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Published: October 14th 2008
Travel destinations often have their genesis in very modest settings, and so it was that I was sitting with a friend on a public bus in Ottawa, talking about the San Diego Zoo, when I saw a sign for a special fare for bus tickets within North America. As my mind drew together two related threads I began to work the logistics of the possible journey. As every traveler knows the two most essential things for a journey are time and money. My summertime contract was about to run out, leaving me with both of these things in excess. But after a little bit of research there was nonetheless one daunting aspect of this journey - the trip to San Diego would be over three days spent continuously on a bus.
As a frugal traveler on my first journey through Europe I had learned that the bus, while inexpensive, was also quite tiring. Yet I decided, that unlike then, when I had used the bus as an intercity option, saving on accommodation at night by sleeping on the bus, that this would be easily manageable, passing as it did in one solid block, long though it was. More so, after consulting a recently purchased guidebook on California I decided on a logical itinerary which would incorporate California’s biggest three cities as well as the desert getaway of many Californians (and for that matter North Americans) - Las Vegas. And by making this the first leg of my trip I would postpone ten of those hours until the next day, after a one day stopover in the desert. And so with a plan set I bought my tickets and started to plan in greater detail.
Upon departing Ottawa, the initial shock was not quite so great. I was heading on a familiar path, beaten many times in my university days, to Toronto. It was here that I met my brother and with a send-off meal of sweet and sour soup, boarded my next bus for Windsor and the American border. Upon reaching Detroit I discovered something relatively unknown to most Canadians, though often assumed to not be the case - Greyhound USA is not Greyhound Canada. While Greyhound Canada is populated by university kids and grandmothers going to visit their grandchildren, Greyhound USA is populated by a different breed. But it was not until after passing a waypoint in Chicago the next day, that I truly understood this. The cast of characters included, among many others, those recently discharged from the armed forces, others in search of work in greener pastures, and one poor fellow traveling to a faraway clinic for a throat operation.
As we traveled this weary band of travelers took on the form of a makeshift family. At bus stops we conversed as though we had known each other for years. An elderly Hispanic woman who boarded in Des Moines gleefully parted with one of the two dozen donuts she boarded with. What transpired was an ecstatic bus full (though mostly the back of the bus) of those temporarily satiated of their hunger pangs and, for a few fleeting moments, the most beloved woman in Des Moines. The next morning at some unknown stop, one of the many travelers with us was kind enough to buy the man waiting for the operation an egg sandwich. After gratefully accepting, he offered it to me, explaining in pained speech that he could not really eat it. As with the donuts the night before I was more than happy to pass along the good will, for me both the offered egg sandwich and donut were kindly refused and passed along to someone else.
As we passed through more and more waypoints our group dwindled in numbers so that by the time we passed through southern Utah, on the home stretch to Nevada, that only I was lucky enough for the bored bus driver to act as a sort of personal tour guide of the bleak desert. As we passed interchanges, named for the farmer’s ranches that they served, the bus driver pointed out silver and gold mines nearby, and owing to an uncommon rainstorm in the arid desert, two rainbows touched down on a nearby mesa.
That night would be the end of this long haul, yet some travel lessons were reinforced. First that it is almost always the people that make a journey worthwhile and not the sites, and second that the most amazing travel experiences can come from the least likely places.
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