Saturday, December 29, 2007

Greyhound, part 1

I only bought a Greyhound ticket from southern Oregon to Seattle because Amtrak was sold out. I think, next time, I would rather ditch work for an extra day or two and hold out for Amtrak.

Now, mind you, I had purchased a bus ticket online five days previously, so I'd been pretty breezy about the prospect of riding Greyhound home. It couldn't be that awful for a 350-mile trip, right?


My first inkling that it would be a very long day came when I checked in at the ticket counter Wednesday morning, a full hour early as recommended. I'd wondered why the heck you'd need to arrive an hour early just to sit and wait for a bus (Greyhound doesn't bother with things like metal detectors and security lines). The reasoning became clear when the ticket agent informed me that buying a Greyhound ticket doesn't guarantee the purchaser a seat on any particular bus. But I had a ticket! And I'd bought it almost a week ago! Didn't matter: I'd be added to the list of passengers waiting for the next bus.

"Oh and by the way," she added, "the 9:00 bus was so full he didn't even bother to stop here this morning--so everyone who was supposed to get on that bus is now in line to get on the noon bus. Ahead of you. You're number 21."

When the noon bus arrived, wouldn't you know it, they had 20 seats available. I and numbers 22 through 35 watched forlornly as it filled up and pulled away.

Now, the next scheduled bus wasn't due to arrive until 4:30. I did the math in my head (something I'd do over and over throughout the day) and figured that would put me in Seattle at 1:45 a.m. That was assuming the 4:30 bus would have a seat open, of course.

However. The ticket agent, bless her heart, had been talking to her dispatcher all morning to plead for an additional bus to be sent down from Eugene to pick up us poor slobs who'd been getting left behind all day. Not long after my scheduled bus departed, another bus unexpectedly arrived, loaded eleven of us, and headed north.

This is where the fun really started, because our bus driver had no idea where he was going. Oh, he had no trouble figuring out the "north on I-5" part, but as we pulled out onto the freeway he said loudly, "Okay, which exit do you think I should take for the Eugene station?"

Those of us sitting close enough to the front to hear him looked at each other blankly. Fortunately the fellow in the very front had been making this trip frequently throughout the year to visit his spinal surgeon in Eugene. He directed the driver to take a particular exit, and take a right. Of course then other passengers who knew Eugene pretty well began to argue about which way was best.

"Naw, you don't want to go right here, you'll end up in Springfield."

"But I-5 goes down the middle, soon as you get under it you'll be in Eugene."

"This isn't the way we usually go."

"Shouldn't we take a left up here?"

"No, take a right."

The passenger in the front stuck to his guns and guided us in to Eugene. The driver announced that we'd have a five minute break--"Maybe closer to ten, but then we're gone," the driver said. I hopped off for a quick bathroom break and to stretch my legs, and then slid back into my seat. Most everyone else was similarly punctual.

Forty-five minutes later the driver reboarded the bus, a styrofoam leftovers container and Starbucks cup in his hands. "Okay, everybody ready to go?" he asked cheerily. I heard a few low mutters--I've been ready...We've been here...Man, if I knew we had time to go to Starbucks...--and then we were off. As we pulled away, the man in front of me (a new passenger who'd replaced the knowledgeable co-pilot) said to his wife, "Well, we'll be a little late, but that's all right."

The driver bristled. "Late? Late? Did somebody say we're going to be late?"

Everyone was quiet, so he persisted. "Who said that? Who was it that said we're going to be late?"

The guilty man protested, "Well, we are going to be a little late."

The driver shook his head fiercely. "Greyhound," he admonished us, "doesn't guarantee you anything."

Into the silence that spread out from this announcement, he lamely added, "Except safety."