The old adage, ‘you get what you pay for‘ has never been more true, than when one finds themselves on a Greyhound bus. I have not decided if Greyhound is cheap because they are so terrible; or if they are terrible because they are so cheap; but, the level of consistent terribleness is to be applauded.
Greyhound has taught me many skills. I have yet to test their relevance in daily life; but, if ever I find myself on some Survivor/Fear Factor hybrid show; my journeys on Greyhound have prepared me well. Stomach turning aromas? Greyhound has trained me to breathe through my mouth, for hours on end. Shrill hyena type sounds piercing the air? They don’t bother me; I have ridden Greyhound. Locked me in a dungeon? No worries, I have been locked in a Greyhound toilet. I have learned the fine art of hovering over a hole, holding onto rails and hoping not to be sprinkled with mystery matter from below; and if some droplets pop up on my bare ass, I have learned to mentally power through the anguish of the unknown.
This is all to say that once again I found myself on the schizoid cesspool of cheap long-distance travel, known as Greyhound; with their strategically placed bus stops located in the worst parts of any city America has to offer, and where, when it’s time to put gas in the tank, we pass every decent stop imaginable–(Loves/Pilots) to end up at the end of a one-lane dirt road in the land of Deliverance. There are empty shelves where a lone bag of chips and three candy bars stand forgotten and dust-covered, and the proprietor offers me a styrofoam cup filled with freshly cooked rabbit stew instead.
I get up at 6:00 a.m., to be dropped off at the Louisville Greyhound Station; which is not the worst station I have seen; that honor belongs to Nashville; which is an apocalyptic scene of Walking Dead meets Doomsday Preppers.
I had hoped to take Megabus, but, the arrival time to Chicago was only half an hour before Amtrak’s departure time; hence, Greyhound it was.
When I boarded, the bus was full–with the exception of two lone seats, side by side, like an illusory oasis that you find after days of traveling in a desert. I approached the seat, only to be greeted with nose-numbing scents of B.O., human dung and what I can only assume is Febreeze. The seats and pockets are littered with half-eaten food, coke cans and an unidentified piece of clothing. The passengers looked at me expectantly, ready to defend their own turf of unscented seats. But, as I said, this is not my first rodeo–or my first Greyhound ride; and I come prepared. I open my bag, pull out an array of travel cleaning supplies; plastic gloves, Chlorox bleach wipes, Lysol disinfectant, trash bag and get to work. There is nothing I can do about the mystery stains on the floor or the gritty chairs but soon my double-seat area is fresh and ready for habitation, and I defend it like a UFC Champion for the next 7.5 hours; ultimately arriving in Chicago, still, as the lone inhabitant of the double-seat.
The first stop on our route is Indianapolis. The driver announces that we will be stopping for a layover. He doesn’t know how long that stop will be. He advises us to ensure we have our ‘re-board pass‘, and listen attentively, for our bus to be called; could be 10 minutes, could be an hour, but, if we miss the announcement, then Indianapolis will be our stop. I listen closely, as Indianapolis is not on my itinerary for the day.
Eventually, we arrive in Chicago, where we are told to pick up our luggage at the side of the bus. If we don’t see our luggage on one side of ‘the coach’, then it will be on the other side of ‘the coach‘.
The destination of this bus was Union Station in Chicago, and we were not at Union Station. Everyone dutifully gets off the bus, collects their luggage and enters the station. I to gather my luggage, but, again, this is not my first Greyhound; so, I inquire to the driver about the Union Station idea. “Oh yeah, give me your bag and get back on the bus.” He replaces my luggage in the underbelly of the coach and soon, the two of us are en route to Union Station. On our way, I notice some of my former fellow passengers lugging their suitcases down Canal Street in the direction of Union Station.
I arrive at Union Station, with a very deliberate several hour layover; as I adore Chicago and want to wander her streets, hear horns blaring at traffic lights, feel the slight sense of vertigo as I gaze up at her buildings spiraling to the sky, get lost in the rush of people and feel her pulse under my feet. I dine in delight on a Chicago style hot dog, smothering it in mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and salts. One thing you never find at Chicago hot dog stands is ketchup, and that’s fine with me. I stopped into an awesome dive bar with cheap beer and a great jukebox.
Soon it is time to say Goodbye to Chicago—again, and my heart cracks a little. I wander along the riverfront, (the only river in the world that flows backward) and find myself wishing time could go backward as well, so I could get lost in Chicago once again. Until next time Chicago, you remain a love affair that I look forward to repeating.