66 Hours on a Greyhound

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March 2nd 2016
Published: June 1st 2016
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LA to NYC on a Greyhound

The GreyhoundThe GreyhoundThe Greyhound

Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

That time was a fleeting thirty seconds.

"It will be an adventure."

The human capacity to rationalise self-inflicted suffering is incredible.

"We'll get to see the real America - no one ever goes across the Mid West."

There's a reason they are called 'The Flyover States'.

"We'll have something to tell the grand kids."

We certainly do, here's how it unfolded...

Getting to the Greyhound Terminal

After leaving Yosemite we took a leisurely drive to Bakersfield and stopped at the 'Vagabond Inn' - an extremely cheap and quite seedy motel on the edge of town. The next day, after hearing the staff unprofessionally talking about each other with their customers over a weird breakfast of 'biscuits in gravy' (a.k.a scones in parsley sauce), we set off to LA. The traffic was heaving and it seemed to take forever to get to Hollywood. We stopped once to buy food for our epic journey. We stopped a second time to clean the caked mud from the wheel arches of the rental car on a genteel Hollywood street. We then dropped off the car and headed to the bus stop.

We had looked at flights but they were too quick and would require more accommodation. A cursory glance at car hire told us that one way fees are excessive. We checked out the Amtrak but travel by train is eye-wateringly expensive in the US. All that remained was the Greyhound. This would be our first really long bus journey.

The Greyhound terminal in LA was over an hour away by bus. We had accumulated a vast amount of baggage and were struggling under the weight and volume of it. American city buses do not have luggage racks so we had to try to make it as small as possible as we sat or stood. I decided to stand and was buffeted around the bus. As it got busier Lindsey was verbally abused by a disabled man who wanted her to move and was impatient when she couldn't move at the speed he would have liked. After suffering forty minutes on the first bus we decided to skip the second and walk the rest of the way. At one point a kindly old man lifted his eyes from the shoes he was shining to ask us if we were going to the Greyhound and to wish us luck. This was the first bit of human decency we'd had on this journey and I was quite touched.

It was an arduous trek - dragging our luggage - to the terminal through dilapidated neighbourhoods and informal campsites. We collapsed exhausted when we arrived. Of course the bus was late departing so we had to hang around - without any information from Greyhound's staff. When the bus finally arrived we boarded and Lindsey elbowed me in the face as we were stowing our luggage.

First Night

The journey had started inauspiciously but soon settled down to a combination of mindless tedium, boredom and ennui. The bus was half empty so we got to each stretch out over a double seat which was fortunate as we had a large carry-on bag taking all of our leg room. One of the main challenges we found with the Greyhound was the number of stops it made. You would just drift off to sleep when the lights would go on and with bleary
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Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
eyes you'd look out to find the bus had stopped at a remote petrol station. You would then get out, desiring both to stretch your legs and have something different to do, without really having a purpose to alighting. Our first such stop was at 10pm in Baker, California. We discovered the first of many rural gas stations with an immense range of junk food and very little of nutritional value. We browsed but bought nothing.

At 1am we were awoken a few minutes before the bus came to a halt by the intense glare of Las Vegas, Nevada. We had an hour's break here and, as we hadn't seen anything as we drove through previously, we decided to take a quick walk around the block to see the "glitz and glamour". What we found was a horrible combination of casinos offering many different ways of taking your money; restaurants where you could stuff yourself full of crappy 'food', including battered, deep-fried Oreo biscuits; adverts for beer and cigarettes; and dozens of posters with half-naked women on them. It appears that any debauchery you can imagine is permissible here, which made it all the more ironic when I was
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Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
reprimanded for taking pictures of the bus. We had a quick view of the local block but still only just made it back on time - we were very glad we didn't get stranded there!

We departed Vegas at 2am and had a couple of hours to fitfully doze before the next stop. A small incident of one passenger playing music out loud was quickly squashed by another passenger and we all dozed again. Around 6 am we pulled into Parowan, Utah, where we emerged into a freezing cold morning, in the middle of nowhere. I went inside to find the bathroom and discovered that they were being renovated. The ladies' had already been done but the gents had just a trailer outside!

Day Two

By the time we set off from Parowan the sun was up and sleep was more difficult. We drove through some breath-taking scenery, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. We were sad to not have the opportunity to explore.

We started to take more notice of the other passengers around us. Immediately behind us was an initiate Jesuit monk. He had been telling his story to another passenger but we politely listened again. It was fascinating actually... As part of his training his mentor had told him to go and experience something of the world, giving him $5, a single Greyhound ticket to LA, the address of two monasteries and the instruction to return in 10 days' time. He told us of some of his experiences and about the kindness of strangers. Apparently this was one of several experiences he was undertaking to understand more of the monastic life, God's provision and his calling, before deciding whether to take his vows. It was a rare, fascinating and compelling glimpse into what many would consider an extreme form of devotion.

To our left was a group of four women, all chatting away animatedly... None had met previously but it seemed that firm friendships were springing up. We nicknamed one of these 'Mrs Ohio' and she will reappear later in this story.

We made scheduled stops at Green River, Utah, and Grand Junction, Colorado, before climbing into the Colorado Plateau, reaching nine thousand feet. Here we went through stunning snowscapes with snow-edged cliffs standing out impressively. Around eighteen hours into our epic journey, nestled on a cliff between the road and the already wide Colorado River, we came across a charming settlement of chalets with the distinctive appellation of "No Name".

Beyond No Name, we drove through snowstorms which severely restricted our ability to see the beauty of the landscape on the way to Denver, Colorado. Denver was supposed to be a two hour stop, which we were looking forward to. Sadly, due to the weather we only had time to grab a lousy hamburger before we had to be back on the bus. Whilst waiting in the food queue, I was accosted by a loud and somewhat smelly Canadian who had boarded the bus a couple of hours earlier. He shouted something about how disappointing Colorado's skiing was but I just wanted him to ignore me.

It was somewhere around Denver where one confused old lady discovered that our bus was not making local stops in Colorado. She had missed the bus she needed as she didn't know she needed to change. To be fair to the driver, he had told us, but to be fair to the lady, there was little other information available... the Greyhound is certainly not the means of transport for those who
"Blue Star Memorial Highway""Blue Star Memorial Highway""Blue Star Memorial Highway"

Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
are easily confused. The driver made a BIG deal out of how negligent she had been in not changing buses. He eventually announced that he would be making an unscheduled stop to drop her off and the whole bus cheered. To give him his due, the driver did help her out of her seat and then escorted her across the car park, through torrential snow, to ensure she safely reached her waiting family. His comments as he retook his seat again were less than gracious though.

From Denver the bus was much busier and Lindsey and I shared a double seat, with our case jutting out between us. We discovered that we had no power to our seats so couldn't charge our devices. We'd been on the bus for over twenty-four hours and were starting to get a little grumpy. We crossed over the Colorado-Kansas state-line and the weather started to improve as it went dark.

At 2am we came to another gas station, in Salina, Kansas. It was cold and windy outside but we were desperate to stretch our legs. We bought a Wizard of Oz postcard to send home... where else would we get to send

Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
such a thing? As we got back on the bus one passenger was high and another almost got left behind.

We stopped again at 4am to change drivers. With my head spinning and the world outside blurring from exhaustion, the last thing I wanted was poetry from the front cab. He introduced himself saying, "I like to do the drivin', y'all sit back and do the ridin'". I inwardly groaned. He also told us that we couldn't do drugs on board (since we were no longer in Denver).

Day Three

Early in the morning we stopped yet again, this time to pick up more passengers. By the time all had boarded there was not a free seat. We could still recognise several people who had boarded in LA, including Mrs Ohio, who had been enjoying stretching out on a seat of her own since her new friends had departed in Denver. As the bus filled, she was required to move some of her things and accept a passenger next to her. After 36 hours on the bus she was somewhat grumpy. When someone moved her bag just a few inches she got into a blazing
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Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
row with them. Our bardly bus driver had to come and defuse the incident. Mrs Ohio would continue to scowl at everyone around her for the rest of her journey.

Once the driver had returned to his seat he welcomed the new passengers, repeating messages we were now very familiar with. He did mix it up a little though, telling us that he didn't want to overhear our phone conversations and suggesting that men speak with a husky voice and women adopt a sultry sexy tone so that we couldn't hear their business. I was definitely not in the mood for his 'humorous' impressions.

We drove through Missouri all morning which was quite a flat boring place. Just before we reached St Louis we came to a town called Chesterfield. Here, driving at 60mph on a busy three-lane highway, I saw a police man typing on his laptop. We reported him on twitter but the relevant police department didn't care enough to respond.

In St Louis we changed drivers again and this time got a plain speaking local. When he discovered that we were English he gave us the nickname, "Manchester" and started telling us about the
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Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
local area. After twenty seven years on the buses I guess he looked for anything which would break the monotony. All I remember was he told us that the road we were on had been the scene of an accident involving fifty six cars in the snow.

Beyond Missouri came Illinois, another flat boring place. The scenery didn't improve all day. Sadly, life got more difficult when we stopped in Effingham, Illinois. Here we picked up a woman who sat in the just vacated seat behind us. Unfortunately she was a sniffer, with a period between sniffs of between two and five seconds. After about three minutes this started to really grate. As the period was irregular we couldn't just filter it out. By the time we'd been sitting in front of her for a couple of hours we were really on edge... like water torture it was driving us completely mad.

In the evening we drove across Ohio. We had a half hour stop in Dayton and then a full hour in Columbus. Here, to our huge relief, Mrs Ohio left us... still scowling and muttering about people touching her stuff. I felt sorry for Mr Ohio

Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
who was meeting her in such a foul mood. In the Columbus Greyhound terminal was a sign for freshly baked cookies. Optimistically we queued for them but the staff serving just ignored us so we walked away disappointed.

It was around midnight when we left Columbus. We had said goodbye to our friendly driver and changed to a new one. He was not a pleasant man. There was a passenger who had occupied one of the front seats who claimed to be disabled. He had put his baggage in the wrong place and the driver started shouting at him. He was getting more and more distressed and his eyes glistened with unshed tears as the driver forced him to move his baggage and did not even offer to help. Once the bus was moving again we tried to get some sleep. This was broken by a woman marching down the bus to loudly ask the driver if we were stopping in Philly and the driver's equally loud (and quite sour) reply.

Day Four

In the early hours of the morning we reached Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and changed drivers again. Here Jerome took the wheel
Greyhound Terminal NYCGreyhound Terminal NYCGreyhound Terminal NYC

Picture Credit: Lindsey Fillingham
and he would take us all the way into New York City. Thankfully Jerome was much friendlier, more courteous and professional than his predecessor. By this time we were utterly exhausted and glad to be on our last day. Looking around us we didn't recognise any of the passengers from LA... we were the only travellers crazy enough to cross the whole country in one go.

On one of the mid-morning legs of the journey I reached up to take something out of the overhead luggage compartment. Unfortunately something fell as I did so and almost hit the woman behind me. I apologised but she started having a go at me. Despite my exhaustion I held my tongue. The woman's husband could see that it was an accident and tried to calm his (completely uninjured) wife down. At this point she started shouting at him too and didn't stop whilst we were on the bus. For the rest of the journey I could sense the intensity of her feeling towards me and again I felt sorry for the husband of an irrational woman.

We crossed into New Jersey and had three stops on the short route across the state. Being so close to New York it felt agonising to keep stopping.

After 66 hours, 33 stops, 12 States and 7 drivers we arrived at the Port Authority Bus Station, New York City exactly on time. It had been an arduous and epic journey but we had survived. All that remained was for us to thank Jerome, collect our luggage, and descend into the metro system. We emerged from the metro after a difficult journey and quickly found our hotel. It was such a relief to put down our bags, take a shower and just collapse onto the bed. That evening we found a food cart and bought our first hot meal in four days, trying a Philly Cheese Steak for the first time. We then got an early night so we'd be ready to see the city in the morning.

Additional photos below
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1st June 2016
Las Vegas

The Loony Tunes Express!
Greyhound is famous for its characters, and congratulations, you got to experience several of these wonders, proving that bad experiences make great stories. Glad you survived! Here in South America, I often meet misguided young people who want to go to the States, so they can visit Los Angeles and Las Vegas--can you imagine! Anyway, excellent idea to spend some time in The Big Apple, so your last memory of our country isn't this epic journey on The Big Dog.
2nd June 2016

Your quotes at the beginning say it all...
you're nuts!
2nd June 2016

Re: Your quotes...
Yes we are! But we survived and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... thanks for the comment Bob.
4th July 2016

Looong bus ride
I thought I was the only one crazy enough to take a looong bus ride LOL. It was an experience.....of a lifetime - I don't want to do it again LOL.

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