A Morality Tale on a Bus

I’ve never liked the old stand-by rule, “Write what you know.”  If I did that, interpreting the direction in the strictest sense, I couldn’t possibly write about fairies and pirate captains.  I believe you should “Know what you write.”  Do your research, find out what guns pirate captains carried (flintlock pistols) and how many brothers the original Beauty (of “and the Beast”) had (three).  But “write what you know”?  Nah.

So today is a rare offering, of a time when I did write what I know.  The names have been changed, but this is in essence the story of a bus trip I took with a friend in college.  We were on our way to Anaheim to visit Disneyland, which required spending an entire day on the Greyhound bus.

The moral of the story?  Don’t ride the Greyhound bus if you can possibly avoid it.

I’m just posting the bus part today.  Disneyland was fun, and worth the trip–perhaps I’ll post that part another week!


Friday, 6:10 am

Good morning—rise and shine, bright and early.  Actually, it’s not bright or shining.  I thought about opening the blinds in my dorm room but one peek past them told me that it still looks like the middle of the night out there, so I don’t think opening them further would encourage me towards wakefulness.

Our bus leaves at 9:10 am, we’re supposed to be there an hour early to pick up tickets, we have to take MUNI to get there, and I do need some time to, you know, get dressed, so if you count backwards you land at a six a.m. wake-up.  Joyous.  But worth it.  I believe that firmly, or I would not be awake.

The worthwhileness notwithstanding, I think my alarm ran through its little jingle about four times before I woke up sufficiently to realize what it was, and that it wasn’t a part of my dream, which I’m not sure but I think involved sheep.  I can’t explain that.  Even if I’d never registered my alarm, Cathy and I promised each other last night that whoever reached for the phone first would call the other, to make sure we were both awake.

We both are.

8:40 am

            By the time Cathy and I actually left campus there was a blush of pink in the east, a blue haze covered the horizon, and we could see the 38 running down Geary.

Terribly poetic, isn’t it?  No, probably not.

We met about seven, had that last mandatory scramble around to make sure we had everything we needed, then headed out to catch MUNI to the Greyhound station.              The station is at First and Mission.  It seems like a vaguely depressing place, though maybe I see it that way because long-distance bus-line stations seem as though they ought to be depressing.

            Slightly dirty tan linoleum floor.  Black wire mesh seats locked firmly in rows.  Tall windows broken up by too-thick metal frames around the panes of glass.  Gilmore Girls is playing on the TV screen in futility, because the volume isn’t high enough to make the dialogue intelligible.  The TV shares this problem with the loudspeaker, which crackles very loudly into life to deliver announcements no one can understand.

9:20 am

            The Greyhound bus looks and smells like the buses we used to ride on field trips in elementary school.  Funny, almost the only thing I can remember of all those trips is one time when we watched half of a very bad scifi movie called simply It.  It had nothing to do with Stephen King.

The seats on this bus are dark blue, with light blue pinstripes and the greyhound silhouette leaping across them in packs.  All the dogs leap towards the center aisle.  Perhaps they want to escape.  I would, if I was stuck on the back of one of these seats for all eternity, or until the dismantling of the bus, whichever comes first.

The seats themselves are not uncomfortable—they don’t share the tendency of airplane seats to force my head too far forward.  However, if I slouch at all my knee bumps the seat in front of me, and I’m glad I’m not any wider than I am.  Who knew Greyhound advocated good posture and a healthy weight?

We took the Bay Bridge out of San Francisco.  It’s a nice view, even from the bottom level.  Towards the south the hills dissolve in a white haze so that it looks as though the bay goes on forever.

I’m not sure, but I think I might finally be waking up, properly.

1:55 pm

            The bus just stopped for half-an-hour at a Burger King in Coalinga.  Coalinga, at least this part of it, is one of those scrubby little pit-stop towns along the highway.  A few intersections, three gas stations, some fast food and a couple cheap motels.  I always wonder where the people who work in these places live, because there’s never any residential area nearby.

Cathy and I avoided Burger King on account of the very long line (prompted by an entire Greyhound busload of people arriving at the same time) and ventured instead into the Mobilmart at the gas station in search of appealing food.  There was none.  We then jaywalked across a four-lane road.  There is no traffic in Coalinga.  We still managed to nearly get hit by the only vehicle on the road, a bigrig truck.  We weren’t hit, obviously and fortunately.  That would have been tragic, to be killed jaywalking in Coalinga.  More than tragic—it would have been embarrassing.

We finally wound up at Carl’s Jr., where Cathy was going to buy something but there was a line there too and I got nervous about the time.

What exactly does one do if the bus takes off and leaves one stranded in Coalinga?

I can’t answer that because, as aforementioned, I got nervous about the time and we abandoned the artery-clogging fast food and got back on the bus.  This is why I brought four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I make very good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

So much for Coalinga.  I wonder if that’s the entire town.  Perhaps Shangri-La is hiding just down the road.  I doubt it though.  As far as could be seen, Coalinga seems to be bordered by vast stretches of emptiness.

2:44 pm

            Flat brown fields, flat green fields, squares of scrubland, the occasional orchard and once in a while a building.  There’s a low fence strung between the freeway and the fields, with mounds of tumbleweeds caught up against it.  I’ve been watching, but I haven’t seen any particularly large ones.  Maybe several together would be able to flatten someone though.

In any case, there is really not much to be said for the scenery between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  There’s been literally nothing to see for the last hour.

Therefore imagine my surprise when we suddenly came upon some hills.  They looked absolutely unrealistic.  You could almost draw a line where the flat land stopped and the hills began.  We’re driving through them now.  They’re somewhat more interesting than the flat land.  At least they change as you go.

It’s more interesting to talk to Cathy about what we’re going to do when we actually get to Anaheim.  Not what we’re going to do today.  Tomorrow.  I still maintain the belief, indoctrinated in me in my childhood, that Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth.

Cathy knows I’m right, even though she’s too cynical to admit it.

5:59 pm

            Los Angeles sprawls.  That is my chief impression of it.

            We have a two-hour layover in L.A., waiting for the Anaheim bus.  We hoped that we could get out, walk a little, find somewhere to get dinner.  Sadly, Greyhound does not put their stops in nice parts of town, and after one block of walking we decided we’d better retreat.  Greyhound has a “restaurant” in the station, where we got dinner.  In essence, we have traveled eight hours only to find ourselves at the school cafeteria.

11:44 pm

            Never let it be said that a Greyhound bus station can’t be the scene of great excitement.  Or at least mild excitement.

After eating dinner we tried sitting outside for a while.  One rather ragged gentleman asked us if we were traveling alone—I lied and said we had friends inside.  I sort of wanted to say something about a very large and male friend, perhaps an entire football team, but doubted I could think fast enough to invent something convincing, so I stuck to just saying we had friends inside.  He next asked us if we had any spare change, of course.  Then there was another, similarly attired man walking around asking if anyone had extra space in their baggage.  We went back inside after that.

The real crowning part of the story, however, was trying to get on the bus to Anaheim.  There are no announcements, no clear signs, and no clarity re: which gate we needed.  In the end it took us forty minutes and three trips to two information desks to determine that yes, we had missed our bus.  No other buses were going to Anaheim tonight.  I don’t think it would be any more fun to be stranded in Los Angeles than in Coalinga.  There was, however, a bus going to Santa Anna so we called our friend Angela in the hopes that she could drive over to pick us up there instead of Anaheim.

The good news is, she could.  And she did.  And so we are here, in Anaheim, at her apartment.  Greyhound is not exactly my favorite mode of transportation but yet we are here and that is what counts but I am far too tired by now to write any more, so good night.

Tomorrow, I promise you, I will have more energy and enthusiasm than I know what to do with.  Disneyland has that effect on me.

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