85 Hours On The Bus (Part 2)Posted: September 13, 2012 Filed under: Epic Transit Journey, Fun, Transit 1 Comment (If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 of “85 Hours On The Bus”)
At the end of Part 1, I had just arrived in Chicago for a 6-hour layover in the midst of my coast-to-coast bus ride. This is the conclusion of the story.
Layover in Chicago
With 6 hours to kill in the Windy City, I had to decide if I wanted to go play tourist for a short while or just take it easy. I went with the latter. Outside at the front of the station, I found a place to sit and eat a small lunch consisting of Triscuits, granola bars, and an Arizona Mucho Mango while watching people walk by. The thing that struck me as most interesting was that there was actually “life” on the street. People were walking by with their dogs, or riding their bikes, or heading home from the office. All too often, it seems that Greyhound locates their stations in run-down, dead areas of cities that nobody wants to go to. In modern times, that seems to be changing, and in the case of Chicago, it’s worked out quite well.
Since it had been almost two days since I was last able to get in contact with anyone, I decided to go wander over to the library. Luckily for me, it was rather close by. Per the directions from Google Maps, it’s a 0.9 mile walk that takes 19 minutes. In all honesty, it felt a lot shorter than that, even though I was hauling along a 30lb backpack. To be fair, it’s probably because I like Chicago. As I walked along I couldn’t help but marvel at all the different buildings and architectural styles, while at the same time reminiscing about things I remembered from the last time I’d been to Chicago.
The downtown library, officially known as Harold Washington Library Center, was quite impressive. Taking up an entire city block, the building has an amazing 756,640 square feet of floor space. (I’ve since learned that it holds the Guinness World Record as the largest library in the world.) If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see that the Chicago “L” runs directly next to the library, with Harold Washington Library – State/Van Buren Station located at the north entrance. While I didn’t have time to ride the “L,” I happily found copies of the CTA system map available at the library’s information desk on the 1st floor. With my obligatory Twitter update completed, I left the library to walk around the streets of Chicago for a bit. Just like the last time I’d been here, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight of all the buses on the city streets. For the most part, CTA buses all run at frequencies of less than 15 minutes, so waiting for a bus never seems to be a major issue. Of course, I could be missing small details and shortcomings of the agency’s operations, but from a visitor’s perspective (along with my Transit Nerd “knowledge”), it works.
Once back at the Greyhound station, I found an empty seat and settled in for the wait to depart at 9:25PM. As the Chicago station is a major hub in the Greyhound network, there were a lot of people coming and going. Interestingly enough, there was quite the mix of people. Nearly every demographic could be found. White, black, poor, rich, college students, homeless, truck drivers, grandparents, and oh so much more. It’s hard to imagine what the scene would’ve been like 10 or 20 years ago, before 9/11 and the resurgence of the intercity bus industry.
As I’d seen at several other stations along the way so far, the Chicago Greyhound station was not just used by Greyhound. Burlington Trailways and Indian Trails also had buses coming and going from the station. Another thing I noticed were some Van Hool coaches sitting at the west gates. Numbered #3264 and #3266, they were Van Hool C2045’s built somewhere between 2001-2003. They were previously operated by Greyhound-subsidiary Valley Transit Company. Presently, they are painted in factory-white, and apart from fleet numbers, there was no livery/GNW/dba info to be seen. One of the drivers told me that they were using the units on the Chicago-Milwaukee Greyhound Express route. He didn’t elaborate further if there were other units from the 3260-series being dispatched on routes from Chicago, or if they were being used for other Greyhound Express routes/overloads. Based on where they had parked #3266, I assumed that I would be seeing it leave on the 9:25PM express to Milwaukee.
Sometime after 8PM, a line had started to form behind the gate for the bus to Memphis. Interestingly enough, the bus that would be operating that route was none other than #6928, the same bus I’d just spent 26 hours on. Curious, I watched and waited for the inevitable to happen. By about 8:25, when they made the call to start boarding, there were almost 90 people in line. Every one of those people in line had paid for a ticket, but sadly, not all of them were gonna be getting on that bus. Or at least that’s how it appeared. Just like what had happened in Birmingham the previous day, a second bus was dispatched out to handle the overload. Suffice to say, I think they averted a minor riot from happening in the station that night. While I’d been watching everything happen with the line for the Memphis bus, a few people had started to form a line behind Gate 5, which was where my bus would be boarding at. Just to make sure it was confirmed that this was the right gate (as not all the buses had been boarding out of the gates they were labelled as), I went to go talk to some of the people in line. As I approached them in the midst of a conversation, I heard one of the passengers mention that he and his son were heading to a city in Washington State. Right then I knew I’d found my new “travel buddies.”
After confirming that Gate 5 was indeed the gate we would be boarding the bus at, I went back to where I’d been sitting to grab my belongings, and then brought them to the gate as I claimed my spot in the line. As I talked more with my new “travel buddies,” John and his son Tyler, I got to know them a bit better. They had been living in Kentucky, but had just left (because of what I’ll call “domestic bliss”), and now they were headed to Washington State to basically start life anew. While we continued to talk, the call was made for our bus to start boarding. At that point, I was rearing to get back on the road and fall asleep, so that announcement was a bit of a relief. As i gathered my things, I took a look at the line behind me and was a bit shocked to see all the people waiting. I hadn’t anticipated this route being busy, especially considering it was a “red-eye” run. Once again, I was ready to fight for the extra seat.
Once on board the bus, I watched John and Tyler ahead of me as they walked all the way to the very back. As I grabbed a row just in front of the rear axles, I looked back and teasingly remarked “Hiding all the way in the back, eh?” to them. John replied with a resounding “Yup!” I laughed as I settled in to my seat, while trying to find the ultimate sleeping position for what felt like the umpteenth time this trip. A few seconds later, I heard rustling behind me, as John and Tyler had changed their minds about their seats and had instead decided to occupy the row behind me. While we sat waiting for the bus to start rolling, I heard Tyler mention to John that he was hungry. While we had been talking earlier, John had mentioned to me that they were travelling on pretty limited funds. Trying to be a good guy for my new “travel buddies,” I grabbed a few extra granola bars I had in my bag and handed them back. I could tell that John appreciated that.
As I watched what appeared to be the last few passengers board the bus, I felt pretty good about my chances of getting an extra seat again. While sitting there, I watched inside the station as I noticed something going on with the people who had lined up next to us. They were waiting for the 9:25PM Greyhound Express to Milwaukee. I thought it was a little weird that Greyhound would have a regular route and an express route leaving at the same time in the same direction. Instead, as it turned out, the regular route and the express route were one and the same. When the Express passengers started boarding the bus, you could hear the sigh from everyone who’d managed to snag an extra seat, myself included. After a few people had walked past me, I begrudgingly gathered my things off the extra seat. I ended up timing it pretty well, as the next person to approach my seat was someone I was definitely okay with being next to me.
Once she was seated, my new seatmate and I started to make small talk as the bus started to back out. Rachael was heading up to Milwaukee, where the next morning she would be boarding a plane to San Diego for a soccer tournament that she would be refereeing with several friends of hers. Suffice to say, it’s not everyday you meet someone on a Greyhound bus who is headed to a soccer tournament. As we kept heading northbound, we continued to just talk and talk. Siblings, politics, places we’d been to, it was all covered. She also found the stories of my time in Tampa quite interesting, apologizing multiple times for being so curious. I told her she had nothing to apologize for, as I was happy to share these stories with her. Perhaps that’s the most fascinating thing about travelling with strangers, especially on intercity buses. Everyone walks on as complete strangers to one another, but we feel compelled to share stories about ourselves to someone we’ve never meet before, nor will likely ever see again.
After we pulled in to Milwaukee Intermodal Station, Rachael and I said our goodbyes. Since I was awake, I decided to step off the bus and get a few minutes of fresh air. Having been to the station once before, I didn’t feel very compelled to explore, so instead I just walked around the bus docks. At the far end, I found John and Tyler taking a smoke break. While waiting around for the bus to leave again, we chatted for a little bit. Taking a jab at Tyler, John jokingly said he wished he’d been in my seat next to Rachael. I chuckled out loud at that remark, but inside my head I thought to myself that the chances of her willingly sitting next to John would’ve been pretty slim.
Outside of Milwaukee and heading westbound towards Minneapolis, I fell asleep pretty fast. Without even realizing it, we passed through stops in Tomah WI and Eau Claire WI. By the time I woke up, it was already the morning and we were driving along the city streets of Minneapolis. Perhaps unique to just Minneapolis, the local Greyhound station is housed in a building that is a parking garage. Called Hawthorne Transportation Center, the garage has room for 975 cars, is connected to the Minneapolis Skyway System, and a transit center for Metro Transit buses (known as 7th Street Garage Transit Center), and houses an intercity bus terminal used by Greyhound and Jefferson Lines. As the end of the route was in Minneapolis (thanks to Greyhound’s discontinuation of all service to the west of Minneapolis in 2004), everyone had to disembark at Hawthorne Transportation Center. A large number of us then lined up behind Gate 2, to wait for the next bus we were taking. Much like the bus from Tallahassee to Chicago, this was going to be another long bus ride, stretching all the way from Minneapolis to Billings MT. The bus was scheduled to leave at 7AM, so that left us with about an hour to wait. While we were waiting, John, Tyler, and I started chatting with other people who were making the same transfer. One of them was Kimberly, who was travelling with her two children all the way to her home in Portland OR. There was also Levi, who had been riding the bus since Indianapolis on his way to Everett WA to visit some old friends. It was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one embarking on a long bus ride, though amongst us all I was travelling the furthest.
Around 6:45AM, our next bus pulled into Hawthorne Transportation Center. For the first time during this trip, I was going to be boarding a bus that was neither owned nor operated by Greyhound. Both those matters were going to be taken care of by Jefferson Lines. Another first for this leg of the trip was that the bus was going to be driven by a woman (which also ended up being the only time this happened during the entire trip). While plenty of women can be seen driving buses, LRV’s, and so on at public transportation agencies, it’s not very common to find them working in the intercity bus industry. After she came inside the station to call us out for boarding, I watched her loading our luggage under the bus and knew that she was going to do the job just as well as any other driver could.
At 7AM, the bus backed out of the bay and left Hawthorne Transportation Center. Sitting next to me was yet another new seatmate, Mark. He too had been on the previous bus from Chicago, and was now headed to Jackson MN. It was there where he’d be meeting his birth family for the first time in his life. I’d overheard him discussing it with another person on the Chicago-Minneapolis bus the previous night, so I knew he was pretty excited. I think it goes to prove that the stigma of poor and crazy people being the only ones to use intercity buses is completely wrong. In Mark’s case, intercity buses were taking him on a trip to one of the biggest moments in his life.
After passing through our first stop in Burnside (where I got to see one of the new-style Gillig BRT’s), we continued southbound on I-35. Still not yet caught up on the sleep I didn’t get during my night in the Tampa Greyhound station, I fell asleep for a while. While I was asleep, the bus passed through stops in Albert Lea and Fairmont. It was shortly after the stop in Fairmont when I woke up again. Mark and I chatted for a little bit, but I mostly just watched the land pass by as I waited patiently for the next stop. About a half-hour later, we were in Jackson MN. The stop itself wasn’t anything special, as it was just a Burger King next to the Interstate exit. Mostly everyone on the bus stepped off the bus, myself included, happy to stretch out and get some fresh air. A lot of people went inside to buy something to eat, but I just stayed outside and ate a granola bar. With slight amusement and bewilderment, I watched an older gentleman and his grandson get on a big red tractor with a couple of Burger King bags, which they then slowly drove out of the parking lot and headed towards the main part of town.
Back on board #1845, or “The Elanor Johnson” as Jefferson Lines had named it, we continued headed westbound on I-90 towards South Dakota. I ended up falling asleep again, sleeping through the next stop in Worthington MN. I woke up again in time for our next stop in Luverne MN. Much like all the other unspectacular bus stations I’d seen on this trip, this station was also at a gas station. Nobody ended up boarding or disembarking here, so the driver just did a big circle in the dirt parking lot before heading back onto the Interstate.
Shortly after crossing the South Dakota state line, we made our next stop in Sioux Falls. I’ve mentioned multiple times in this story how many of the unspectacular bus stops were at gas stations. In the case of Sioux Falls, they have an actual bus terminal, though I was far from impressed by it.Though it was hard to tell from my perspective as we approached it, you can see that the building itself was originally built for a different purpose, which was reportedly a bar and restaurant. Compared with the old Sioux Falls Greyhound station, it’s really not much to look at. Before we pulled into the station, the driver announced over the PA system that everyone on board would have to step off the bus here, as it was a cleaning stop and there would be a driver change. We were allowed to leave our belongings on the bus if we were continuing on the same bus, so that’s what I ended up doing. The bus stopped on the west side of the station (left side of the picture), and we all entered the station through an open metal door.
Inside, there were 20-25 people already waiting for a bus. My first thought was that they were all waiting for our bus, but I found out shortly afterwards that most of them were waiting for a different bus that was leaving around the same time as our bus. As we waited to reboard the bus, I looked around the station. It didn’t take much effort, as the waiting area was really not that big, although to be fair it probably felt smaller with all the people milling around inside. Apart from the waiting lines, there was a taxi stand, a ticket counter, a gift shop, and an Internet Cafe all crammed inside. Needless to say, the building was a little tight on space. In the midst of all this, the station employees, all dressed in the same light blue t-shirts, were sorting out bags and tickets. The scene was chaotic if anything, but with the frowns on their faces, I got the feeling that this was the same scene that one could find inside this station on a daily basis. While I kept looking around, one of the station employees started yelling out of nowhere as she tried to locate the owner of a green bag that hadn’t been tagged with a checked bag slip. As she kept yelling about it, I couldn’t help but think how her tone reminded me of my Grade 3 teacher when she got angry. Eventually, a college student in the line for the other bus came forward and took his bag from the yelling woman, clearly embarrassed by the whole situation. Levi, who was standing next to me in line, muttered under his breath, “Wow, someone sure loves their job.” “No kidding!” I replied. Though it wasn’t a reflection of the city itself, I sat there wondering if there would ever be a justifiable reason for me to ever come back to Sioux Falls if this was what awaited me.
Eventually, we got loaded back up on the bus and left Sioux Falls. Earlier in the day, I’d been lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me after Mark left in Jackson MN, but this time I had a seatmate. Though I kept my thoughts on the matter to myself, I wasn’t impressed with him at first, as shortly after leaving Sioux Falls he opened up a styrofoam carry-out container he had containing incredibly smelly fish tacos. My seatmate, or Josh as I later learned, was clearly enjoying them, but I don’t think many others in the general area were. Strangely enough, seeing him eat made me hungry, so I pulled out a tube of sour cream and onion Pringles and started munching down. By the time we reached our next stop in Mitchell, all the food was thankfully gone. It was in Mitchell where a group of six Hispanic men who’d originally boarded in Sioux Falls disembarked at the stop, located at the Corn Palace Motel. My assumption is that they were migrant workers, as after disembarking and gathering their checked baggage, they just sat along the side of the building like they were waiting for someone to show up to give them a ride or offer them a job. Once again, the case for the power of intercity buses was made, in this case in the form of an economic lifeline.
Continuing down the road, Josh and I chatted about stuff, and I got to learn a bit about my seatmate. He had been working as an oil worker, or “Landman,” down in Oklahoma, and was heading home to Aberdeen WA to spend his 3 weeks off with family and friends. As we talked more about how he was going to get all the way to Aberdeen (located in SW Washington on the Pacific Coast), I told him how he could use public transportation to get from Seattle to Aberdeen. As it turned out, that’s exactly what he was planning to do. This was pretty exciting to me, being a Transit Nerd and all. I told him how I knew about all this stuff, and explained the concept of the Epic Transit Journey website, which surprisingly he’d never heard of before. He told me that taking transit between Aberdeen and the Seattle area was pretty common in his family. For just $9, it’s pretty hard to beat.
Just after crossing the Missouri River, we had our next stop in Oacoma. It was here where everyone had to step off the bus, because the driver had to refuel it. The way he explained it, I got the impression that he thought it was silly to make us all step off while he was refueling, but rules and rules and I was glad that he was following them. The stop itself was located at a gas station with an Arby’s inside, so there really wasn’t much to do. I got bored pretty fast, so I just walked around killing time. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people ended up getting food. Having seen this multiple times in the trip, I couldn’t help but feel a little smug about the amount of money I was saving by buying all my food/drinks beforehand. If it was just a short little 3-4 hour ride, it probably wouldn’t be worth it, but for a multi-day trek like the one I and many other people on the bus were taking, it would definitely be worth it. After the driver was done fueling up the bus, we all started shuffling back on board. By the time he sat down in the driver’s seat, it seemed that most if not all of us were back on the bus. Looking around, I couldn’t find Levi anywhere. Josh realized the same thing, and we gave each other an “oh no” look. Not sure what to do, we just sat there. Noticing that the door to the lavatory was shut, we started asking people around us if they’d seen anyone go in there. No one seemed to know anything, so eventually John got Tyler to go back and check. When he knocked on the door, we could all here a resounding “Occupied!” come from the rear of the bus. With that matter settled, we breathed a sigh of relief. Of all the places that one could get stranded in, a gas station in the middle of South Dakota is probably the last that comes to mind. A few miles down the road, Levi walked back to his seat pretty red in the face. Trying to make light of it, I told him “I thought we almost left you behind man!” He chuckled lightly at that, but clearly didn’t really want to talk anymore. Later on in the bus ride, he told me how he hadn’t been feeling that well on the bus, hence why that whole situation ended up unfolding.
At our next stop in Vivian, there was another Jefferson Lines vehicle waiting for us. A small cutaway, it was being used on a connector route to bring passengers to Pierre. Once our bus came to a stop, I watched as a family of four stepped off the cutaway ready to join us. Continuing to watch them as they stepped on board, I got the impression that nobody in this family had ever been on an intercity bus. They were all dragging along massive pillows, and once settled in they pulled out all sorts of personal belongings like they were setting up a living room of sorts. It’s not to say that intercity buses are unsafe, but there’s a line between common sense and just plain dumb, and I don’t think that family was on the common sense side. A dusty road-side restaurant called Jiggers was where our next stop was at in Kadoka. The only lasting memory from that stop was that it was windy outside, and the dusty parking lot the bus was stopped in certainly didn’t make the experience any better. I was a little excited for our next stop in Wall, which is perhaps most famous for Wall Drug. It was something I’d been hoping to see the first time I’d been in South Dakota when my family passed through on a road trip, but never got the chance to. Though I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to stop in and actually check it out, I figured actually being able to see it instead of just passing by on the Interstate would count for something. By the time we got to Wall, we were running a bit behind schedule, so Frank told us that except for the one person disembarking we were to stay on the bus. Less than 2 minutes after stopping, we were right back on the interstate heading for Rapid City.
Almost an hour late, we pulled in to Rapid City around 6:30PM. Once again, we were changing drivers, though for the first time in the entire trip, we didn’t have to step off and reboard. With nothing better to do, some of us stepped off and just hung around outside. While looking around I noticed that there were cutaways from the local transit agency, Rapid Ride, coming and going from the station, named Milo Barber Transportation Center. I thought it was pretty interesting that the routes were named for famous politicians (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt), as well as famous people in South Dakota history (Borglum). I also saw some signage for a local trolley route, called the City View Trolley, though there were no vehicles to be seen for the route. While we continued to wait, our new driver walked up to check out the bus. Even from far away, we could tell that he wasn’t not going to be as pleasant as our last driver was. It became a running joke pretty fast to be on our best behavior, lest any minor transgression get us kicked off the bus. Having been on the bus for hours and hours, this was the perfect way for us to break up the monotony.
With our unhappy bus driver behind the wheel, we left Rapid City sometime after 7PM. Heading westbound, we drove along the edge of the Black Hills. By this point, a lot of people were settling down and falling asleep, and I soon joined them after reading a bit more of my book. As we continued towards Wyoming, we had a quick stop in Spearfish SD in an area of newly constructed buildings on the northwestern edge of town. According to the schedule, our next stop was in Gillette WY, but I and mostly everyone else slept through it, so none of us ever knew if a stop was actually made there. By the next stop, most of us were awake, thanks to the driver making a long announcement on the PA system. It was there, in Buffalo WY, where another bus was waiting when we arrived. Operated by Black Hills Stage Lines, it was on a southbound run heading for Denver. One of the passengers on our bus was making a transfer to that bus, hence why it was still there. Watching the scene unfold, I asked Josh if he knew what time it was. Telling me it was about a quarter to 11, I remarked that I was hoping we wouldn’t get stranded in Billings. “Me too” he replied.
With the bus loaded back up and about 1/3 of the passengers eating food they bought from the McDonalds in Buffalo, we started to head northbound to Montana. Once again I fell asleep as we passed through a scheduled stop in Sheridan WY. By the time we crossed the state line into Montana, I was awake again. I noticed that Josh was too, so again I asked him what time it was. Doing the math and a little guessing, I came to the conclusion that we were only 15-20 minutes behind now, leaving us time to just barely make it to Billings on time. Though certainly not as bad as getting stranded at a gas station in South Dakota, I had no intentions to get stranded in Billings. About 5 miles from the city, the driver starting making announcements on the PA system. As this was the end of the line for this particular route, all passengers had to disembark the bus in Billings. He explained that if we were continuing westbound, as many of us were, our bags would be transferred to the next bus for us. Multiple times he emphasized that we were not to wait next to the buses, as the station staff doesn’t like when passengers do that.
As soon as we approached the station, I could tell that the Billings station was going to be different. The building’s exterior was painted in that light brown color common with Greyhound stations built in the 40’s and 50’s. However, Greyhound discontinued service to Billings several years ago, so the building was no longer marked as a Greyhound station but rather a Trailways station. Strangely, all the companies that serve the station still refer to it as the “Billings Greyhound Station” on their websites. The bus zone was also different, as you can probably see from the picture of the station. Something I’ve only seen before at the Greyhound station in my hometown, Whitehorse Yukon, was an enclosed bus zone. (The buses exit through that roll-up door.) Though it wasn’t much to take in during the summer, I’m sure it makes a world of difference in the winter months.
When we pulled in to the bus zone, I could see the bus that we were all transferring to parked in front of us. Suffice to say, that was a big relief. As I walked inside the station to the waiting area, I tried to see how many people were already on the next bus. From my perspective, it didn’t seem like there were too many people on board, so I figured my chances of getting two seats to myself were pretty good. Inside the station, there were just a couple of people milling around as the transferring passengers and I got in line to board the next bus. Standing behind me, Josh said to me “I’m ready to go back to sleep man.” I replied “it didn’t look like there was too many people on there, so I think we’re good man.” “Alright then” he said. Pretty quickly, the new driver came inside the waiting area to let us know we could start boarding, so long as we had our tickets out and ready for him to check. Like Josh, I was ready to go back to sleep, so I happily obliged in the hopes that we could get going asap. When I stepped on to the bus, I got a bit of a shock, as there was already 35 people or so on board the bus. Knowing right then and there that I wasn’t going to be sitting alone for this leg of the trip, I started to trudge down the aisle. Behind me, I heard Josh mutter “…damn it.” Around the middle of the bus, I saw an older gentleman with an empty seat next to him. He was stretched out pretty good, with his left leg going all the way from his window seat into the aisle. Finding that a bit rude, I asked him if the seat next to him was available. Perhaps surprised that I was even asking him, he hesitatingly replied that it was, but also that he would need to take the aisle seat now because of his bad leg. Feeling a bit lower after that remark, I silently took my new seat and settled in.
Pulling out of the station around 1:30AM, our bus left Billings and started heading west on the Interstate towards Missoula. Once again, the bus was not owned and operated by Greyhound. Instead, I was on a bus owned and operated by Rimrock Stages. Rimrock Stages might be one of the least known intercity bus carriers in the country. The only time I’d heard anything about them before was in a story about a tragic accident back in January. Though I had the story in the back of my head, I didn’t think too much of it and felt pretty confident that I had nothing to worry about. This was also the first bus in the entire trip that was not built by Motor Coach Industries. Instead, #2114 was a Van Hool C2045. Among his other announcements on the PA system, the driver made sure to inform us that this particular bus was not equipped with the greatest bus lavatory, so he requested that if we could avoid using it then we do so. Making small chat with my seatmate, we got on the topic of where we were heading to. Astonished by how long I’d been riding the bus for, he told me that he was just riding from Fargo to Missoula. The thing that surprised me was that the cost of his ticket and my ticket were within $10 of each other. I had bought my ticket about a week before he did, but still it did seem a bit unfair. Though certainly not a fair assessment, based on his attire I figured it wasn’t too big of a deal for him.
Though the schedule showed we had multiple stops to make along the way, I don’t think we ever made any of them. Of course, everyone on the bus slept through it, so it wouldn’t have mattered either way. Sometime before 4AM, the driver came on the PA system to ask if anyone was disembarking in Bozeman. With no reply coming from the passengers, the bus went silent again as we continued onward. Around 5:30AM, we pulled into the stop in Butte. Having only been in Butte once before (not counting times where I just drove through on road trips), I was grateful that was able to just relax on the bus while we were stopped. The last time I’d been here, it was to gather several head of cattle that my Grandfather owned and wanted to bring to one of his properties in the Tri-Cities. Butte’s station was a pretty simple facility. Clearly built in the last decade, it serves as a stop for Rimrock Stages as well as a transit center for the local transit agency, Butte-Silver Bow Transit Authority Some people decided to step off the bus, mostly for a smoke break. I was too tired to bother, so I just stayed on board and went back to sleep for a while.
Around 6AM or so, I was awake for good. With my seatmate still asleep, I just looked out the window and watched the Montana landscape. Just like the last time I’d been in the state, on a cross-country road trip, I was mesmerized by the sights. It really was something to see, especially with the sun rising and lighting everything as far as the eye could see. Watching the landscape made the time pass by pretty fast, because before I knew it we were approaching Missoula. As we neared the city limits, the driver turned on the PA system and started giving us a plethora of information. Just like in Billings, if we were continuing westbound, then our bags would be transferred for us. He also explained that the next bus would be there waiting for us, so we didn’t have to worry about being a little behind schedule like we were. As a sidenote, he mentioned that earlier in the week the bus we’d be transferring to had been sitting at the station with the engine bay doors open, so for all we knew we might not even have to worry about a tight transfer. A few people laughed at that, though I didn’t see anyone who was actually making that transfer among those laughing. We all gave each other a look that signalled we all had the common goal of just getting on that bus so we could end our days at our respective destinations. Arriving at the station in Missoula just before 8AM, we all grew concerned pretty fast when we turned the corner and saw our bus sitting in the bay with the engine doors open. It was then when we all knew that we were not going to be leaving Missoula on time.
Inside the station, we were informed that due to mechanical issues, we would be waiting for Greyhound to send a new bus which would be leaving around noon. With no choice in the matter, we settled down in the station to wait it out. We weren’t the only passengers in the station, as there were also people waiting for another Rimrock Stages bus to Kalispell and Whitefish, as well as the bus back to Billings and Fargo. The station interior wasn’t that big, so things got a little cramped. Levi and I found a spot on the floor next to the Coca-Cola vending machine, where we were joined by Tyler. Tired and a bit antsy, we all started getting a bit rambunctious, being told multiple times by the station staff that we needed to settle down. Eventually, we did settle down, though it was more out of boredom than anything else. Continuing to wait with nothing to do, Levi, Tyler and I just sat and chatted about anything and everything, which ended up drawing other passengers to our conversation. Among them were two girls around my age. The previous day, I’d noticed them at the station in Minneapolis, but never saw them on our bus. I asked them about it, and they told me that they’d been on the bus through North Dakota. I could tell they weren’t too thrilled to be delayed in Missoula, as they were trying to head all the way to Port Angeles (on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington). Since they were now going to miss their connection to the Dungeness Line, they had to find accommodations for the night in Seattle.They were on a budget, so I recommended the Green Tortoise Hostel, but I think they ended up finding something on Hotels.com.
By 11:30AM, the station had cleared out mostly and now it was just people waiting for the delayed westbound bus. Tired and longing for a shower, I just kept biding my time. Just after noon, we saw a Greyhound bus pulling in to the station. Thinking that it was our bus, everyone gathered their things and headed outside to board the bus. However, we soon found out that this was not our bus, but rather the eastbound bus that was just now arriving in Missoula more than an hour late. By this point, we had learned that our bus was not suffering from mechanical issues, but rather we were just waiting for our driver to finish off his mandatory off-hours. Eventually, our driver did show up to the station, and once we had confirmed that we would be leaving for real this time, we all gathered around the bus as we were all rearing to get out of this city. Once the driver had done his pre-trip and gathered various papers from the station staff, he started taking our tickets and letting us board.
Only 5 hours late, we left the Missoula station around 1:15PM. The unit we were on was more of a familiar sight to me from my previous experience with riding Greyhound in the Pacific Northwest: A MCI G4500. Our particular unit, #7256, had been built in 2003, a year before MCI discontinued the G-series. Settled in and ready to end the day, I watched the road as we rolled out of Missoula. In the meantime, our new driver started making his introductory announcements on the PA system. I won’t share what he said to us (you’ll just have to find a way to ride his bus), but by the time he was finished, he had the entire bus laughing. Being 5 hours late, it was nice to have a driver who knew how to make light of the situation. Along the way, the driver also did a little trivia contest with the passengers. If and when I take my next trip on Greyhound, I sure hope I’ll be lucky enough to see this driver again.
Our first stop out of Missoula was in St. Regis MT. Even though we’d just left Missoula, this was designated as a meal stop. Of course, a lot of people took this opportunity to get some food, as there were quite a few more choices available compared with the vending machines in the Missoula station. A little while after leaving St. Regis, we made a quick stop In Kellogg ID. The stop was located at a GuestHouse Inn and Suites. As explained by the driver after we left, this stop is only served when there is a passenger boarding or disembarking. About 45 minutes later, we stopped at the other northern Idaho Greyhound stop in Coeur d’Alene. Before we stopped, the driver came over the PA system to let the passengers who smoke know that this was their last chance to get cigarettes for dirt cheap. As I’m not a smoker, I just hung around by the bus since I was extremely antsy at this point, knowing that I was almost done with my bus ride.
As a matter of fact, it was the very next stop where I would be concluding my 85 hour bus ride. After spending some 3400 miles on the road, sleeping for 3 nights sitting upright in a seat with an armrest jabbing into my gut the entire time, and subsiding on a diet of granola bars, Pringles, Dunkaroos, and Arizona Teas, it was finally over. I was in Spokane.
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Let me offer some perspective on your drivers. There are a number of female drivers in the over the road (OTR or interstate) game, but in general female drivers prefer local transit not because of driving skills but because they can go home every night. Since a great number of female drivers have responsibility for child care this is an important consideration. I have met a number of female drivers out of the Jacksonville, FL and Atlanta, GA crewbases so female drivers on Greyhound are no aberration.
While I don’t know why Greyhound officials would tell you that they had a mechanical problem when it was a driver problem, I have a theory as to what happened. The driver on that route was probably on a week’s vacation, which meant that the company had to fill it with extra board or overtime drivers. Unfortunately, the company probably failed to keep enough staff around to quickly fill this rural route, requiring a driver to travel from one location to another. There are hours of service regulations for OTR drivers and additional regulations in the labor contract to prevent driver fatigue. The really entertaining driver that arrived late was probably a senior operator who was either part time extra board or who had overtime availability who was dispatched to drive the bus. It may be that the regular extra board operator had to travel to begin the route and ran out of hours or the fill-in operator that day didn’t show. At any rate, a senior operator like that can be a true pleasure to ride with.