your music without headphones. (courtesy of

My bus trip to DC featured a typical cast of knuckleheads. But the trip back was special, short bus special even. (Like how I bring it all together?) I arrived at the station at 7:45 a.m. to find the line winding all the way back to the exit. The previous two buses didn’t run, we eventually learned. At 8:30, the line moved forward, and presumably a bus left carrying some of the people in front of me. I passed the time trying to decipher the stories on CNN and ignore the inane blather of the two teenagers in front of me. Soon coverage switched to Obama’s Ghana speech; people stopped their conversations to pay¬† attention. One woman dragged her luggage closer to watch, eventually integrating herself into the line and forgetting about the speech. The good old “blend and butt” worked again. At about 9:00 the line moved forward again. It appeared I might make the next bus and be on my way. Then the driver stopped me. Thanks to Ms. Line Jumper, who took what would have been my seat, I’d have to wait some more.

As I stood in the doorway avoiding the direct sun and looking for a clean surface to lean on, a haggard guy wearing a dirty basketball jersey and gym shorts wandered up to the dividing rope. He sported a fresh, juicy scab on one side of his forehead and smelled like homelessness, or at least showerlessness. His eyes were far away, but his odor was right there. He appeared to be working the line for drug money until he ducked the rope and pulled out a ticket. Everyone backed away and gave him space; one woman actually grabbed her playing children. No one questioned his right to be there; people will only defend their place in line if they don’t feel threatened. For the next hour he paced nervously within a three-foot area, talking to himself and fighting fainting spells. I asked his views of the current administration’s policy on Africa, but didn’t get a response.

I boarded the 10:00 bus, two hours after arriving at the station, and sat up front near to the driver. Dirty, drug addict man boarded a minute later and stumbled to the back, presumably to commune with the toilet. Soon we were on our way. The bus stopped at a turnpike rest stop named after a minor historical figure. The driver wanted to take lunch. I was happy to avail myself of facilities that weren’t moving at 65 mph. Riders bought their fast food and reconvened under some trees on an island halfway between the main building and the bus to eat.

A guy wandered around with some sort of championship belt and a camera. Periodically he stopped someone to take a picture of him posing with the belt and looking tough. At one point he wandered out into the parking lot and almost got hit by a car. I was intrigued and considered asking to take his picture. How else would I get the story? After ten minutes and three or four pictures, he put the belt back in a sleeve marked with the UFC logo. UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship, or Unidentified Flying Chicken if you’re hungry in Jackson Heights (soooooo, good!). Underneath the dead eyes and baggy t-shirt, he could be one of those fighters that I channel surf by late at night. I couldn’t find him on the website, but his forearms sure looked like he’d trained for something. Then I thought maybe a conversation with a potentially lethal attention-seeker wasn’t such a great idea. Who walks around a rest stop parking lot showing off a championship belt? The guy had to be a little off from all the blows to the head. And talking with him (or anyone) on a bus (or anywhere) for the next two hours probably wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

The driver finished his burger, and everyone filed back onto the bus, carrying what was left of their Burger King and Cinnabon. Mr. UFC champion returned to his seat somewhere behind me to dream of skull bashing glory. The bus continued on up the turnpike without incident. My neck was too sore to sleep or even lean back, so I watched the trees and power line poles pass. When the bus pulled out of the Lincoln Tunnel and into midtown Manhattan, one kid exclaimed incredulously, “where are we now?”

My dream… to not ride the bus

Adventures in bus riding, part 1

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  1. Shannon wrote:

    For pain-free future reference:

    Most pleasant NY-DC bus travel ever. Seriously. Comfy seats, lots of space, free wi-fi and no smelly people. And much cheaper than Greyhound.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009 at 10:22 pm | Permalink
  2. NYCtek wrote:

    Wow. Rough. Are you familiar with the Chinatown bus system? A bus trip to DC might cost $20 and none of my previous rides have featured criminals, drug addicts, or the insane. And there’s usually wifi.

    Stories like yours are why I avoid Greyhound… and American bus lines in general.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

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