Monday, October 28, 2013

Greyhounding it, baby! (A guide to taking a Greyhound bus long distances)

"Maybe a Greyhound could be my way..." 
                                      - AXL Rose

I have to admit that it had been an itch I'd been meaning to scratch for quite some time...

The idea of taking a Greyhound bus across the country was always so alluring to me. For one, there was the price: about two hundred bucks, give or take some, depending on how far in advance you booked the tickets and also whether you got the online discount etc. And then there was the Romanticism of it all: hitting the open road and seeing all of America, rediscovering yourself and having epiphanies and finding the American Dream and all that good stuff.

I had considered taking the Greyhound long distances on several occasions over the years, but I usually chickened out after hearing horror stories and I ended up taking a plane or didn't do the trip at all. However, just recently, an opportunity presented itself where the easiest way to get to point A to point B was to "do the Greyhound thing" and, baby, this time I didn't chicken out. I did it.

See, for the past couple weeks or so, I had been visiting a very special girl named Sara (thinkin' of your body, babe) in Ashland, KY., but it was time for me to go back home to Boston to take care of various affairs and I soon realized that taking a Greyhound was going to be the cheapest way to do it. Where planes out of the nearest airports were almost $400 (which was the case flying out of Huntington, WV. or Lexington, KY.), a Greyhound ticket costed about $160 or even $130 if you ordered the ticked online in advance. That was pretty damn cheap and I didn't have much money to be throwing around so I soon realized that I was finally going to do it; I was going to take the Greyhound!

Of course, the trip was going to be much shorter than the one I had always dreamt about (24 hours vs. several days if I was going across the entire country). But, still, it was going to be pretty long and it would ultimately prove to be about as long as I could handle. Yes, that's right: 24 hours in a Greyhound turned out to be all I could take. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me back up a bit...

I booked the bus tickets and - after saying a sad and emotional goodbye to Sara (still thinkin' about your bawd, baby-cakes) - the Greyhound pulled into the bus station in Ashland, KY at 11:15am. It looked a little dirty and faded from years of operation (it wasn't one of the snazzy new ones), but it could have looked worse and all that mattered was that it didn't look like it was going to break down. The brakes screeched and the hydraulics hissed and then the door opened to let out people who were getting off in Ashland and also the people who were going further but needed a minute or two to stretch their legs or have a smoke. 

One of the first guys who got off the bus was a dude with a shaved head (all the way to the skin) and my eyes seemed to be drawn almost immediately to his sneakers, which I noticed were Velcro and laceless. This was the kind of dude who didn't seem handicapped or square so I didn't think the Velcro sneakers could be explained due to the man having terrible fashion sense. Then I also noticed he was wearing a white T-shirt and a plain windbreaker type of jacket with overly long denim pants. I'm not sure if it was a psychic moment, but a voice in my head immediately told me "this guy just got out of prison!" This moment of intuition later turned out to be true because the man did, indeed, brag about "doing his time" to various fellow Greyhound travelers on various buses throughout the trip, all the way from Kentucky to Boston. Yes, that's right: he did ride with me the entire trip, though - to be honest - he actually turned out to be the dude I felt MOST comfortable around relative to the some of the other Greyhound travelers. But, again, I don't want to get ahead of myself here...

I gave Sara one last hug and kiss goodbye and then I boarded the bus and disappeared behind the tinted windows. The bus pulled out of the station and the epic trip commenced. Next stop: Columbus, Ohio...

My fellow Greyhound travelers on the way to Columbus were all a little odd and grungy-looking but they were reasonably quiet for the most part. I sat behind a man who spent most of the time shifting around in his seat, trying to get in the best position for sleep. He was old, had a facial profile resembling Big Bird and he had dandruff and/or dried flakes of skin all over his black pants and black baseball cap. I couldn't help but wonder where he was going and where he had come from and how long he had been doing the Greyhound thing. Hours? Days?? A week??? 

And then there was the ex-convict who had chosen to sit right smack-dab behind me when he re-boarded the bus, which of course made me feel extremely comfortable and, yes, I'm being sarcastic. I was very concerned about pulling out my Ipod or new smartphone (thanks, babsicles ;)), fearing that I might get shanked for it.

The bus-ride lasted a little over two hours - mostly passing by dreary, post-harvest farmland - and then I got to the Columbus Greyhound Station. Here, I had a two and a half hour layover before I switched buses and continued on my way. 

The Columbus bus station was dirty and creepy with a slew of shady characters. There were homeless men with dirty dungarees and black gentlemen carrying trash bags around that were functioning as suitcases. I stood out like a sore thumb because I had showered that morning and looked reasonably clean, both in appearance and in the soul. I got plenty of stares and dirty looks, like the people thought that I thought I was better than them. The whites of their eyes looked gray or yellow. They were dim or in many cases very dark-looking souls...

I purchased a chicken sandwich from the greasy snack bar and sat at a table with my luggage. It was difficult to eat the food because my stomach was in such a nervous knot - paranoid that somebody would come out of nowhere and either steal a piece of luggage or stab me or grope me in an inappropriate way. But I knew I needed the sustenance before I continued my travels, so I ate the full sandwich and also some french fries that were very wet with grease. 

The next two hours or so were long and uncomfortable to say the least. I can't tell you how many shady characters I observed coming in and out of the Columbus Greyhound station, especially the class-A bums who lacked teeth and constantly made chewing motions with their soft gums, very similar to that sardine-loving hobo in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. In general, there were A LOT of people who gave me bad vibes and their energy gave rise to a feeling of agitation under my skin. Some people would just get too close to my personal space and they exuded an annoying energy and I consequently had the urge to punch them in the face. Others smelled bad due to poor hygiene.

To be honest, the Columbus layover would prove to be the most uncomfortable part of the bus trip, not only because of all the creepshows that were there but also because of the length of it, combined with constantly worrying that one of the shady characters staring at me was going to either shank me/and or steal my shit. Needless to say, I was relieved when 4:30 came and it was time to board my next bus.

Bus #1682 was going to be my bus for more than the next 12 hours, taking me all the way to NYC, with a two-hour layover in Pittsburgh while the bus "got serviced" (heehee I love how they put it that way: "got serviced" teehee). I was happy to see that no class-A bums got on the bus with me, though I have to say that there were a lot of creepos in addition to the ex-convict. One creepo in particular was a very tall man wearing a fedora and a desert-camouflage jacket, but I will actually talk more about this man in a minute. Let me not get ahead of myself again...

I unfortunately was one of the last passengers to board the bus so I couldn't get a seat all to myself this time around, nor could I get a window seat. The man I sat next to was a Chinaman who didn't speak very good English, but he was wearing a suit so I figured he would be at least somewhat normal and most likely not touch me in inappropriate ways should I doze off or fall completely asleep.

The bus had a five-minute stop in Zanesville, Ohio and then proceeded its way to Wheeling, West Virginia where there was another five-minute stop and then it was a straight-shot to Pittsburgh where there was the aformentioned two hour layover whilst the bus got serviced, tee-hee. The Pittsburgh Greyhound station was actually cleaner than the Columbus station and I felt safer there, too. The only people who creeped me out were the same people who were on my bus and were killing time during the layover like myself. 

I visited the bus station snack bar where the menu was exactly the same as the place in Columbus (it must be a Greyhound chain) and I got a burger with fries, which wasn't that great because the burger was fried, not flame-broiled. But I ate the burger anyway, along with the same breed of greasy fries that I got in Columbus. After all, I needed the calories and overall sustenance. I also purchased a 24 oz. fountain soda and got two refills of Pibb Xtra (formerly Mr. Pibb), which basically tasted like Dr. Pepper, only maybe there was more caffeine.

After I ate, I hung out at the "charging station", which basically consisted of a little shelf nailed into a wall with four or five outlets, so that people could charge their cell phones while they waited for their bus transfers. I decided I would take the opportunity to give my new smartphone some juice and maybe post a needless Facebook status out of boredom, maybe even "check in" to the Pittsburgh Greyhound station using the Facebook App. 

While I was charging the phone, a black gentleman wearing a Cubs jacket came up to me and asked if I was going to be there a while. He wanted to do a couple of errands while he charged his phone and I apparently looked like a trustworthy soul, so he asked if I could keep an eye on the phone while he was gone. I asked him how long he was going to be, he said a minute or two, so I said "yeah, that's cool, man" trying to be buddy-buddy with the guy because I was basically desperate for friendship and he went off and did his "errands". Well, a minute or two turned into more than five minutes and I got a little aggravated because I had to pee from all the Pibb Xtra. I thought about just leaving and peeing, but I knew the guy was on my bus and I'd have to confront him again later and he'd be wondering why the hell I ditched his phone. So I stayed and stayed and it was a situation straight out of a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode (Larry David was asked to watch a laptop in a cafe in one episode). Five minutes turned into ten minutes and then the man returned and didn't say 'thank you' but he did say he wanted to go the bathroom "real quick" and wondered if I could watch the phone for another minute longer. I reluctantly said 'yes', thinking maybe he would actually be true to his word and only take a quick leak. However, if he did actually take a leak it must have been the longest leak in the history of leaks because he was about another five or seven minutes; he must have been dropping a relaxing deuce with a newspaper while I guarded his friggin' phone with a bladder pulsating from too much Pibb Xtra. He eventually came back and started watching Game 1 of the World Series that was playing from a nearby TV without saying a 'thank you' or anything else for that matter. This was another man I had the urge to punch in the face really hard, but I controlled myself.

I hurried to the restroom and found the nearest non-handicapped urinal so I could drain my bladder of all the Pibb. I am completely serious when I say there were about a dozen empty urinals and a black gentleman wearing a white durag came in the restroom and parked at the urinal right next to me. Not only was the close proximity uncomfortable but I could also see in my peripheral vision that he took a moment or two to turn his head and look at me while I was taking my leak. Who does that?! Who parks next to a dude at a urinal (when there are a dozen or so open urinals) and gives him eye contact whilst pissing. What the fuck!!! I know he wasn't homosexual, not that there's anything wrong with that. He was just being super-fucking-weird. Or he was trying to intimidate me or something, size me up. I must have been wearing a creep-magnet, I'll tells ya...

Eventually, the full two hours of the layover passed and it was time to get back on the bus. I was sure to be one of the first in line while reboarding (making up for my mistake in Columbus) and I managed to finagle myself a window seat that had not been saved by anybody and since there were no assigned seating, I thought I had the right to sit in the seat. But then the Chinaman got back on board and he hovered over me and said something in unintelligible Japanese. All I could make out was a couple "Yoshi-Yoshi's" and I knew he wanted his window seat back. I pointed around, insinuating that there were plenty of open seats at the moment because several people had finished their trip in Pittsburgh and weren't reboarding. But he didn't seem to get it. To be honest, I wouldn't have really cared where I sat but I wanted the window because I had access to the outlet and I wanted to plug my smartphone in so I could watch Netflix without the battery draining too much.

"Yoshi yoshi," said the Chinaman.

"Can I just take the window seat, um, I need the..."


I couldn't understand what the hell he was saying, but I could tell he was adamant about getting the window seat back, so I said "Fiiiine" and moved back over to the aisle seat (by this time, all the other open window seats in the bus were taken). To the Chinaman's credit, he did say I could still plug my charger in and run the cord over his lap, so at least he was nice enough to let me do that...but, shit, I was entitled to the window seat because there were no assigned seats! No biggie, though. I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to a normal-enough guy, even if he didn't speak very good English. So enough about that crap.

The bus took off from Pittsburgh and stopped for a half hour at a highway rest stop somewhere in Pennsylvania at around 12am. Then it was a straight shot to Philadelphia for the next three and a half hours or so. I watched some Netflix shows for a little while ('It's Always Sunny' and 'Louie') and then the bus gradually got more and more quiet, so I decided to do what everybody else was doing and try to get some sleep, even though my legs felt all cramped and there was no way to make myself very comfortable in a reasonable sleeping position. One hour turned into two and two turned into three...

By about 2:30 or 3am, I actually started to doze off here and there, but that didn't last very long because the tall man wearing the Desert Storm jacket with the Dragnet-like fedora got up from his seat and started walking up and down the bus aisle, bumping every seat as he went along. I opened my eyes and - despite the darkness - I saw that he was carrying some sort of bottle of what-appeared-to-be hard liquor and he was hovering over a seat mumbling incoherent words to random people. He walked back down the aisle and must have seen that my eyes were open so he hovered over my seat for a while and mumbled something unintelligible and then he just kept hovering over my seat, swaying from apparent drunkenness. I shut my eyes tight, pretending I couldn't hear him, and I prayed to God that he would go away and leave me alone. My prayer wasn't answered for another five or ten more seconds when the tall man resumed stumbling his way to the back of the bus and then he went into the bathroom and started ripping cigarette butts even though it was against federal law to smoke on the bus, which was previously stated to us by the bus driver as we departed from each bus terminal.

The spooky creep eventually came back out of the bathroom and kept walking up and down the aisle, sitting next to random people if there was an open aisle seat and mumbling incoherencies to them. Then, after a few minutes, he would get back up and stumble and continue acting like a complete idiot who needed a punch in the face. Then he'd go to the bathroom and light up more cigarettes, the smoke of which permeated the entire bus, so I was rather surprised the bus driver didn't say anything to him; maybe he was afraid and just as creeped out... 

Fortunately, the spooky creepshow got off the bus when we arrived in Philadelphia at 4am and everybody was relieved that he was gone. Honestly, I thought it was going to turn into an ugly situation with him and we'd all have to take him down or something. I thought he was going to start puking on people or peeing. And he was a tall, big dude. If he got belligerent, who knows what could have happened???

The bus only stayed at the Philly Greyhound station for five minutes. Fortunately, the Chinaman got off there as well, thus opening up the seat next to me so I could feel less cramped. Before he left, the Chinaman said another "Yoshi-yoshi" to me which I interpreted as him saying "goodbye, safe travels" though it was also possible he was saying "fuck you asshole". Either way, I now had an open seat next to me so I was able to stretch out my legs and I actually was able to get a little sleep while the bus made its way from Philadelphia to New York City. 

I snapped out of my half-conscious slumber about ten minutes or so before the bus exited the New Jersey Turnpike toll gates and meandered its way down to the Holland Tunnel. I could see the skyline of New York in the far distance and - like usual - the city looked so massive and god-like and awe-some and looming, intimidating etc. No matter how many times you've been to NY, the city never looks any less intimidating when you're first rolling your way down the highway, getting closer and closer to the towering, Babel-like skyscrapers. It's an incredible feeling.

By 6am, the bus got spat out of the Holland tunnel and pulled into the Port Authority bus terminal. This was the last stop for this particular bus, so everybody had to get off and grab their luggage, regardless of whether NY was their final destination or they were making a transfer like I was. The Port Authority was its usual dim, dreary and sketchy self and I was immediately on guard as soon as I stepped off the bus to grab my luggage. A black man came up to me and asked me if I was "all set" and where I was going. In the past, I'd had issues with men coming up to me at the Port Authority, trying to guide me to the right gate and then trying to extort money out of me for their help. So I was immediately on guard, but it turned out the man actually genuinely wanted to help me (I think he was working for Greyhound; at least, that's what I assumed). I said I was going to Boston and he told me Gate 84 was my gate and I checked and he was right...yes, it was genuine, no-strings-attached help and I was shocked by it. Maybe the Port Authority had changed. Maybe New Yorkers were a lot nicer now. Even once I found the gate there was another black gentleman who came up and asked me where I was going and he made sure I was at the right gate. Jeez, the people were so nice...maybe New York had really changed for the better. Or did it???

Just when I felt touched by the genuine help from good samaritans, yet another black gentleman wearing a stocking hat came up to me and said "Oh, you still goin, huh?", meaning "oh, you still traveling". He said he had been on the bus with me and asked where I was heading and I said Boston and he said he was going to Maine. Then he asked if I smoked, I said 'no', and then he said "where's a brother gonna get somethin' to eat up in here?" and then I kind of just walked away from him. Flash-forward ten minutes later and I sat down in a chair near the bus gate, started eating some Ritz crackers with peanut butter and then the same black gentleman came back and sat in the chair right next to me. He resumed the conversation that I had walked away from about ten minutes ago and he asked why I was going to Boston. I said I lived just outside of there, and he said...

"Oh yeah, we doing a concert up there at the, uh, the, uh, TNC Center, ya know that place?"

No, I hadn't heard of that place (because it didn't exist) but I said 'yes' because I was really tired and I didn't really care about what he was talking about.

"Yeah I'm a roadie, for Metallica. We doin' a concert up there."

"Oh, really?"


Then he changed the subject.

"Damn, ain't no places to eat up in here."

"Yeah, isn't much."

"Say, how's about this: I'll watch your luggage and I'll give you a few bucks to go grab us somethin' to eat, ON ME."

", I'm all set, I have crackers here. I'm good."

"Ok, cool, man. Hey, you have any small bills on ya? Can ya change a twenty? I just got big bills here."

"No, I really don't have much cash on me."

"I got twenty grand on me and I'm scared shitless."

"Oh, cool."

"How about loaning me ten or twenty bucks. I'll get ya back on the bus."

"I don't have that."

"How about ten?"


"Now, look, brutha," he said in a stern tone of voice. "I'm not taking it, it's a loan. I'll get ya back on the bus. I'm goin' to Boston, see?"

He flashed his ticket real quick, but not long enough for me to see what it said.

"Oh, OK, well..."

I took out my wallet and looked through my bills. I had a twenty, a five and maybe a one.

"See, I don't have much."

He peered into my wallet and there was an eel-like leer on his face. The sight of cash seemed to make him salivate.

"Just like five or six dollars. It's a loan, now. I'll get ya back on the bus."


"Three or four dollars."


"Just a one then, I'll get myself a soda. This is a loan."

"You're kind of being shady."

"Hey, forget it, man."

And, with that, he got up and left to probably go harass somebody else. The sad thing is I actually came really close to giving him five or six dollars, because I was tired and didn't have my wits about me and he was very charismatic and worked me good on a psychological level. I also felt guilty and I thought maybe there really was a possibility that the dude was a nice guy who needed help. But I was wrong. He never got on the bus to Boston. He was lying about that and probably everything else (I'm pretty sure there was no Metallica concert in Boston). He was just trying to get money out of me, little scumbag. I should have punched him in the face.

After the run-in with the scam-artist, I decided the best thing to do was go over to gate 84 and wait in line with the other normal-looking people who were waiting to board the bus. There was still twenty minutes or so until the bus was due to depart (at 7am) but I figured it was safer to be near the normal-looking people than in the sitting area with the sleeping bums and scam artists. The twenty minutes went by really fast. I boarded the bus at 7am without a hitch and was happy to see that I was able to get a seat all to myself and the bus was a newer model and much nicer than the other ones I had rode on for the past twenty hours or so. The people headed to Boston were WAY more normal than the people headed from Columbus to Pittsburgh to Philly and New York. I felt way more comfortable with them. It was nice and quiet and I was able to get some pretty good sleep on the way from New York to Boston.

I arrived at Boston's South Station, my final destination, at about 11:30am and I was really fucking relieved to see the familiar city. Everybody looked so much more normal and not so strange or dim in the soul. For the first time during the whole trip, I felt "at home" and like I didn't really have to watch my back or my bags. I got a huge iced coffee from the Au Bon Pain and it was the most delicious fucking coffee I ever had. 

So, would I do it again? Take a Greyhound bus for a long distance-trip?

I would prefer not to, but - if desperate - I would do it again. It would have been better had I been doing it with somebody I knew, like a friend or a hot lover with a nice bawd (still thinkin' about your curves, bb). Also, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to carry a pocket-knife, even a small one, just in case there are wasted spookshows mumbling and keeping you awake on the bus late at night. Also, be careful who you talk to at places like the Port Authority. New York scam artists are the most skilled and crafty and charismatic. They put you under a spell, and they target tired-looking tourists with lots of luggage. Just tell anybody who talks to you to fuck off. I realize it's kind of a sad world when you can't even be friendly with people at a bus station, but that's the reality. If you show that you have a heart, you make yourself vulnerable and scam artists will take advantage of that. Absolutely tell any and all people to fuck off at the Port Authority, no exceptions. Do not be the least bit friendly.

So, would I recommend it to people?

Honestly, kind of...for the experience. But I must say that doing the Greyhound thing for more than 24 hours should be strongly reconsidered. Once I got to Boston, I was done. I'd had enough and couldn't take anymore. My legs hurt from cramping and I was worried that I had blood clots and would suffer aneurisms. Plus, you feel dirty and greasy from not showering. My teeth also felt mossy from not brushing them; I could have brushed them in one of the bus stations, but I chose not to because most of the bathroom sinks were too gross to be near for more than the three seconds it takes to wash hands. The sinks had phlegm-wads, whiskers, nose hairs and also pubic hair. How the latter hair gets in these sinks is beyond me, but - then again - I never understood how pubic hair got into urinals either (do they sprinkle it on there? You gotta trim that shit, bro). Pubic hair seems to find its way onto anything and everything in a public bus station bathroom; this is a general rule of thumb.

Overall, if you're into people-watching, taking a Greyhound definitely exposes you to some interesting characters, both on the bus and at the stations. You observe a slice of the American population that you don't get to observe every day. I must say these people are among the worst specimens of the American population, but they're interesting nonetheless.

Now, it's possible you've read this blog after Googling "riding Greyhound buses long distances" and if you have, then happy trails to you and good luck if you've booked your Greyhound tickets. Make sure you sit next to somebody like a Chinaman because otherwise you may get stuck next to a smelly hobo with dirty dungarees or some other spookshow alcoholic who likes to mess with people at 3:30am while everybody's trying to sleep. But whatever happens during the trip, at least you can officially say that you're "Greyhounding it, bahaby!" unless you get shanked and die, something that could easily happen, in which case...well, you're screwed.