85 Hours On The Bus (Part 1)Posted: September 5, 2012
When I first landed in Tampa on March 5th, I was only planning on staying for a few days. At most, I figured I would be there for a couple of weeks. Though the story gets pretty complicated, let’s just say that due to a series of events beyond my control, I ended up staying for a while. 143 days to be exact.
While I will admit that Tampa grew on me (apart from the humidity), and I enjoyed getting to hang out with Jason (@yobusdriver3507) on the bus all the time, I knew it was time to return to the Pacific Northwest. With the limited resources I had at my disposal, I was left with a choice: Fly, or take a bus.
Care to take a guess at which option I went with?
It’s not to say that this was an easy decision to make. By choosing to take the bus, I was going to be facing a minimum of 72 hours and 45 minutes on the bus (including stops/layovers). That meant 3 whole days of sitting around, looking out the window at the landscape of the USA, and sharing that time with a wide, wide range of people. However, the thing that really sold me on going through with this bus ride was the thrill of the adventure. Not many people in their right mind would want to willingly ride an intercity bus from one corner of the country to the other. But I am a Transit Nerd, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s all about the experience. So, I bought the ticket.
Based on knowledge I gained from my then-longest ever bus ride, an 11-hour jaunt from Philadelphia to Toronto on MegaBus, I knew I’d want to have some time to step away from the bus every now and then. That’s why I ended up buying the ticket that left me with a 80 hour and 40 minute (scheduled) trip, which included a 6-hour layover in Chicago. I also went with this option, one of the two I had for my ticket, because it would have me leaving Tampa in the morning versus the afternoon. And based on close examination of the detailed schedules for both options, it appeared that the ticket option I went with would have me avoiding the peak commute hours of all the major cities I’d be passing through.
One Last Night in Tampa
Having done so once before during my time in Tampa (it’s a long story), I figured it would be best to spend the night in the Greyhound station. That way, I wouldn’t have to risk missing my bus in the morning, which was scheduled to leave at 5:40AM. Besides that, a night in a Greyhound station was a better proposition that my usual domicile at the time (again, long story). On the Greyhound website, the station’s hours are listed as 24/7. I knew from my last experience of staying overnight at the Tampa Greyhound station that people who want to be in the station after 10PM or so had to have a ticket in hand for a bus that was leaving the next morning. This was something I had (thankfully), so inside I went.
Of course, as soon as I walked inside the security guard on duty asked me to produce a valid ticket. Happily, I obliged. Once my ticket was inspected, I was given the nod of approval and so I went to go find a place to sit down. Apart from myself, there were three other passengers in the station at the time. There was an mid-aged Asian gentleman who was clearly upset about something. (I later found out he’d been put on the wrong bus in Atlanta and somehow ended up in Tampa instead of Charlotte NC.) There was also an older woman and older man (travelling separately), both of whom were drunk. Before I’d arrived at the station, the woman had been involved in a verbal altercation with another drunk woman on the bus she was supposed to board that afternoon. She ended up getting pulled from the bus and the other woman was allowed to continue to travel. She was supposed to continue her ride on a bus that was scheduled to leave around 7:30PM, but she apparently got pulled from that bus as well. (Why she was still allowed in the station at this point is beyond me.) The man had been pulled from his bus simply because he was too drunk. Both the woman and the man were waiting for the ticket counter to reopen in the morning so they could be put on new buses and continue on to their destinations.
Being drunk, neither of them were making the best decisions at that point. The man was keeping mostly quiet, but the woman didn’t know how to keep herself quiet it seemed. She kept walking back and forth to the payphones, making phone calls to someone who (according to her) was completely at fault for her being pulled off the bus and subsequently being stuck at the Greyhound station all night. She also kept going on and on about how she was too good for Greyhound, which I found extremely amusing looking at her and what she was wearing. (In the most polite way, the term “White Trash” came to mind.) She also kept getting mouthy with the security guard, who she felt was also to blame for her being stuck at the Greyhound station in Tampa. Repeatedly he told her she needed to quiet down, warning her that he’d already given her two chances (referencing her past digressions that had put her into her current predicament).
The other issue was that both the man and women were smokers, and they wanted to go out and smoke. Per the policy of the station manager, once the doors of the station are locked for the night, they stay that way. If someone goes outside, they’re gonna be outside until 5AM. However there was an exception to that rule, as a few times during the night, there would be buses arriving with passengers disembarking. At those times, the doors would be opened and they could go outside and smoke to their heart’s content. The problem with that was that they started asking for a smoke break before 11PM, and there wasn’t a bus scheduled to arrive until 1:30AM or so. Luckily for them, that 1:30AM bus pulled in almost 2 hours ahead of schedule, so they got their smoke break. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long after that when they started asking for another smoke break. After repeatedly being told the rules by the guard, they kept quiet for a while. After a very short while, the women vocalized to all of us inside the station that she would be going to use the restroom.
5 minutes later, she went back to her seat next to the other drunk guy (they’d become buddies in this whole endeavour.) After she’d sat down, the security guard walked back towards the restrooms. Of course, I knew what he was doing, and a few seconds later, he walked over to the drunk man and woman and told them that she was kicked out. Unconvincingly, the woman pleaded that she’d done nothing wrong, but everyone inside knew that she had smoked a cigarette in the woman’s restroom. Though he’d been relatively quiet most of the night, the guy got pretty vocal at this point, pleading that it wasn’t fair to kick her out, that it wasn’t safe outside for her, and so on and so forth. The guard was clearly tired of dealing with the two of them, so their protests fell on deaf ears. The woman knew she wasn’t going to win, so angrily she gathered all her things and went outside. The guy, though he was still allowed inside, followed her out onto the street. While the guy was gathering his things, he asked me if I knew of any bars/liquor stores that would be open this late at night. I told him no, but that was because I didn’t want him to know that there in fact was a bar/off-site sales place just three blocks down the street. I suspect someone outside told them about it, because that was the direction they headed in once they’d left.
Now that things were finally quiet in the station, I could relax and try to get at least a little sleep before the station reopened at 5AM. Of course, almost all Greyhound stations have the same wireframe seats, with armrests on most of them. At first glance, they look like one of the most inhospitable places to sleep on, but having slept on worse before, I wasn’t too worried about it. With my thick jacket on to keep me warm and give myself a little padding to sleep on, I found a group of three seats with no armrests so I could stretch out a bit. Though I’m tall enough to take up 4 seats, I curled up a bit and had my knees hanging off the edge of an armrest and my legs on the 4th seat.
Tampa to Tallahassee
(The link above is for a map of the route/stops. There will be maps for each part of this post.)
At 5AM the next morning, the station doors were opened up. After freshening up in the restroom, I got in the line at Gate C to await the bus departure at 5:40AM. While we were waiting in line, everyone that was boarding the 5:40AM bus was “wanded” by the security guard (the same guy that had been there all night) and had their carry-on bags checked. While this wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this (the last time being when I boarded a Seattle-bound bus in Vancouver BC back in August ’10), I still found it weird. I didn’t find the process invasive or anything, and compared to going through security at the airport, it was nothing.
By my count, there was about 25 people or so boarding the bus in Tampa. Thankfully, that meant that I would be getting a seat to myself, which is always a good thing. When I boarded the bus, I immediately noticed that this particular bus, #6965, had an interior that I’d never seen on a Greyhound bus. The bus had the “rainbow” pattern seats (which I later learned is on some other 6900-series units), and it had video monitors mounts. It was the video monitor mounts that made me wonder if this bus was bought new by Greyhound, or if another operator used to own this bus. (While doing fact checks/verifications for this post, I have found no mention of this unit even existing.) Right at 5:40AM, everyone was on the bus, so the bus operator did his obligatory double-honk, backed the bus out of its slot, and away we went.
Our first stop out of Tampa was Clearwater, which is just across the bay. Getting there was pretty simple, as we just had to hop on westbound I-275 and then take the Courtney Campbell Causeway across Old Tampa Bay. While crossing the causeway, I found it amusing to think how I wouldn’t be seeing the Tampa skyline for a while. However, I got to see it again a lot sooner than I expected, because as soon as we left the Clearwater station, which was just a leased storefront in a strip mall, we headed right back towards Tampa. At first I thought something was wrong, like we’d left a passenger behind or someone we’d just picked up in Clearwater (stupidly) bought a Greyhound ticket for service between there and Tampa. As it turned out, this was the direction the bus was supposed to head in, because at the east end of the CCC, we headed north on the Veteran’s Expressway, away from Tampa once again. I later found out the reason we were taking the Veteran’s Expressway, and not US 19 like I’d assumed, was because of the location of our next stop.
According to Google Maps, our next stop in Spring Hill was in the west end of the city on US 19, but in fact it had been relocated by Greyhound and was now on the east end of the city. The station, if you can call it that, was at a BP gas station with a Subway inside. As it was still the early morning, a lot of people got off the bus to get coffee and other things to snack on. I had no intention of buying anything, since I’d bought myself all my food and drinks for the entirety of the ride beforehand. I did get off the bus anyways, because one of my goals for the trip was to take as many opportunities as I could to get outside and stretch out and get some fresh air. While waiting to reboard, I struck up a conversation with a couple other people with the usual Greyhound icebreaker: “Where are you riding to?” While the guy was ending his ride in Spring Hill, the girl said that she was heading to Denver. The girl, or Jessica as I later learned, was heading there because one of her close friends had been one of the victims in the recent Aurora shooting.
After we left Spring Hill, we continued to head north and eventually reached the end of the Suncoast Parkway. Unsurprisingly, one can tell that they highway will soon be extended further north. For the time being, the only option to keep heading north is to head a few miles west and then do so on US 19, so that’s what we did. While en route to Tallahassee, we passed several other stops, all of which were marvellously unspectacular. In Crystal River, it was at a derelict shopping center. Chiefland had their stop at a Chevron gas station with a Church’s Chicken inside. A run-down gas station near a sewage lagoon on the extreme south edge of town was where Perry’s stop was. With no electronic devices to distract myself, I just watched the landscape pass me by as we kept heading north. The further north we got, the more amazed I was to see forests and actual topographical features in Florida, neither of which I’d seen in the Tampa area.
Pretty close to schedule, we pulled into the Tallahassee Greyhound station around a quarter to noon. Before we pulled in to the station, the driver went on the PA system to let us know which gates we had to be at to make our connections, as our bus only went as far as Tallahassee. He also told us that the baggage handlers would transfer our bags to our next bus for us. I was pretty surprised by this, since in all my other previous experiences riding Greyhound, I was responsible for handling my own bags. It also explicitly says that passengers have to transfer their own bags on the back of the ticket and on the Greyhound website. Not one to complain, I went with it, though at the suggestion of the driver, I stood outside on the edge of the bus bays and made sure that I saw my bag get moved from the Tampa-Tallahassee bus to my next bus.
With a scheduled layover of 70 minutes, I went outside and walked across the street to StarMetro‘s C.K. Steele Plaza (downtown transit center). It reminded me a bit of Grand Central Station in St. Petersburg (which I talked about in this post), but instead of a circle, it was designed as a “split-diamond,” with the two halves of the diamond functioning as center platforms and the outer 4 corners functioning as island platforms. It was built with a lot of concrete, so I’d place the build date in the early-to-mid 80’s. While at the transit center, I was hoping to get a copy of StarMetro’s system map, but I couldn’t find any staff to assist me. It is available on their website, but as my fellow Transit Nerds can attest to, it’s more fun to have a physical copy. Once back inside the station, I stood in the line and dutifully waited for the bus to start loading. About 10 minutes before we were set to leave, Jessica appeared out of nowhere (I assume she was in the station restaurant), and took a place in line next to me. When I noticed what she’d done, she muttered under her breath “I’m staying with you.” I chuckled at that remark, but I was also glad she said that. With my 80+ hour journey barely begun, I was happy to have a “travel buddy” for at least a while.
Just before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I was on my next bus and heading north again. Unlike the bus on the previous segment, which had the same interior from when it was first purchased and had the dirt stains to prove it, this bus had been refurbished from head to toe. The exterior sported the new Greyhound livery, with navy blue and dark gray paint and a “chrome” Greyhound logo. Inside there were new seats, which had been upholstered in black leather (or fake leather, I honestly can never tell). The bus also had a wheelchair lift installed, which based on how the access door looked from the exterior was a new addition to the bus. I can’t speak for the bathroom in the back of the bus, as it looked relatively the same as any other bus bathroom, albeit perhaps without the usual graffiti. According to the stickers on the door, the unit was also equipped with free wi-fi, though I didn’t see anyone try to take advantage of it for the entire time I was on #6928.
While the bus was clearly owned by Greyhound, the driver was not one of their employees. Instead, he was employed by Capital Trailways. It may be that Greyhound has a contract with them to provide the staffing for this region, or that Capital Trailways still held the franchise for this particular route. Whatever the case, the bus was moving, and that’s all I was really concerned with.
Our first stop out of Tallahassee was in Dothan, AL. Beyond being known as “The Peanut Capital of the World,” it didn’t really seem like this city had much going for it. With all the abandoned buildings and “For Lease” signs I saw, it sure reminded me of similar scenes I’d seen in Detroit back in 2010. The local Greyhound station sure didn’t have much going for it either. As you can see, the station is the typical Greyhound design of yesteryear (the modern design being the gas station agent). Just as I’d done earlier on the bus ride between Tampa and Tallahassee, I stepped off the bus for some fresh air. Jessica did as well, and while we waited for the bus to leave Dothan, we made small talk. Once we left Dothan, she went to sleep in the seat across the aisle from me, something she’d been doing for nearly the entirety of the day. I’ll admit I was jealous of her, as sleeping on moving vehicles has always been difficult for me. Seeing as how I was facing 80+ hours on the bus, I knew I’d have to figure out a way to get around that.
As unspectacular as the stations between Tampa and Tallahassee were, the next stop we were headed to, Troy, is the king of kings for unspectacularness of Greyhound stations.The agent office was at a truck repair shop/storage unit facility. For a waiting area, there was a “shack” out in the corner of the parking lot, complete with an ADA-accessible ramp. When the bus came to a stop, two guys stepped out of the shack, both dressed in a similar outfit consisting of a red shirt and beige pants, and carrying a plastic bag full of belongings. Though I didn’t know it at first, both were recently released inmates from the county jail. One of the guys walked all the way to the back of the bus and sat quietly. The other guy ended up sitting behind me, next to a woman in her late-20’s. I wasn’t too thrilled about this, because as it turned out, the guy was a huge chatterbox. Thanks to my limited hearing abilities, I didn’t have to listen to everything he was saying. I sure felt bad for the woman next to him though. Multiple times, I heard him uttering “15 years, 15 years, 15 years…” In making small talk, the woman next to him mentioned that she was employed at a financial institution, which really piqued his interest. In later discussions, some other passengers and I concluded that he’d been in jail on charges related to a bank robbery or fraud.
With a pretty full bus, we kept heading north on the highway to our next stop, Montgomery. As Montgomery is famous for their transit-related history (first electric streetcar system in US, Rosa Parks, Freedom Rides), I was hoping for at least a half-decent station. Sadly, that was nowhere to be found in Montgomery. Instead, we ended up at an industrial-looking building on the southern edge of the city. While it would appear that the building was purpose-built for Greyhound/Trailways, it sure wasn’t pretty by any means. I will give the station staff credit for keeping it clean though, something that can’t be said for many other stations in the country. With a half-hour layover to kill away, I just sat outside next to the bus bay chatting with Jessica and some other passengers. While we were waiting to leave again, the driver who’d been driving us since Tallahassee turned the keys over (figuratively) to a new driver. This driver was also employed by Capital Trailways, as indicated by the logo on his uniform.
Back on the highway again, we settled in for the short hop to our next stop, Birmingham. Jessica once again had fallen asleep, while I just spent the time watching the landscape pass by, as well as making some progress on one of the books that I’d brought along. In the meantime, I also found myself growing more and more agitated with the mother of 3 young kids near the front of the bus. While the daughter, around 8 years old, wasn’t really much of a problem, her twin boys, around 4 years old, would not shut up. While certainly not as annoying as a crying baby, those twins sure were a close, close second. More than once, the driver actually came over the PA system to ask her to fix the problem. The mother was clearly unmoved by these requests, as nothing really changed. Occasionally, she would yell at them to be quiet, and that worked for about 5 minutes. All I (and the rest of the bus) could do was cross our fingers that they would be getting off the bus soon.
Technically, the loud family ended up getting off the bus at our next stop in Birmingham. Of course, so did the rest of the bus, because this was the first of several “cleaning stops” that #6928 would be making along its route. Inside the station, it was clear that between all the other Alabama Greyhound stations we’d been to, Birmingham had the nicest one. While not modern by any standard, it certainly wasn’t out of date. There was plenty of room for waiting passengers, good-sized restrooms, an in-station restaurant (with extremely odd hours), vending machines, and TV’s. Since we were scheduled to be in Birmingham for 50 minutes, I decided to do a little wandering out on the street. With it being after 7PM, there really wasn’t much to see, so I gave up on that pretty fast. Instead, I walked around to the back side of the station, and that’s where I found something pretty interesting. In the spare bus bays on the south side of the station, there were 3 cutaways painted in Greyhound livery. Upon closer inspection, they were marked as “Greyhound Connect” vehicles. I know very little about this service, but there is a map available on the Greyhound website. I posted a request for any available info about this on CPTDB.ca, so we’ll see what turns up.
When I went back inside the station, I noticed that there was a lot of people waiting. A lot. Out of curiosity, I looked at the poster board showing the daily departures from Birmingham, and realized that everyone was waiting for the same bus. By my count, there was 85-90 people in the station. The problem with that is a Greyhound bus (or really any intercity bus, except for a double-decker MegaBus) can hold just 55 people. The good news was that I had a “reboarding pass.” Back in Tallahassee, as the driver took our tickets while boarding, we were handed these slips of paper that had the number 151 printed on them. He said that we would need these when we reboarded the bus in Montgomery after the driver change. However, when the new driver never took us from them, I figured I didn’t need it anymore and it would be best to just throw it away. Luckily, I decided against that, which turned out to be the right decision.
While I’d been outside, the other passengers I’d been talking to figured out the same thing about our bus being overloaded. They were all versed with the workings of Greyhound in this part of the country, so they knew how the reboarding process would work out. With my worries dealt with, I stood in line to wait my turn to get back on the bus. Jessica saw what I was doing and joined me in line again. Over the PA system, the station agent announced that “all passengers with reboarding pass 151 will be boarding first,” so that’s what we did. As we were doing so, we noticed that there was another bus being prepped. Having previously noted that our bus was the only departure in that general timeframe, I wasn’t sure why that bus was there. Once everyone was on the bus, the new driver, who was employed by Greyhound, closed the door and started to back out. As he was backing out, I noticed that the other passengers who’d been inside the station were now boarding the second bus. Putting two and two together, I realized that Greyhound had dispatched this second bus to handle the overload on the route, something I’d never seen before. Of course, everything about Greyhound seemed different in this part of the country compared to my previous experiences riding in the Pacific Northwest.
After we left Birmingham, I decided that it was a good time to try to get some sleep. Surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to fall asleep. The process was certainly made easier by the fact that I had two seats to myself. Across the aisle, Jessica was already asleep, curled up in a small ball across her two seats. She later told me that part of the reason why she was always sleeping was to discourage any potential seatmates. Once I finally fell asleep, no thanks to the still-screaming kids, the ride went by a lot faster. Before I knew it, we were in Huntsville. I couldn’t even tell if anyone was getting on/off the bus there, but I was too tired to care at that point.
4 hours after leaving Birmingham, we pulled into Nashville. As I woke up from the rattling of the bus against the city streets, the first thing I could see out the window was Music City Center, so I had no doubts about where I was. Pulling into the station, it was immediately obvious that this was a new station. There were lots of windows to let in natural light. The building was painted with the colors of Greyhound’s new livery. (I later learned that the building design is much the same as the new Greyhound station being built in Baltimore and the recently completed Sacramento station.) Unlike so many other Greyhound stations I’ve been to, it actually felt comfortable to be inside. I use “comfortable” cautiously however, because just like in Birmingham there were a lot of people waiting inside. Armed with the confidence bestowed upon me by the power of my reboarding pass, I shrugged it off and tried not to worry about it. I thought about going outside and seeing how much of Nashville I could see streetside, but as I walked towards the exit door, I heard the security guard warning another passenger that if he went outside he wouldn’t be coming back in. As I didn’t feel like getting stranded in Nashville, I changed my mind pretty fast. Instead, I decided to explore the station, even though I could see everything right in front of me. I ventured over to the Greyhound-operated food stand, which surprisingly was still open at 11:30PM. Of course, everything was overpriced, and so of course, I just walked away.
Since our bus was getting cleaned out while we were in Nashville, I couldn’t wander back on board and fall asleep again. Seeing Jessica sitting against a wall charging her phone, I decided to go hang out with her until we were able to reboard. Just like in Birmingham, the announcement came over the PA system that passengers with reboarding ticket 151 could now board the bus heading north to St. Louis. (In retrospect, it was a very good decision not to throw that piece of paper away.) With that, Jessica and I and all the other people continuing on the same bus reboarded and settled back into our seats. Unlike in Birmingham, we weren’t getting a 2nd bus this time, so it was clear that the fight to keep two seats to ourselves was on. I stretched across my seats and tried to feign being asleep, while Jessica curled up into her sleeping position and fell asleep (or at least pretended to do so rather convincingly). Sadly, it was a battle we were set to lose. I lost my empty seat pretty fast when a 40-something year old man asked me if the seat next to me was open. Looking at it as a karma thing, I was honest and let him sit down in the aisle seat. I then settled myself in again and tried to find a way I could position myself to sleep in one seat, versus the two I’d rapidly grown accustomed to. Looking across the aisle, I saw that Jessica still had her two seats, but that didn’t last for much longer when a 70 or so year old man tapped her on the shoulder to awaken her and ask for the empty seat. Watching the situation unfold, I could tell that she wasn’t too thrilled about losing her empty seat, and of all the people on the bus, this was the last person she wanted to be stuck sitting next to. Sympathetic but unable to do anything about it, I drifted off to sleep again as we left Nashville.
According to the schedule, our next stop was in Clarksville TN. I’m not sure if the bus ever stopped there, because I was dead asleep the entire time. The same thing happened as we passed through Kentucky, where we were scheduled to stop in Madisonville. The one thing I do know is that by sleeping for that entire time, Kentucky is now the only state I’ve been to where I was never awake. By the time we were rolling into our next stop, Evansville IL, I was awake and ready to step off the bus for a bit. The Evansville stop was located at the transit center of the local transit agency, Metropolitan Evansville Transit System (METS). Perhaps most interesting was the design of the transit center itself. Unlike the typical “sawtooth” bay design of most transit centers, it was built with “pull-in” bays (like what one would see at a typical intercity bus terminal). The only other instance I know of where a bus-only transit agency has built a transit center like this is MATBUS in Fargo.
As luck would have it, the guy sitting next to me was ending his ride in Evansville, so once again I had an empty seat. Jessica saw my now-former seatmate walking away and asked if the seat next to me was now empty. I told her it was, so then she asked me if she could sit next to me. She told me that the old guy sitting next was starting to creep her out, so trying to be a good “travel buddy” I said yes. Once we got back on the bus, Jessica grabbed her stuff from across the aisle and moved it over to my side of the bus. As she was doing this, the old guy she’d been sitting next to watched her intently, almost like he was surprised and sad that he’d lost his seatmate. With Jessica in the window seat and myself in the aisle seat, we settled in and fell asleep again. About an hour and a half later, we were at our next stop in Mt. Vernon. This stop was located at a travel plaza on the edge of town, and by travel plaza I mean a gas station and McDonald’s. Since it was now around 5AM, a lot of the passengers stepped off the bus and went inside for coffee and breakfast. As was customary, I stepped off for some fresh air. As I stood there looking around, I couldn’t help but remark on how many of the stops had been at gas stations so far.
Back on the road again, we were now heading westbound to St. Louis. While we’d been stopped in Mt. Vernon, Jessica had bought some food at McDonald’s. As she sat there eating, she offered me an extra hash brown, saying that she wasn’t going to eat it. With all the food I had left for the duration of the trip packed in my checked bag, I happily accepted it. Ironically, that ended up being the only hot food I ate for the entire trip. Around a quarter to 7, and amazingly still on schedule, we made it to St. Louis. Once again, everyone had to get off the bus, as this was a cleaning and fuel stop. Though we were permitted to leave our belongings on board if we were continuing northbound on the bus, I grabbed my carry-on bag and brought it inside the station. Once I found out which gate the bus would be boarding at, I set my bag down to hold my place in the line. Meanwhile, Jessica grabbed her stuff and did the same thing in the line of people waiting for the Denver bus. There was already a good line going, so I knew she needed to grab a spot in line fast so she wouldn’t risk being left behind.
In the meantime, I wandered around the station a bit. Apart from being used by Greyhound, it was also a facility for Amtrak (Missouri River Runner, Lincoln Service, and Texas Eagle routes, as well as Thruway service to Carbondale IL for a City of New Orleans connection), Burlington Trailways, MegaBus, and Metro Transit (bus and light rail). Needless to say, it’s a very multimodal facility. There was also a KFC/Pizza Hut near the Amtrak gates, and a Budget Rent-A-Car desk in between the Amtrak and Greyhound gates. As I wandered back to the Greyhound gates, I saw that Jessica’s bus to Denver was loading up, so I went over to bid her farewell. I stuck around the gate for a little bit to make sure that she got on her bus, and then I went back to wandering around. Having already seen the intercity carriers part of the station, I decided to go check out the local transportation part. Directly behind the Greyhound gates (due east) was the light rail platform, easily accessed via a ramped walkway. More than anything else, I was impressed with the frequency of service on the St. Louis light rail system, known as MetroLink. With the two routes, Red Line and Blue line, running at 12-min headways, the shared route segment in the downtown area had service in both directions every 6 minutes. Maybe there’s a reason why Metro St. Louis has had the highest ridership growth in the country this year?
Looking at the clock and seeing is was close to 8AM, I went back inside to the Greyhound gates. My bus was scheduled to continue on at 8:30, and with nothing else piquing my interest at Gateway, I figured it’d be safest to just wait it out. When I got back inside, I noticed that there were some passengers sitting around who I’d seen in the line for the Denver bus that Jessica had left on. Among them, I saw one of the people who I knew was supposed to be on that bus, so I asked him why he was still here. As it turned out, the Denver bus had been oversold (not unheard of on that particular route apparently), so he was gonna have to wait for the next one. I felt bad for him, because in previous conversations he told me he was heading to Portland and then on to Alaska to start a job as a cook on a fishing boat. Because of this delay in St. Louis, he was now at risk of missing the boat departure. He didn’t seem too worried about though, as he was optimistic that if he missed the boat, he could hang around and try to get a job on another boat. Over at my gate, I saw that the family with the screaming kids was waiting nearby. Fearing the worst, I made small talk with the mother, and as luck would have it, they were still on the same bus as me. The silver lining was that they would be ending their trip in Springfield IL. At least now I knew when I would be able to enjoy some peace and quiet again.
Back on the same bus that I’d first boarded in Tallahassee, #6928, we left St. Louis at 8:30AM sharp. The bus was a pretty full one, and so I had a new seatmate. From the moment he sat next to me, I could tell that this guy was not one to chat, so I took that as a sign and tried to go to sleep. When it became apparent that sleep was not in the cards at that time, I gave up and just read some more of my book. After attempting to fall asleep and succeeding the second time after leaving St. Louis, we made it to Springfield in about 2 hours. With a close eye on them, I was having an exuberant celebration in my head as I watched the family with the screaming twins get off the bus and grab their bags from under the bus. At the same time, I was also watching as 3 guys stepped out of a 15-passenger Department of Corrections van and walk onto the bus. It’s just human nature to feel uneasy about people near us who we know nothing about, and watching them step out of the van wasn’t making that process any easier. Unsurprisingly, they all sat towards the back of the bus. Later on in the bus ride, they had a very spirited conversation going on, but it was pretty obvious that no one near them wanted to complain. They weren’t too bad though, as they were polite enough to unblock the aisle for me when I had to walk to the bathroom in the back of the bus.
By this point in the ride, I’d given up any hopes of interesting bus stations, and so I had nothing to be disappointed about when we got to the next stop in Decatur IL. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed, because the stop was at a nice little place called Sandy’s Motel. Rather than describe it to you myself, I’ll let the gentlemen in this video do so. (A warning to those with sensitive ears, his language isn’t 100% clean.) I can certainly sympathize with Greyhound as they try to adapt to the modern economy and cut costs where they need to, but it’s pretty hard to attract riders when you locate your stations at places like Sandy’s Motel in Decatur IL After leaving Sandy’s Motel, our next stop was a mere 5 minutes away. As part of the Greyhound scheduling strategy to have meal stops every 5-6 hours or so, we pulled into a truck stop on the edge of town in Decatur for a 15 minute layover. While I’m certainly not a fan of locating intercity bus stations at truck stops, in Decatur’s case it might be for the best.
Champaign IL, the next stop, was a much better story. Much like Gateway Station in St. Louis, this is a multimodal facility, shared by Greyhound, Lincolnland Express, Burlington Trailways, MegaBus, Amtrak (City of New Orleans and Illini/Saluki routes), and the local transit agency, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. While the bus was stopped, I stepped off and wandered around the area a bit. Luckily, MTD had their system map(s) posted on an info kiosk near the middle of the bus platform. While I can’t comment on the design of the network, considering this was the first time I’d ever been to Champaign, I was a bit surprised that they would have 6 different versions of the system map. And yes, I said 6. Weekday Daytime, Weekday Evening, Saturday Daytime, Saturday Evening, Sunday Daytime, and Sunday Evening, along with special maps for on-campus service at the University of Illinois and the High-Frequency Network. If there ever was a case to be made for one system map, I think this is where it could be made. Something else I found very, very interesting about MTD was their fare structure. Base fares are $1, while their day pass is $2 (though only available on weekends). However, for just $60, anyone can buy an annual pass. Needless to say, that might be the best transit deal in the entire country!
After the stop in Champaign, our next stop was supposed to be in Kankakee IL, but as we were leaving Champaign, the driver announced over the PA system that we would be bypassing that stop. So instead we proceeded on to our next stop, Markham. When we arrived at the Markham stop, which was located at a shopping center, the driver came over the PA system again and stated that unless this was our final destination, we were to remain seated on the bus. You could hear the visible sigh of disappointment from all the smokers on the bus. From the sound of the driver’s tone, I got the impression that our bus was behind schedule, though with no electronic devices or even a timepiece for that matter, I had no idea how far behind we really were. Since I knew I had a 6-hour layover coming up soon in Chicago, I figured I didn’t have much to worry about unless something major happened. As Markham is right on the edge of the “Chicagoland” area, that didn’t leave too much time to have to worry about being struck with a major disaster of some kind.
Luckily, no major disaster struck, and about 20 minutes or so after leaving Markham, we were at 95th/Dan Ryan Station. As the southern terminus of CTA’s Red Line, as well as a terminal for 12 CTA bus routes, 5 PACE bus routes, and a stop for multiple Greyhound routes, it’s a very, very busy place. Before I’d first left on this bus ride, I saw the 95th/Dan Ryan stop listed on the schedule and really didn’t understand why it would be a Greyhound stop in the first place. After getting to see the place in action, I’d say it’s a good thing that Greyhound stops there. By my count, about 1/4 of the passengers on the bus disembarked there, so it is a station that does get used.
Finally, after spending nearly 26 hours on #6928 (including stops/layovers), I made it to Chicago. Needless to say, it was a big relief, though I was only halfway through my journey.
Part 2 of “85 Hours On The Bus” will be published next week. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to TransitZac and follow me on Twitter (@ziggzagzac) so that you don’t miss the next post. Thanks for reading!