This is the third part of the three part series about ‘Road Trip: 2010’.
This part of the story is a cautionary tale.
I was without a motorcycle and more than a thousand miles from home. I needed a way to get back in time for work. The way I saw it, I had three options. I could have flown, but it would have cut my trip a day short because I would have needed to have been picked up from the airport. I could have ridden the train or I could have ridden the bus. I chose the bus because I had sound logic at the time. The bus was $30 cheaper and it would take me to exactly where I needed to go whereas the train would have dropped me off in Milwaukee and I’d still need to take a bus back to Madison. Neither would end up being quicker.
I had to take the bus because I was strapped for cash. It’s expensive taking a road trip on a motorcycle. I had to buy gas every 100 miles and I had to get a hotel and buy food. I spent about $200 on the trip to my uncle’s place. Now factor in a bike breaking down and the cost of towing (I was charged $90 for the fifteen minutes it took to hook the bike to the bed of the tow truck; there were more fees in addition to that). This was coupled with the fact that I had just paid a months rent and insurance on the bike (the insurance has since been reimbursed). If you add, or subtract, it all it just makes sense to take the cheapest option. What I didn’t realize was I’d be paying for it anyway.
My ticket said my bus left at 8:15AM but I should be there an hour early to pick up my ticket. It’s a good thing that I was because the bus left an hour early. For a while I thought the schedule I’d printed out was on Central time, but when we arrived at the first stop in New York the bus driver announced that we were running a little late and that the local time was 11:55AM. In reality, it was 10:55AM. The bus driver couldn’t tell time? There isn’t an explanation that makes sense because if his watch was on a different timezone, that timezone was in the Atlantic Ocean.
Anyway, driving into New York City was the first time I’d ever been to the City. I didn’t get to see much because I was confined to the bus, but it was eye opening. I kept looking for the ‘projects’ like I had seen in American Gangster but every time I saw a building that might fit the bill it was advertised as ‘Luxurious Apartments’ despite it’s surroundings. As we approached downtown, things gradually started getting nicer and more presentable. I was seeing the New York that I saw on television and in the movies. I know it isn’t uncommon for a city to be setup this way, it just makes you think when you actually see it in person.
Apparently in New York City, there is a $300 fine for honking your horn.
We were at the bus station an hour early, so I had an hour and a half to kill before my next bus left. Because I didn’t want to get lost in the city and end up missing my bus and all of the subsequent transfers, I patiently waited at my terminal. I also didn’t want to lug my bag full of clothes and my egg-box filled with motorcycle parts around the city.
The bus eventually came and left and we were on the road to Newark. We took the tunnel. I now know what people mean when they say ‘bridge and tunnel’. I also understand why people hate on Jersey so much. From what I saw of it, it’s dirty. I remember seeing little more than factories pumping visible pollution into the air. I hate New Jersey.
The next few hours of the trip would have been uneventful if it weren’t for the other people riding the bus. There was the woman in front of me who had her seat and an empty one next to her to choose from. She chose the one in front of me to recline onto my knees. She was the woman I chose to hate. There was the old couple traveling across country with their clothes stuffed into old 20lb. rice bags. They didn’t speak much, if any, English. The man kept talking to the bus driver at the stops and since the bus driver didn’t understand the man, he would look at the ticket and yell at the man, “FIVE MORE STOPS” with the corresponding number of fingers held up. The old couple had a lovable feature about them.
Then there was a man, let’s call him Tyrone, who provided me with entertainment. Tyrone was black and he had more muscles in his upper arm than I have in my entire body. He could have beaten me to a pulp without even thinking about it. He sat five rows behind me and I still managed to learn quite a lot about his personal life. Tyrone had not one, but two cell phones, one of which was used as a backup when the battery one the first died. He used those phones until the batteries were dead. It was guaranteed that if the bus was stopping for more than five minutes, you could find Tyrone at a charging station tending to his phones.
At the beginning of the trip Tyrone only spoke loudly and I could understand the conversation through what he was saying. It was a heart-wrenching story of how his five-year-old daughter would not give him a kiss or a hug goodbye before he left to wherever we were going. She only hid her face in her teacher’s leg and said, “I don’t have a daddy.” A tear came to my eye as I heard this but the rest of Tyrone’s phone conversations led my to side with his daughter as he proved to have questionable morals.
The second half of the trip, whenever Tyrone had a charged battery, he would talk on it as we expected of him but he gave us a little extra treat. He used speaker phone! I got to hear both sides of every conversation. I learned that he was traveling across country to cut someone’s hair and possibly move there. I also learned that he found being high on drugs to be a better alternative to being drunk because one of his lady friends was ‘acting stupid’ and that’s how he knew she was drunk at 8:00PM. He went on to argue with her about how being high didn’t make him stupid like she was.
Oh Tyrone, will I ever meet you again?
When we stopped in Pittsburgh around lunch time, I went to get an overpriced burger from the vendor in the station. It was the worst service I had ever received. I ordered from ten feet away because the girl working the counter couldn’t wait for the couple who didn’t speak English to move. She got my attention by making he eyes all big and shaking her head as if to say, “Choo gonna order somethin?” Turns out, they didn’t have any burgers. I ate beef jerky instead.
There were Amish people riding the bus, boy was that a hoot.
Around midnight our bus made it to Cleveland and we had to get off for a transfer. That transfer took an extra hour because the driver, who could only be described as Wanda Sykes in disguise, chose to explain every single detail about what they needed to do at the next stop to every passenger. After that was all over, there were still five people without seats and a bus driver who was along for a ride complained when she had to give up one of her two seats. She claimed she was going to have a talk with her boss about that one because, ‘drivers always got two seats.’
After Cleveland, it was time to sleep because my next transfer wasn’t for 10 hours in Chicago and it was after 1:00AM. Do you know how hard it is to sleep on a bus? You don’t until you have to. I fortunately had a window seat and I had a coat. Without the window seat I would have had to sleep sitting straight up so I didn’t fall onto the nice Indian woman next to me. I was lucky to have my coat too, because there was a draft on every window because they were designed to come apart in an emergency. I slept, but not well.
We arrived in Chicago on time despite leaving Cleveland over an hour late. But when we got there, there was only enough room on the bus for fifteen of us. The others would have to wait four hours for the next bus. Somehow I managed to be one of those fifteen people, except I was put on a different bus going to the same location and running express. Fine by me as long as I make my connection. The bus driver assured us that he, ‘guarantees our safety but not that we arrive on time.’ We got both and I was able to hop on the bus I was supposed to take to Madison.
On the way back to Madison, we hit the first rain I had seen my entire trip. It poured as though it had been holding off until my trip was done.
If you can help it, don’t take Greyhound. You’ll regret it. It might save you money upfront, but somehow you’ll pay for it. I paid for it in time and agony. I didn’t even have the worst of it. There were people who got on the bus with me in New York and they were continuing on to Seattle. I can only imagine how long that would take.
All in all, I made it to the East Coast and back safely. I may have lost a bike because of it all, but I like to think that I traded it for memories that will last me a lifetime.