THE SAD WORLD SEEN ON GREYHOUND
By Russell Earl Kelly
August 1, 2010
I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Chicago which began with a 17 bus ride from Marietta, Georgia to Chicago followed by a 12 hour stay in Chicago followed by another 17 hour bus ride back home. All I can say is that reporters can really learn a lot about lower and lower-middle class in the U. S. A. by such a trip.
1. PLANNING THE TRIP:
Three weeks before my trip, I bought a ticket via telephone. The ticket agent spoke good English but he was very slow and did not know his job well. In the process of repeating things over and over, the date of my departure and return was changed and even I got confused. When I caught the error I was told that the only way to correct it was in person at the bus station. The only other choice was to speak with customer service.
2. CUSTOMER NON-SERVICE
I called on a Monday and was placed on hold never to be answered in 30 minutes. I called again on Tuesday and was again placed on the same hold with no answer. The recording suggested I call between 2 and 5 PM for best service. I called Wednesday at 3 PM and the call was placed on hold for eternity.
2. FINDING THE STATION
Two weeks before the trip I went to the bus station to change my ticket. Although the address of the station was that of a U. S. highway, it was impossible to get to the station from off the highway. We had to call the station for directions. Having arrived at the station, I was told that a change of ticket could only be made with cash –the only kind of payment in the system which was cash only. With no ATMs around I left.
3. A WEEK LATER: CASH ONLY
The second trip to the station was with $15.00 cash to correct the ticket. No receipt. I am guessing that this $15.00 is kept by the station attendant as part of the system plan.
4. WAITING FOR MORNING BUS
The station attendant in Marietta was the most pleasant Greyhound employee I met. She immediately learned my name and the others awaiting a bus.
I learned that Greyhound made no reservations. This means that my trip could be changed any time a bus arrived which was already full. Not a pleasant thought since I later met many at other stations who had experienced that delay.
I mentioned that I dressed up and performed as an Elvis impersonator often. That led to an impromptu singing of two partial Elvis songs, Heartbreak Hotel and Blue Suede Shoes in the small station. It was fun.
After mentioning that I had written 3 books on Bible subjects, a 40-ish gentleman asked me for some texts. He opened his hand luggage and pulled out a Bible. He began looking for Timothy over and over in the FRONT of his Bible and became frustrated that he could not find Timothy.
The Bible belt has disappeared. This is a man who faithfully attends church regularly. If this is the kind of Bible knowledge we find from regular church-attendees, what horrible kind of manipulation is being done in the name of God among the even-more biblically ignorant?
5. MARIETTA, GA; 7:30 PM, Wed
It has been many years since I rode Greyhound. The first thing that I noticed was the plastic bullet proof cage around the driver. They must really feel like being in a cage with no room to stretch out. The driver had less space than the passengers. No wonder most of them where grouchy and rude.
As I began looking for a seat, the first person I noticed was a seat-hog. The man evidently did not want anybody sitting beside him as he had his carry-on luggage on the seat with his arm draped over it. I proceeded to find a seat without such nonsense and noticed that he was forced to move over as the bus filled up. He lost the opportunity to chose his own seat-mate.
The standard (paraphrased) driver‘s announcement given at each station departure: Good afternoon, my name is (name). There will be no alcoholic beverages, drugs, cursing, loud talking or other misbehavior on this coach. If you are guilty you will be removed from the bus by a state trooper. Place your cell phones on vibrate only. Use headphones. Do not come to the front of the bus for any reason. Do not sit in the seat behind me. Sit back and enjoy your ride.
The following portions of the announcement were totally ignored by many on the bus: cells phones rang loudly throughout the trip, conversations were loud and full of profanity and one driver instructed passengers come to the front of the bus rather than yell to him.
Nashville was a long layover to clean the bus. It was a brand new terminal (the only new one seen) and was full of passengers. The new men’s room only had two toilet seats for all those people.
In contrast to Nashville, the next terminal had an entire long wall full of toilets for men and the terminal was not a busy one.
While miles from nowhere there came a shout from the back of the bus that a man could not breathe. The driver yelled “What do you need?” The answer was “A gd mf doctor. What do you think?” The driver pulled the bus off the highway and looked at the man. He then drove to the next exit and checked again. Evidently the “unable to breathe” man decided that he would rather continue to his destination than be removed by an ambulance. Nothing else happened and we never knew what really was wrong.
This very old terminal was also the Amtrak station and was underneath the train tracks. The building shook much of the time from passing freight trains overhead. It has 2 toilets for men.
Something went wrong with our bus and we were asked to re-board another adjacent bus. However not all the luggage was transferred from one bus to the other and many passengers panicked at later stations. This is impossible to explain since one can see through the bottom of the bus when all its doors are open to load and unload luggage. Having been aware of this problem from 20 years ago. I did not have any checked luggage.
CHICAGO, IL; 1130 AM, Thursday
Arrived exhausted 17 hours later and was picked up soon.
THE RETURN TRIP
CHICAGO, IL; 330 AM, Friday
I was dropped off around 1230 AM. About an hour later security came asking for tickets and making everybody without a ticket leave. They were rude. The officer walked up to me and said “You can show me your ticket anytime you want to.” I said “How about now and showed it to him.
There was a young girl (15?) sleeping in the middle of a crowd on a sleeping bag. She had no ticket. The officer said that she had been in the terminal for 3 days already and must leave. She left the station alone around 2:30 A.M. into the dark dangerous Chicago night. One would think that they would have at least tried to find her a homeless shelter for the night.
As the line of passengers grew to the capacity of the bus, I feared that it would fill up and I would miss the bus. The bus originated in Chicago and left full.
The bus was brand new. It had electrical outlets at every seat which made sure that everybody’s cell phone stayed charged and their music players did not stop. It has hooks for baby seats which protruded into a sitting person’s buttocks and prevented sitting all the way back in the seat.
And the bus had a wheel-chair life which the others did not have. Problem: the drivers did not know how to work it and somebody from the station usually showed them how. The wheel chair meant that 7 passenger seats were temporarily pushed together and unavailable.
INDIANAPOLIS, IN; 8 AM
Breakfast time: No hot breakfast food. Only cold hot dogs and pizza available. I bought two hot dogs and ate one. Yuck. The wheelchair person stayed on the bus.
To its credit, since the wheelchair person was going to Chattanooga, Greyhound changed from its normal plans from an older bus to keep the new bus going a different direction than originally planned. Therefore I did not switch busses in Cincinnati as scheduled. Only after leaving Cincinnati and knowing that I would not have to fear being bumped by an incoming full bus did I call home.
The return trip from Chicago to Indianapolis, to Cincinnati to Knoxville was horrendous. (1) Every time the wheelchair person had to use the bathroom there was a hassle. (2) A seemingly mentally deranged person sat opposite me and talked non-stop to a woman from Senegal who spoke very little English. (3) A man behind me was verbally abusive of his wife and the mental person told him to smother her with a pillow and push her down the stairs. (4) The mental person talked very loudly and was extremely obnoxious while describing unbelievable violence and death to somebody over the phone for hours. (5) Another man sitting farther back talked loudly non-stop for hours. (6) The abusive husband and his wife eventually got off and were replaced by a single woman with a crying baby.
There was a man on the bus who had been on vacation with a friend to go fishing in Canada. The Canadian border guard would not allow him in because of a DUI several years ago. He said that a DUI was a felony in Canada. His buddy went to Canada to fish and he returned home.
My seat mate was a small-frame 19 year old boy returning from Army duty in Afghanistan. He had been a demolition expert and had seen more than his share of death and violence for a 19 year old. He wanted to go back to Afghanistan but the Army would not let him. He said that he had never did have any real parents and his only friend here in Knoxville was his older brother. He lay against my shoulder and slept for several hours. When he awoke, I let him use my small pillow and he slept several more hours. I gave him my name and address and told him to call me if he wanted a father figure to speak with and go camping or something.
4:30 PM. Burger King. My first hot meal since the night before. It was great and I was starving. With no station attendant, the wheelchair person stayed on the bus.
Wheelchair ramp problems and delay.
The driver had a strong southern accent and was the friendliest driver of the trip. His departing speech differed in that he told us not to shout to him but to come up front and speak. He also allowed an overload and persons to sit in the seat behind the driver. After being told about 8 times by other drivers not to come up front, a passenger yelled that it was too hot. He yelled back “I don’t take long distance calls; come up front to speak to me.”
We arrived 20 minutes late and left another 30 minutes late because of the wheelchair ramp. Between the bus driver and station attendant, nobody knew how to use it.
We arrived 35 minutes late. The station had closed and had no attendant who knew how to operate the wheelchair ramp. The driver tried to de-bark the wheelchair first and this delayed other passengers another 10 minutes before he changed his mind. As I was getting off the bus, the wheelchair victim was lying on his back in his wheelchair on the bus and nobody could unhook the chair from the bus.
SO HOW WAS MY BUS RIDE?
1. Almost no sleep.
2. Clean bathroom smell was overpowering.
3. Dirty bathroom smell was even more overpowering.
4. Loud cell phones ringing.
5. Loud conversations. Non-stop talkers
6. A crazy man’s threatening on the phone.
7. An abusive husband’s talk
8. Angry cell-phone conversations all over the bus. A brother cussing another brother who thought that his own sister was lusting after him.
9. Crying baby
10. Conversations in 3-4 languages
11. Fear of missing connections because of full incoming buses.
12. Schedule confusion because of time zone changes back and forth.
13. Screaming for doctor because a man couldn’t breathe
14. Uncomfortable seats; baby seat hooks
15. Uncomfortable seats causing severe groin pain
16. Mostly rude drivers
ODDS AND ENDS:
1. The Greyhound dog logo shows the dog running like a rabbit with both front feet and both back feet extended at the same time. This is not how dogs run.
2. Watching people on the back seat is funny. They bounce like on a trampoline.
3. I wish I had photos of the many different attempts to contort bodies for sleep. Most likely all of us were sore somewhere when we got off.
4. There are still Trailways buses up north that go east and west. I think they are called Burlington Trailways.
5. I slept 14 hours the first night back, 3 hours during the day and 8 more the next night. During my sleep I removed my pillow-case and placed it over my feet. Strange indeed. What does that mean? I hope it does not mean that I am going to take another long bus ride soon.