Friday, 13 August 2010

Greyhound Culture

I mentioned this trip yesterday and that it deserved its own post.   I share this adventure, as I do the others, in case you never have the privilege of experiencing it for yourself.

I was 18 and my boyfriend was in basic training - 82nd Airborne, Company B, I think it was – at Ft. Leonard Wood.  I wanted to go see him and for whatever reason, probably to do with cost or because of no nearby airport and I wasn’t about to drive that far alone, the bus was the chosen transport. I’d never traveled anywhere alone and I was a bit nervous, but excited. Mom was just nervous.

She told me to sit behind the bus driver; that was her main piece of advice. I thought it sounded really silly, like I was a helpless child or something. Mind I was 5’3” and maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, but I felt as big as anybody. I packed my bag and got a lift to the bus station, a place where we had always gone to pick up and send boxes of photographs, shipped to Mom from Bob Baird’s studio in Joplin, MO, for her to colour and return. Anyhow, being typically rebellious, I remember selecting a seat about halfway back in the bus, next to a little old lady. How dangerous is that?   As the bus pulled out, she proceeded to tell me about her heart condition or something and instructed me on where her tablets were in case she became ill. This was not a responsibility I was pleased to be handed, and I already wished I’d sat elsewhere. As we drove through the night, however, she seemed in good enough health. At least I thought she was just asleep, which proved to be the case.

We did have a bit of excitement though. A young man was restlessly prowling the aisle of the bus, talking nonsense. I made sure I never got caught looking at him; I didn’t want him to notice me at all. He smelled terrible and, besides body odour, it had something to do with green paint. I remember worrying that he would spray me with it, but I was probably in no danger there: turns out he was sniffing it. The bus driver told him repeatedly that he had to stay in his seat or he’d be put off. He was actually put off the bus in the middle of I don’t know where at about 4 am. No idea what ever happened to him, but can’t say I thought much about it; I was just relieved.

The next day some passengers got off and new ones joined us.  I don’t remember where this was, but in the shuffle I selected a different seat, about a quarter of the way from the front on the opposite side of the bus. The seat next to me was initially empty but was soon filled with a man, I’d guess in his late 20’s to mid 30’s. I don’t remember that he smelled bad, but he was hairy. He had the long hippy hair – I’d no objection to that, so did I – but also long hair on his arms, his legs, his back, his shoulders, even his fingers and toes. With sandals, shorts and tank top all this hair was in evidence and I found it rather shocking, but I supposed he couldn’t really help the body hair. He struck up a conversation and I replied to be polite. What I’ve never forgotten, though, was that he said I shouldn’t let his dress deceive me. He was actually a millionaire (which was still pretty rich back then) and he was lonely, looking for love in his life;  I could live a life of luxury if I played my cards right. I remember wondering if I looked stupider than he actually was and being rather exasperated, but feeling I needed to be polite. I thought he was sufficiently weird that he might get ugly if I spoke my mind plainly. It’s not always wise to laugh at creepy people.

We had a stop at a convenience store so people could get some lunch and while I was browsing in the sandwich section and the wealthy ape was in the bathroom, the bus driver came over and asked if ‘that man’ was bothering me. I said not really, but I’d rather not sit next to him if that was possible. The driver told me to sit behind him and he’d make sure I was left alone, which was the case. The irony of Mom’s advice and the story I would have to tell her when I got home sat at the front of my mind for the rest of the journey to Missouri.

I don’t remember that much about the visit or the return trip, but those characters on the bus have stayed in my memory for over 35 years. In the unlikely event that I ever have to travel again by Greyhound bus (apparently they are still in business!), even though I’m no longer 18 with long blonde hair, you know where I’ll be sitting.


Jo said...

Isn't it amazing what pieces of information our mind stores and sends back to us at odd moments!

Struggler said...

I think you could build a novel around those characters... obviously with millionaire ape in only a very minor role!

Rick Stone said...

Bus rides can be interesting. While stationed in Norfolk, VA, my first year in the Navy (1966) I took Greyhound home for Christmas with two other guys from Oklahoma. Two days on the bus via Richmond, VA; Wheeling, WV; Indianapolis, IN; St Louis, MO; Tulsa, OK. The buses were packed the whole trip. In one bus change, in Terra Haute, IN, our luggage got left on the dock. Was home for a couple of days with just the uniform I had been wearing since leaving Norfolk until my bags caught up with me.