What does is say that I’m doing another of these*? Especially considering that my travel woes once again involve Chicago.
I’m inclined to believe that this correlation is causational and not incidental. Chicago is a central hub in the Midwest, but unlike a roundabout that’s designed to keep people moving, it’s a mess of roadways, skyways, train stations, and bus routes manned by people whose greatest boast is giving even less crap than the employee lounging in the break room with them. I say “manned” because nobody runs anything in Chicago; they count on Chicago to run them.
Admittedly, my impressions of the city have all been bad, gleaned during the bleakest watches of the night while stuck in a customer service line with too many customers and too little service. There may well be things worth seeing in Chicago, but my only other experiences have been with a tollbooth on my way to Fort Wayne and the utterly quotable move, “The Fugitive” (“Well, think me up a cup of coffee and a chocolate doughnut with some of those little sprinkles on top.” “The guy did a Peter Pan right off of this dam, right here!”**) Even with the Hollywood treatment the city manages to feel grungy.
So now that I’ve spent two hundred words complaining about The City That Doesn’t Work, here’s some context: I lost my mind and decided to take the bus back home to Montana for Christmas. I’ve never traveled by bus before, and considering how much plane tickets cost this time of the year, I figured it would be worth it to find out if Greyhound was a viable travel alternative.
The bad news is that I’m currently three hours into an unplanned thirteen-hour layover. The good news: I’m not only still pleased about how much money I’ve saved traveling this way, I also have my answer.
No. Absolutely not, no way, thanks but no thanks. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
Highlights (and/or Lowlights):
- Arrive at the bus station (the city-line hub) half an hour early.
- Sweating bullets an hour later, still sitting in the city bus station while a mom snaps at her crying children to knock it off, knowing I will never make my connection but still clinging to the impossible hope. For some reason, someone shoots off professional-grade fireworks about half a block away during this stint. They last two minutes, and I still have no idea what they were celebrating. Definitely not the efficiency of bus travel.
- The line to Chicago finally arrives on hour late. The bus driver tells me the Friday bus is always this late, like I ought to have known. When I start crying silently he asks me what’s wrong and I manage something about missing Christmas. No idea if he catches any of that, because I’ve already turned away, embarrassed because I can’t stop.
- Cry halfway to Chicago. My seatmate – an Asian man with an accent – offers me the window seat during one of our stops. I waffle (“Are you sure?”) and he says yes, you’re doing this, and mimics the neck-bobbing move of napping without head support. I take him up on the offer.
- Later asks me if there’s something wrong with my sinuses. It takes me a second to figure out what he means. Conversation goes like this:
- Asian man: “Something wrong with sinus?”
- Me: “Sinus? You mean my…nose?”
- Him: “Yes. Allergies, or something?”
- Me: “…oh. No, I was crying because I’m afraid I’m not going to make it home in time for Christmas.”
- He spends the next 45 minutes telling me not to be depressed, that everything will be all right, that all I need to do is relax, Greyhound will take care of me when we get to Chicago, and that his mother is in heaven with Jesus. I believe him.
- Partially calm myself by thinking of ways to get out of Chicago, even if it isn’t by bus. Hit by the brilliant thought that I could rent a car for the six hour drive to Minneapolis in order to make it in time for the 6:30 a.m. departure to Sioux Falls.
- Eavesdrop on a conversation between the driver and a woman my age, trying to make the same connection in Chicago to Minneapolis. Bus driver eventually transforms into the heroic figure of the night. He takes real pride in his work, which makes me like him on instinct; turns out he told me they’re late on Friday not to accidentally make me feel bad about scheduling a tight connection on a Friday night, but because he’s proud of the fact that his route is always on time except for Fridays. He’d like dispatch to change the schedule, because it’s a known fact.
- (He is absolutely the reason I don’t spend the night sitting in a chair in the bus station at 630 W Harrison St, Chicago, IL.)
- The Chicago station is overwhelmingly awful at 11:30 p.m, and in no uncertain terms does not exist in conjunction with car rental services. It’s small, packed with people, and employs three travel agents buried behind a line a hundred people long. Nothing on the travel board for Minneapolis until 6:15 a.m., and no announcements come over the PA.
- Quietly panic. Find that girl also headed through Sioux Falls and quietly panic with her. She’s been on the bus since Thursday night, and this is apparently par for the course. I watch her luggage so she can find our driver, who’d told her that they were holding a bus for the people headed to Minneapolis.
- It not only turns out this is true, he goes and finds the bus for us. Neither of us kiss him, but it’s a close thing.
- (I should’ve gotten his name. Someone rain down accolades on this man’s head for caring about his passengers.)
- Bus takes off for Chicago. I cry with relief on the phone with Mom. Laugh when she says Dad looked into car rentals. I must have been raised by these people.
- By the time we hit the I-94, the sudden release of tension manifests as a headache. (That triggers a distinct memory: the first time this happened I was eleven, and had misspelled my way out of the city spelling bee.) Don’t even care, especially when the handsome young man sitting in the window seat next to me gets off in Milwaukee and the entire two-seat spread becomes mine.
- (My own, my precious.)
- I navigate through piles of unconscious people at the stop in Milwaukee. One guy has his legs spread into the middle aisle, obviously dead asleep as people knock his knees back and forth in passing, though my favorite sleeping position has to be the girl with the top of her head smashed into the seat in front of her, arms hung limp and heavy to the floor, her hair a curtain around her face. I work my way up front to talk to the driver about our chances of making the next connection.
- Bus driver says that we’ll definitely make it in time for the 6:30 a.m. bus from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls. I believe him in the same way that I believe my stuffed animals are real, and simultaneously know that they aren’t.
- I take off my shoes to curl up in the seat, never mind the “no shoes, no shirt, no service” sign back at the first station. This is my second act of deviance tonight – I have metal cutlery hidden in the bottom of my snack bag, despite the fact that we’re only allowed plastic. I have no idea what they think I’m going to do with a metal spoon that I couldn’t just do with a disposable one.
- (As I side note, I do keep the shirt on.)
- Belief in the promise of temporal salvation begins to falter forty-five minutes later, when we’re still sitting at the stop we should have left fifteen minutes ago. Especially when it turns out we’re stuck because our driver doesn’t know how to release the emergency break. In his defense, this is a new bus.
- Against him is the fact that our driver doesn’t know how to release the emergency break on his bus.
- (The prosecution rests.)
- Break releases. By trial and error? By magic? We’ll never know. Check the driving directions on my phone between naps, comparing driving times on Google’s navigation app with our progress. Maybe we’ll make it anyways.
- I’m not even sad when we don’t. I’m cried out and – by 6:40 a.m. with no city in sight – resigned to my fate. At 7:50 we’re in Minneapolis, long past departure for the bus to Sioux Falls.
- Find a few more tears anyways when I’m on the phone with Dad, reading out the details on my ticket. They only run two buses out to Montana each day, and the next is at 9 p.m. tonight.
- But lemons make lemonade, right? Because I will make it home in time for Christmas Eve services. As a courtesy they’re keeping my luggage locked up in the security office, so here I am, spending a day in the Minneapolis Public Library. My Saturdays often look like this anyways.
- And I am not in Chicago.
* See UA 666
** “And don’t let them give you any shit about your pony tail.”