Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Transportation: Option 4--Greyhound?!

Don’t smirk. It has been suggested by otherwise clear-thinking roaddogs.

I actually have quite a bit of experience traveling Greyhound. Most memorable is one summer trip, my first attempt at a cross-country quest. This was over ten years ago. It was to be my journey west, an adventure into that land of ever-reaching frontier, a space where one could slough off the burdens of the past and re-create oneself anew. I would begin in Tampa, Florida and end on the western shore, standing bare-chested and staring out upon the profound depths of the Pacific.

There were, of course, obstacles, mainly Greyhound related:

Time: I only had two weeks, after which time I had to return to my job working as a direct care counselor in a group home for emotionally handicapped boys. And Greyhound is slow. Its routes are often circuitous, and layovers are commonplace. Often, buses are overbooked and passengers are made to wait until the next one comes along.

Sleep: I had a hard time doing this. I had (and still have) restless leg syndrome, although I don’t think there was a name for the condition at the time. I need room to stretch out, squirm around a while before settling down to sleep. Unless you’ve felt the sensation, it’s hard to understand how unsettling this disorder can be. It’s definitely hard to explain.

Calls of nature: While traveling, your options are a bus bathroom or a bus station bathroom. Neither is a big inconvenience for an occasional visit, but days-on-end without a private, spacious facility can be taxing.

Dealings with the staff: Greyhound staffers don’t make a great deal of money, and they do work hard. They are sometimes on edge. They deal with many disgruntled travelers, who are themselves often downtrodden and disenfranchised. Things get tense. I consider myself, overall, a patient and peace-loving person, but just over a year ago (on a different trip) I found myself in a shouting match with one Greyhound driver whom I had perceived as slighting me and several others who had been waiting dutifully in line. (He started it.)

Cost: Although the coach may be the cheapest option in some respects, it is often necessary to take taxis to and from Greyhound Stations, an expense that can add up fast.

Suffice it to say that, when I reached Tucson after days of travel (it seems like four. Could that be right?), I had to get off. I stepped out of the bus into the hot dry air. The downtown bank thermometer registered 107 degrees. Dry heat, I thought. Here was that phenomenon I had heard so much about but never experienced, being a lifelong resident of the humid Sunshine State. I walked around the downtown Tucson area, got on random busses, looked at things, and eventually took a room at the Motel 6. Don Delillo’s Underworld had just come out, and I was reading a copy for a review I was going to write for a Tampa Bay weekly. I lay reading in bed, in the ice-cool air of my room, until the words blurred and I drifted to sleep. I slept very well.

The next morning I made my way to the campus of the University of Arizona. I had lunch at a little on-campus bistro. On the television above my booth I watched a feature about Tony Mandarich, a football player who had overcome many obstacles to make his impressive NFL comeback. His future looked very promising.

I liked the campus very much: the cacti and the mountains in the distance. I sought out the English Department and asked if they offered an MFA in creative writing. They did. They gave me an informational packet. On the lovely green of the court lawn, I sat in the shadow a giant saguaro. I opened the packet and leisurely read an essay by C.E. (Buzz) Poverman. The essay discussed, in clear terms, what an MFA can and can NOT offer a writing student.

I left Tucson a bit reluctantly but with the resolve that I still had places to go, things to see. I did the math on making it to the coast and back. I could still do it, but it would be close. Instead, I headed north to the Grand Canyon. I had a wonderful time. There’s a story about that, which I might try to tell here at some point.

Within a month after my return to Florida, on an otherwise typical work evening, I was struck in the teeth by a bar of soap wrapped in aluminum foil. It had been launched (at point-blank range) by a short, stocky client, whom I had just directed to take his shower immediately or risk losing his evening “goal-trip points.”

I recoiled backward in surprise and pain, checking my mouth for teeth particles or blood. There was neither.

Graduate school, I thought. Wait, there was some blood, but my teeth were there—numb and throbbing—but intact. I would go to graduate school. And soon! The fastest route was to attend the nearest university in the Tampa Bay area. I did this. And no regrets there. Four years later, however, I found myself back in Tucson, a happy participant in the fiction track of the MFA program. I took a plane to get there.

This is my testimony.

Let us not take Greyhound.


-=Ghost=- said...

Wow! You tell an excellent story!

I would agree with you about the bus. Don't do it.

Did the van sell? ;)

Erin said...

I agree, Crick. Has anyone ever told you you should write a book?

Also, I was (mostly) kidding about Greyhound. And as a participant in many treks back and forth on the old 'Hound from Virginia and Baltimore to Boston, I will say that the bus isn't so much the problem. It's the station. The Greyhound station is where angry people go to get angrier. On to option 5...Hitching? Riding the rails?

eng_grad_woman said...

I've finally made it to your blog, slacker that I am. I've definitely been missing out. I know an excellent Houston indy bookstore next to Rice that I wish you could visit.

Meanwhile, the final (I hope!) year of grad school continues to suck.

-- Joy