Monday, September 3, 2007

Wanna Take You For a Ride - Greyhound!

Now for anyone who hasn’t been blessed enough to ride greyhound in the last few years, I feel you ought to be informed: ride greyhound – you probably won’t enjoy it, but chances are, you won’t forget your experience! For me, I’ve taken greyhound twice in the last month, and both experiences left me with more stories than the actual visits I made.

My first greyhound experience began with a taxi cab driver who spent the whole ride on the phone to his ex-wife, pleading with her to let him see his children again after 2 years. Over the course of the ride, it came out that his ex-wife’s hesitancy was probably related to some experiences with crack the man had had, but those experiences were behind him now (or so he assured his wife). This has absolutely nothing to do with my trip, but I think it really set the mood perfectly for what was to come.

There are two buses that leave daily from Lexington, KY to Cleveland, OH. Now, if you look online, that’s not what their website says. Their website says there are 3. But one of those buses is marked “transfer” and magically arrives in Cleveland 45 minutes before the other. That bus doesn’t, in fact, exist. But greyhound still lists it, just to confuse any customers that might want to use their service.

Confused customers might want to call the station. Clever move! But those customers would find that Greyhound, as always, is a step ahead! First, to confuse such customers, there is one number listed for their station on the greyhound website, and another completely different number listed in the local phone book. No matter, because anyone dedicated enough to call these numbers will find that neither one actually answers the phone, or even bothers with an answering machine to detail things like hours of operation, addresses, or bus times. Silly bits of information like that, that modern businesses often wish to present to their customers. Additionally, in their local phone book, where they list this phone number, seemingly disconnected from a working phone, they list no address. To a bus station.

Can I repeat that? In the Lexington, Kentucky phone book, Greyhound chose to list the phone number, but NOT the address of their local bus station. And they don’t answer that phone. This is why, incidentally, my taxi cab ride was necessary.

Anyway, back to my actual trip. As I said, there are 2 busses that leave for Cleveland daily: one bus departing in the morning, one about 8 hours later. I arrived in the morning, purchased my ticket, but when I tried to board I discovered they had overbooked the bus by about 15+ passengers. The driver never really explained this to us in so many words. He just sort of stopped the line of people from boarding the bus and said “Ok. Can’t take anymore folks. The rest of you are going to have to take the next bus, or else you can stand in the aisles. ‘Course then you’re ridin’ at your own risk.” He never did say a word of explanation about how we all came to have tickets to get on his bus, or why they had sold us these tickets. At that particular time, I didn’t ask - I was overwhelmed with the sudden desire not to wait around that bus terminal for additional 8 hours (or arrive into Cleveland at 1am for that matter).

So it was that I sat in the aisle for the first 2 hours of my trip (until our first major stop). It really wasn’t that bad. But what I found comical is that they have a similar practice in the Philippines. The difference is, when they overload a bus in the Philippines they have plastic chairs that they set down in the isle for passengers to sit in, and if you ride on greyhound you have to sit cross-legged on the fucking floor until a seat opens up.

So basically, what I’m trying to say, in complete seriousness, is if you want to find a better run bus line than greyhound, try looking in some 3rd world countries. You’ll find them. Easily.

Then there was my bus returning from Cleveland to DC. From what I could tell, they overbooked that bus so massively that they had to split it into 2 busses. I was on the second bus to depart – 2 hours late. I think the difficulty was in finding a bus driver, who, when she finally arrived, seemed quite disgruntled. She just might have been the least friendly bus driver I’ve ever had. One customer was loudly discussing his dis-satisfaction with another. Not in a belligerent or angry manner mind you, more with an amused “once they’ve got your money you’ve got no leg to stand on” resignation”, but he made no attempt to keep his voice down. He must have offended the driver, because she asked him if he needed to get off the bus.

This driver proceeded to get lost at every stop along the way, including getting hopelessly lost for about 45 minutes in Pittsburgh (during which time she also hit a sign). Now, if by chance any representative of Greyhound should read this, I’d like to make you an offer. I recognize that we are living in an age of technology. I have multiple friends who have their very own hand-held GPS devices, which would have directed my driver out of any one of these messes. However, I do recognize that these devices are not cheap (I certainly don’t have one yet) and bus drivers certainly aren’t known to be rich. I guess greyhound can’t afford to provide it for them yet.

All the same, GPS is really overkill, isn’t it? If ever I do ride Greyhound again, I would like to personally offer to pay an extra 20 cents on my next greyhound ticket to cover the printing cost of Mapquest directions. Now, I realize that this might only cover the cost of directions to one or two stops, but surely we can find a second person willing to donate 20 of their cents too? Or maybe someone could sell a cigarette and we could print the whole route out?

Anyway, I was supposed to have a 2 hour layover in Pittsburgh. Instead they held the bus I needed to transfer to there at the station a whole half an hour for me (to their credit!!).

And the final leg of the journey? Well it might have been quiet, but it wasn’t. I ended up engaged in two conversations with two very different people over the course of the journey. First, I sat next to a middle-school teacher from Pittsburgh. Now, I’ve been on my share of bus rides in my life, and I’ve seen lots of people start of conversations with people they have randomly found themselves next to. I’ve never been the sort of person to do that. I keep to myself. But this one day seemed to be an exception, and though I couldn’t tell you her name, I got along really well with this elderly middle school teacher. Probably it was her sense of humor. We talked about half way from Pittsburgh to Maryland. At that point, she got off and I ended up sitting next to my second conversationalist.

My 2nd conversationalist (conversationalist #2) was about my age, maybe a little younger, black, in a suit jacket, and I’ve come to believe he was mildly autistic, schizophrenic, and obsessive-compulsive all together. I know that’s a pretty impressive list to put together, but he was a pretty interesting character.

He would break long silences with questions like “What does your pillows smell like?”
[Pause] [humoring pillow sniff] “Feathers”
“Oh.” [Pause] “From here it smells like hair gel” (It smelled like absolutely nothing).

Or he would say things like “I was thinking the other day, do you think it’s possible that the government could have raised us from birth to work for them, only we wouldn’t ever know it?”
“Uh… I think that might be possible. But I don’t think so. That’s a scary idea.”
“Nah. I don’t believe that.” [Unsure eye shift] “That’s crazy. I don’t think that’s true.”

And over the course of the ride he told me that the day before he had been riding going the other way, but he had been kicked off the bus (he didn’t say why and I didn’t ask) and discovered that pizza places won’t deliver to the bus station, and he described certain places around the area, but in a way that made them sound like they might be imaginary. Certainly parts of his description were, like stairs that you didn’t want to go down very quickly, because they sucked you down.

The truth is, he was definitely the lighter side of crazy, but I liked him. He seemed like a personable guy. I think the funniest part about the whole thing was when he asked me what I did for a living, and I ended up telling him about my peace corps experience. His response was an almost instant, amused “Off alone in some hut in a jungle on an island? Nah, I don’t believe that”. Although I did convince him pretty quickly I think, there’s something really funny about a schizophrenic man refusing to believe what you tell him.

Anyway, I got home. And thanks to Greyhound, I’m not likely to forget my travels.

1 comment:

John Henry Adams said...

While I've never had problems quite as epic as yours with Greyhound, I have heard a Greyhound driver say, upon pulling into a station, "Greyhound drivers never get lost. They just sometimes don't know where they are."

As you yourself once were, I am in a self-imposed exile from the United States. More specifically I (and the bulk of my family) have moved to Jena, Germany for the year. (My dad, while he has heard of sabbaticals being spent in the United States, dismisses the notion as pure fantasy.) In that respect, I'm hanging loose over here and trying to enroll temporarily in the local university. (The bureaucrats are doing their best to foil me, but while I may be outnumbered, I'm never outpunned.)