The experience of taking the bus from one city to another has always been a romantic idea to me. The lone coach carries young broke students back home for a weekend. It brings together long-distance lovers for a single night together. It transports international visitors from one leg of their journey to another.
A bus terminal is a world inside themselves. I walk in and the familiar smells of travel comfort food flood my nose: McDonalds, Auntie Anne’s pretzels, pizza slices. A conductor’s voice echoes throughout the hall constantly, announcing the arrival and departure of each coach. The American flag raised proudly flutters above my head. Suitcases, backpacks and duffle bags litter the dusty floor. I see people munching, chatting, reading, rushing, sleeping. I think about how interesting it is that in just a few hours, all of us will be in different places.
My favourite bus ride is the late night ticket. The sun dips in the sky just as the bus pulls out of the station, and you watch the world go to sleep. Soon, it’s just black velvet outside. The highway stretches out endlessly. I see the skeletons of sleeping trees whip by the window, a river of gold light flowing from the opposite lane, your fellow passengers asleep under a cheap blanket.
You learn to recognize different markers when you take the same route long enough. There’s that rickety bridge that crosses into The Bronx, or that Mexican café right after Hartford. 90 miles to go…60…30…10…5…
The Amtrak flashes by in a blur and you scoff at its brilliant speed. The $200 richer version of you laughs in the window, taking full advantage of the crappy train food and flushable toilet.
Traffic jams are the worst. A build-up of light in the distance, the wailing of sirens. Someone’s crashed their car again. The journey slows to a slow crawl as cars and buses and trucks squeeze their way past the incident, and you breathe a sigh of relief as the speedometer reaches 60 again.
The drivers are peculiar. Despite knowing full well that driving into Manhattan on a Friday night will take longer than expected, they refuse to go the whole way. Once their shift is up, they park the bus at an empty gas station and tell you to wait for someone else to drive the rest of the way. Time drags on.
Once, the bus stopped outside a Costco warehouse. The driver announced: Ladies and gentleman, one of your fellow passengers has threatened to shoot me, due to this, I am uncomfortable with driving you any further. Please be patient as my replacement makes his way over. Both the state and city police showed up of course, and it turned out to be nothing dramatic, a simple (albeit frightening) misunderstanding.
There is a sense of adventure in taking the bus, flying hundreds of miles through the night, cities flying by. It’s another world, one you enter as you travel through time and space, and as much or as little as you do it, it never gets old.