So Mote it Be (or, There and Back Again, a busrider’s tale)

So. We meet again, Bus No. 666. I’ve just spent eleven hours sitting in the Minneapolis terminal and am on my way to another eight in Chicago if we miss my connection like I’m fully expecting. As to the mark of the beast, I’m pretty sure the unnamed creature in Revelation is a greyhound.

I missed the connection in Minneapolis by 12 minutes. The bus was scheduled to take off at 12:55 am, and we made it through the doors at 1:07 am according to their own clocks. To add insult to injury, the bus assistant working the Jefferson Line bus from Billings to Minneapolis (with a connection-ruining half hour layover in Sioux Falls in which they make us all get off the bus for reasons I cannot comprehend) assured us as we were driving into downtown Minneapolis that they were holding the bus for us. There were about twenty of us expecting to make the bus to Chicago, which explains why she disappeared the second the doors opened in the bus station and it was clear that the parking lot was otherwise empty; just enough people to form a mob.

The security officer working the inside of the station apologized sincerely enough that I believe he legitimately felt bad, even while explaining that dispatch told him the bus was forty minutes out and he couldn’t hold the bus that long. This will be the refrain for the Greek Chorus over the next 24 hours. From what I can tell, Greyhound is the overarching parent company that coordinates the regional bus lines throughout the United States, but they hold the umbrella with a feeble grip. Every employee from the baggage handlers on up will explain how my problems originate from some other company. Adam comes to mind, shifting blame in the Garden of Eden: “Well, the woman you gave me…”

My first four and a half hours in Minneapolis are spent in the front desk line, because their ticket agents don’t start work until 4:30 am. The first one shows up at 4:45 and reissues tickets to one and a half patrons before the computers go down. They’re up and running half an hour later, and the moment I’m at the front of the line she disappears, shouting for someone named Elijah. By now there’s a second agent and I am absolutely certain the first agent legitimately has other work to do, but I am just bitter enough at 5:30 in the morning to not appreciate the sound of her and Elijah’s laughter in the back.

Tickets reissued for 12:15 pm. We’re in a bad part of downtown, in a section of the city where the homeless gather, which explains why the benches have been designed to discourage sleeping. Somehow I find the one seat pair that does not have a metal armrest welded between them, and I manage a few winks. I’ll brush my teeth in the bathroom later, splash water on my face, and then reapply my eyeliner in a partially successful attempt to look like the quick rather than the dead.

In honor of my first bus journey, Dad made me watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” over the break, which is why I recognize Del Griffith the moment he sits down in the seat next at the bus station. This is the skinny version, short and terrifically pungent; clearly one of those rare humans that literally cannot smell their own body odor*. I am not entirely certain I believe any of his stories, though I have to admit he does look like the sort of fellow who was first surprised by a mountain lion then bitten by two rattlesnakes on the same day while hunting in the badlands**. He’s unemployed but suing his employer for wrongfully withholding his earnings, has a friend who will be in jail for the next fifty years for accidentally murdering a man during a B&E (apparently the homeowner unexpectedly popped up from around a corner, surprising Del’s friend into stabbing him with the knife he happened to be holding at the time), and he’s heading to Rhode Island to visit friends with the increasingly hopeful realization that Greyhound won’t search his luggage and find the buck knives stored among his underwear.

None of this creeps me out (I know the breed; he looks and sounds like a hunter, with the hunter’s penchant for exaggerating his stories), until he tells me that I was really restless throughout the bus ride from Sioux Falls, clearly unable to sleep. “You just couldn’t seem to get comfortable,” he informs me. When he asks if I have family I say yes, knowing full well that he now thinks I’m married. In answer to his follow-up question I admit that I have no children (yet), and am already making up a boyfriend I hope is the one if he pursues his questioning any further by asking why I don’t wear a wedding ring. He doesn’t, so I get by with lying by implication.

He follows me onto the 12:15 bus out of Minneapolis. I dodge his company by saying I hope we all have our own two-seat spread to ourselves, and do not mind when the seat next to me is filled by a large young lady who asks politely if anyone is sitting there, even though we share hip-contact until she gets off in Madison. Honestly, Del’s more entertaining than anything, but there are no vomit bags to read*** and I don’t want to mm-hmm all the way to Chicago. Or – more importantly – smell him for the next ten hours.

We leave fifteen minutes late. Par for the course, and anyways I’ve got a 45 minute layover in Chicago. Five minutes later we’re parked on the side of the road, because one of our tires is flat, showing 0 psi. I finally start to laugh.

Fifteen minutes later we’re off again. The 0 psi warning beeps incessantly for about half an hour before giving up. The guy at the 1-800 number our bus driver called (apparently Greyhound bus mechanics have their own special line with which they answer questions and laugh between calls) thinks it’s just a faulty sensor since the bus can still move. “Hopefully we won’t break down on the way,” the bus driver announces over the intercom. He is full of these optimistic maxims, as I will find out.

Somehow I have picked the one bus seat with a window that fogs up and ices over. Either I am seriously hot stuff, or the weird shape of the window (I only notice after I sit down that I’ve picked a handicap seat) is to blame. Either way I’m put in mind of a character I have living in the back of my head – a kid who, when given two bad choices, always picks the worse one. Today he is autobiographical. I sleep with my pillow and half my head smashed against Plexiglas, washing the bottom half of the window with my hair.

Come to the conclusion that the bus driver (Jim, he introduces himself) is actually a decent man, just meticulous and pessimistic. Unfortunately, I am used to the meticulous pessimists in my life also being efficiently fast, and that he is not. I disparage him on the phone to my father, but unfairly; when the airbrakes fail to release after a thirty-some minute break in Eu Claire, he starts another bus that happens to be sitting abandoned in the parking lot of McDonalds just in case we have to switch buses. The new bus has a faulty door that needs to be chained shut while on the road, so we’re all relieved when the airbrakes thaw twenty minutes later and our original bus starts to roll. Jim has to get out to turn off the other bus, which elicits a groan from two seats back: “No! Keep moving!”

I secretly apologize to him while still on the phone with Dad, hoping he hasn’t overheard me complain about his decision not to start moving luggage while the new (and now unnecessary) bus warms up. He’s doing his best – apparently these buses are notoriously finicky in the winter. A couple miles down the road Jim informs his passengers that the throttle is sticking, undoubtedly having iced up during the break. Fortunately, I’m used to him by now and the words mean nothing. I’m never making my connection tonight, which is its own relief. Now I don’t have to stress about trying to make it.

Que sera, sera. Or, more like: que es, es. At this point, 37 hours into my bus trip, still 500 miles from my apartment in Fort Wayne, and regretting the Egg McMuffin I’ve just eaten, what is, is.

UPDATE: By the grace of God and a bus driver willing to bust a move, I made it to Chicago by 10:15 pm, and well in time for the 10:45 bus to Fort Wayne. I like my half hour experience of Chicago a whole lot better this time around.

*I have both scientific and anecdotal proof of this phenomenon. I read a study years ago, when I heard about one of my brother-in-law’s college roommates. He was stinky, unaware of how stinky despite four years of listening to his roommates’ incessant demands that he take a shower, and eventually married a woman with the same deficiency; they live together in blissful unawareness, compounding their body odors.

**Apparently Sheriff Woody (yes, really) shot it with a shotgun; Del and his buddies had previously tried to scare it off with three Rugers when it leapt on the mountain goat in front of them. It shrugged off the cannon fire and walked away unharmed.

*** “You’re no saint. You got a free cab, you got a free room, and someone who will listen to your boring stories. I mean, didn’t you notice on the plane when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag? Didn’t that give you some sort of clue, like hey, maybe this guy is not enjoying it? You know, everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that, that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You’re a miracle. Your stories have none of that! They’re not even amusing accidentally! ‘Honey, I’d like you to meet Del Griffith, he’s got some amusing anecdotes for you. Oh, and here’s a gun so you can blow your brainsout, you’ll thank me for it.’ I-I could tolerate any, any insurance seminar, for days. I could sit there and listen to them go on and on with a big smile on my face. And they’d say, ‘How can you stand it?’ And I’d say, ‘Because I’ve been with Del Griffith. I can take anything.’ You know what they’d say? They’d say, ‘I know what you mean. The shower curtain ring guy.’ It’s like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. I expect you have a little string on your chest. You know, that I pull out and have to snap back. Except that I wouldn’t pull it out and snap it back, you would. GAH, GAH, GAH, GAH! And by the way, you know, when, when you’re telling these little stories, here’s a good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.” (Neal, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”)

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2 Responses to So Mote it Be (or, There and Back Again, a busrider’s tale)

  1. Your Local Friendly IT Guy says:

    So wait… has United been dethroned as the beast? Did you learn the truth over this trip? It’s actually Greyhound?!

    Thanks for the laugh (at your expense). 😛

    • A.L. Schultz says:

      While I may have been mistaken about the actual beast in question, United is still clearly some other apocryphal figure. Either that or they’re just in cahoots.

      Though I have to admit: misery is a whole lot more entertaining than having everything go according to plan. At least in retrospect.

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