Texas in a Greyhound

Posted on June 13, 2013

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My wife Amy went to Houston last week to spend a few days with her best friend Jessica. She (Jessica, not my wife, thank God) just had a baby and business took Jessica’s husband Rob out of town for a few days.

Two reasons for my wife’s visits; one, so mother and newborn wouldn’t be alone while dad was away and two, they hadn’t hung out, just the two best friends alone, without one or both of their annoying (but devilishly handsome) husbands since, well, since before they both had husbands I guess.

Amy has a ragged old Honda minivan and while I’m pretty sure the old workhorse with a 1/4 million miles on the engine would have made the trip, I didn’t want her making that drive alone, so the wife took a Greyhound bus to Houston.

If you’ve never traveled by commercial bus consider yourself lucky. It’s like a school bus ride that never ends. We got a taste of what was in store when we arrived at the bus station.

We were early of course, my wife gets her traveling genes from her maternal grandmother, a woman who packs years ahead of a journey and arrives at the terminal a week before her scheduled departure. I’m not kidding, this woman has a trip planned for 2016, she’s already packed her bags, they’re sitting by the door, ready to go, including hermetically sealed, gluten-free snacks and bottled water.

So, the reason we arrived an hour before the bus was scheduled to leave – family tradition. The reason the bus left an hour late – Greyhound tradition. I’ve rolled a few miles on a Greyhound so this was no surprise to me, they’re always an hour late. Always. As we waited in the Monroe terminal I overheard the bus driver on the phone with a septic company, turns out our bus had a busted bathroom. Not a good start.

Finally, they announced an eminent departure and instructed the passengers to line up. This Greyhound bus was packed with people, students with backpacks, elderly couples, newly released convicts and crying kids with their miserable parents.

Traveling with children is akin to water-boarding, I’m sure traveling with a cranky kid on a bus is worse than a 2 week stay in Guantanamo. As we waited in line the people already on the bus shuttled on and off for bathroom and smoke breaks or just to stretch their legs.

The parents looked like those pictures you see of WW2 concentration camp victims right after they were freed; eyes wide and glazed, locked in a 1,000 mile stare, clothes hanging askew, hair standing up in all directions, they’d shamble past us like zombies, a squealing rug-rat or six in tow.

Finally, we parted ways at the bus door and Amy was bound for Houston. She kept me up to date with text messages on what turned out to be a 12 hour trip, almost twice as long as it takes to drive to Houston in a car. Cross-country bus trips require great patience from passengers, the things stop all the time, seems like the wheels have just started to turn, your butt has finally warmed the narrow seat you’re wedged into, you’ve adjusted to the bad breath of the stranger you’re mashed against and then the damn driver hits the blinker and exits the highway for yet another 15 minutes in a Shell station or a Pilot truck stop.

Amy made it safely to Houston though, and returned on another bus 5 days later. She wasn’t the same person I’d seen off though, the experience had changed her. She looked like one of those shell shocked parents minus the rug-rat. We’re considering therapy. OK, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit.

I was 15 years old the first time I took a Greyhound in 1985, traveling from Dallas to Monroe, a fairly short trip and a very uncomplicated route. Monroe and Dallas are connected by Interstate 20, it takes less than 5 hours to drive in a car. My bus trip lasted almost twenty four hours.

I was living in Dallas at the time and made the trip back to Monroe to spend some extra time with my grandparents over the Thanksgiving holidays. My mother bought the ticket but instead of buying a ticket from Dallas, Texas to Monroe, Louisiana, my well-meaning but poor planner of a mum purchased a ticket from Garland, Texas to Monroe, Louisiana.

There are several suburbs ringing Dallas and Fort Worth and we lived in Garland on the eastern side of Big D. On the morning of my departure dad took me to the bus stop in Garland and watched me leave. All good so far, right? But instead of pointing the Greyhound east, the direction I wanted to go, the bus pulled out of the Garland terminal and drove to downtown Dallas. Where I learned I had to switch buses to continue my journey and that the Monroe-bound bus didn’t leave for 10 hours.

I could have called my parents and they would have come for me of course, and brought me back in time for my actual departure. But I was feeling like a grown-up, emphasis on ‘feeling’, (I was only 15 remember) I’d recently started my first job, I didn’t need rescue, I even had some cash, so I decided to tough it out. Even learned a new term that day; layover. As in my trip from Garland to Monroe had a 10 hour layover in Dallas.

I proceeded to explore the Dallas Greyhound terminal, had a burger, bought a magazine, watched the TV hanging on the wall. That was the first hour. It was excruciating but by the time I decided parental rescue might not be such a bad idea, too much time had passed. They could have come and waited with me, like I was some big old baby who needed a sitter, but there wasn’t enough time to go home. Besides, it was a weekday and both my mother and my father were at work. The rest of my Greyhound layover passed as slowly as the last day of school before summer vacation.

And fate had one more curve-ball to toss me that day in 1985.

On a trip to the bus terminal bathroom a gentleman approached me with a business opportunity. No, this isn’t about to become an after-school special. This fella wasn’t interested in my innocence, well not my physical innocence anyway. No, this man wanted my money and he got some, $40 to be exact.

He had a deal for me ya see. I’d finished my restroom business and was washing my hands when a man stepped up and offered to sell me a piece of fine jewelery. This traveling salesman had necklaces and bracelets and rings all packed neatly into a fake leather case that he opened for me beside a bathroom sink in a bus terminal bathroom.

Seemed perfectly legit to 15 year old ‘moi.

Well, how could I resist? Of course I bought a real 14 k gold necklace and nugget pendant. After I related my bargain to the family they insisted I’d been taken, something about a fool and his money being parted as I recall. They were just jealous I thought, suckers wish they could have gotten a great deal on some fine bling.

I kept insisting this long after my necklace and nugget pendant turned my throat and neck a sickly, pale green color. 

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