Guest Post: What I Learned After 16 Hours on a Greyhound Bus
Adam Dietz is a regular contributor to Filmophilia. This is his story.
One man. 16 hours. Nine stops. Five states. A recently released convict. Six bagels, and as much Diet Coke as my stomach could, well, stomach.
On Tuesday May 28th, a day that will live in personal infamy, I embarked on what I expected to be a routine Megabus (I’m something of a veteran, but I hate to toot my own horn) excursion from Ann Arbor to Washington DC, but after the missing of a bus and a quick palaver with my Father at a Burger King drive-thru, we decided my best option was to purchase a ticket aboard the next Greyhound to DC. We were so wrong.
I learned a lot about myself while confined to my row F-seat 27 commune, but in addition to the personal discovery that took place, I also learned a lot about the world and those living in it (specifically who see The Greyhound Bus as a viable means of transportation). By the time the bus halted to a stop at 4am, I was a much wiser man than the one who had stepped on the bus nearly a day earlier. I did, however, smell like a deep fryer from the Arby’s employer who sat next to me for three hours. A wiser man with a curly fry musk, we’ll call myself discovery/ epiphany a push.
What follows are what I could piece together of an assorted page of notes that I took somewhere between Dayton and Pittsburgh. Exact time unknown. Exact mood, surprisingly sharp and full of bravado. The page was labeled the “ten things I learned aboard the Greyhound,” coincidently there are 15, so maybe I wasn’t as sharp as I thought. This list was to serve as a final creative swan song after the anticipatory “shanking” I expected near Ft. Wayne.
A few key words were missing, but this is the best translation of the list that I discovered three days ago while cleaning out my luggage, I had completely forgot about my horrendous my experience was, but thankfully this documentation reminded me.
I hope that you take pleasure of my pain. Here are the fifteen in the order they were written with scattered retrospective comments for clarification and explanation.
1) There is a major difference between things being available and things being usable.
I was promised wi-fi, but was given no password. The driver didn’t know the password and why would he, it was only his job. I was promised plug-ins to charge my phone on; those too were out of service. I was promised luxury and spacious seats. My seat didn’t recline an inch.
2) The driver is here to drive, all else is on you, the passenger
If you have a question for the driver you are better off just writing it down on a piece of paper and tossing it out the window because they both essentially have the same result. The driver makes his announcements at the beginning of the ride. Going it to great deal as to where you currently are and where your final destination is, as if you didn’t already know. He makes announcements about not smoking on the bus which seem legitimate because the people seated in the rows near you, absolutely seem like the type to spark up on a Greyhound.
3) Like any public area, there will also be someone on their cell phone talking far too long and far too loud about absolutely nonsensical shit.
“When he play you like that he play you a fool”
(Clarification: I have no idea what this means, but it was written under in the book, so let’s assume it was a chunk of a conversation that I heard. I can concoct quite the backstory in my head, but for the sake of the article I won’t fabricate any more than is required.)
4) The length of time you spend on the Greyhound is really a metaphor for how poor your quality of life is. I.E. if you only take it a short distance, say from Toledo to Cleveland then you’re probably alright, but if you take it from Milwaukee to Chicago to Philadelphia then you’ve probably made some bad choices.
(Clarification: I think this was a not so thinly veiled shot taken at myself, but still an astute analogy for the state of mind I was in)
5) Everyone aboard knows they screwed up and that’s why they are here.
I screwed up by missing my original bus. Who knows what the others did to necessitate a bus Midwest bus trip to inner city Ohio? It’s frustrating in the same way a hangover is because it totally falls on. We all paid to be here.
6) A friend on the bus is not a friend off the bus.
I met this guy named Stu aboard the bus from Ann Arbor to Cleveland. He seemed cool enough, but put out kind of a Car Salesman vibe. In any case, he was my only hope at conversation. We bonded over our anger that the outlets weren’t working and other assorted complaints about the bus. However, later on at a pit-stop near Ft. Wayne he asked me if he could borrow 20 bucks. I said no. He said that we couldn’t be friends anymore, in not so many words.
7) Aboard the Greyhound it is fun to play a game with yourself called “Graduate student or homeless person.”
Pretty self explanatory, but much-MUCH harder than you would think. The worst part is that you never know for sure one way or the other, unless you ask and I was way too afraid to do so.
8) If all you do is spend your time staring at other people, judging, jumping to conclusions, and making up fake backstories about their lives then aren’t they probably doing the same to you.
In hindsight, I am pretty sure that my appearance on the bus was largely unnoticed for the 16 hours I was aboard.
9) Ex-Convicts Ride them
I knew the trip was off to a rocky start when before we departed from Ann Arbor, the bus driver said “By law, I am required to inform all of you that we have an ex-con who was recently released from the state penitentiary aboard our bus.” My immediate response was, stupidly, to turn around ( I was in the front of the bus) and scope out who it was. As soon as I turned around it was very clear whom the convict was among us. There three men on the bus: myself, a Psy-looking Asian, and tattooed –muscled giant in a white t-shirt. Maybe, my hunch was incorrect, but I kind of doubt it.
10) The glass that encapsulates the driver is NOT sound proof, but he will pretend it is.
I asked the driver how long it was going to be until our next stop three times and he acted as if he heard nothing. I have a small bladder and I was buying Diet Coke’s at every stop. There was a bathroom on board, plugged up, of course.
11) The Bathrooms are alright, as in they exist as a thing.
This one came after we switched buses. My first leg of journey provided me with a plugged up toilet, but the rest of the way they all worked fine. It’s essentially a porta-potty aboard a bus. Not any better or worse than you would expect.
12) Everyone aboard smokes.
You wake up and see everyone getting off the bus and I assume you’ve reached your final destination. Nope, just a smoke break in Bowling Green. Perhaps if these people stopped buying cigarettes all the time then they wouldn’t be stuck riding the Greyhound.
13) The drivers look as though they rode the bus so long as passengers that they naturally slid into the role of driver. Something likes a lifetime achievement award at The Oscars. These men occupied the bus with such pride and perseverance throughout their lives that they are awarded with the prestigious task of driving them. It’s similar to a moth turning into a butterfly
It was easily two in the morning when I wrote this one. Do moths turn into butterflies even? I’ve got nothing.
14) It’s something of a mini United Nations. All races represented.
This was the only rule edited, for the sake of……America.
15) The only way to make the ride tolerable is to imagine that the bus is taking you to prison and you’ll be serving a life sentence (you were framed). This façade enables you to appreciate every site and sound while feeling fortunate to have the ability to get off and stretch your legs at Flying J gas stations.
This was the last entry of the trip. It was 3:45ish and I had reached peace with my experience and my journey. Kind of..
I believe it was Kendrick Lamar (who is a rapper, apparently) that said “I got a bus full of a b******, I call it Jerome Bettis.” Well, Mr. Lamar, that is all fine and good, but after my 16 hours aboard the Greyhound it will take a lot more than a harem of ladies to get me aboard any type of bus again. The experience was eye-opening, frustrating, and demoralizing, but it did remind just how fortunate I am to have all that I have. Luckily, I am young. My body recovered very quickly and the smell of body odor and the sounds of rap blaring out of head phones now seems a distant memory.
As I live and breathe all that is stated above is verbatim from my notebook. It was an awful experience, but what good is misery if it is without company.
Thanks for reading and for God sakes, stay away from ‘The Hound.”