Things That Make Me Smile No.139: A Tale of Greyhound Bus People

You might have noticed I didn’t post on my blog for the last half of the month. I had a family emergency and couldn’t manage to get the posts ready, but that very event inspired this post. Because of how the timing worked out, I came back home on a Greyhound bus. Everyone has some horror story about riding a Greyhound bus, but I’ve always enjoyed them. The seats are as comfortable as a plane, and you don’t have to run through a huge airport or go through security. Even better, you can wait with your family.

I hadn’t realized another reason I like the bus until this trip. It has to do with the type of people who ride. Not the scary people (who are rarely as scary as assumed), but everyday people who choose to ride rather than fly. My trip demonstrated this difference so perfectly I had to share. Let me tell you the story of my bus trip.

By Kevin.B (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I was going from Oakland, California, to home in Reno, Nevada. It’s about a five-to-six hour car trip, and same for the bus. My mother and sister brought me to the station and stayed to keep me company until my bus loaded. I did have one amusing moment when I returned from a pit stop to find my mother and sister noses buried in their cellphones. My comment? “Young people today are always playing with one electronic device or another.” It took my mother a moment to get the reference, but my sister, who like me no longer counts in the “young people” category, laughed immediately.

The timing worked out, so I ended up on the express bus, meaning only one extra stop in Sacramento. I stared out the window, enjoying some lovely murals and then egrets as we approached Sacramento, but nothing out of the ordinary. I did enjoy listening to the conversations around me as friends or strangers found things to comment on or discuss. This is pretty normal for a daytime ride. At night, it’s mostly snores.

We pulled into Sacramento twenty minutes late thanks to heavier than expected traffic, so the break at Sacramento was cut from thirty to fifteen minutes. Since I wasn’t planning to get off the bus that sounded good to me.

Then we didn’t leave.

I’m used to delays, as all Greyhound bus people are, but when the bus shuddered to a halt and the AC died, I knew it would be a long one.

Before I could text my husband, in comes the new bus driver (they’d switched) with a frustrated expression. He shrugs and says, “I’m just going to tell you what’s going on. The previous driver accidentally took my log book with all your tickets home with him. He lives in the area, and we’re trying to get in touch with him. Best case scenario, he’ll realize the mistake and come back, but I cannot drive without that book. It’ll take at least two hours to bring another driver in. Worst case, that driver has to be back to start his next shift at 6:30pm (when we were supposed to be in Reno).”

He said everyone could go into the station or stay here. He’d make sure we all came back before leaving (also said he knew who we were from the tickets… I assume he forgot they were missing). Some left, but most of us just settled in.

I want you to pause for a second and imagine the reaction a plane full of passengers would have had to such an announcement. Sure, some people might be resigned, but there are always a few loud, argumentative, and bitter people who crank up the tension for everyone.

On the bus?

There were more than a few chuckles and comments about “That’s Greyhound for you.” Quite a few questions about the log book as well.

Turns out one of the guys on the bus had been a bus driver before. He explained the importance of the log book to the curious. It has to do with auditing and the like so is very important. Another had started his bad day by losing his cellphone in San Francisco’s bus station, but when he asked, someone lent him a phone to report the delay. We were all texting and calling so anyone waiting for us wouldn’t be worried, but it was casual with a lot of side conversations. Someone made the joking suggestion to commandeer the bus and find the missing driver’s house to get the log book. No one would notice, would they?

It’s possible those who got off the bus were stress cases, though you wouldn’t have been able to tell from their expressions coming back. They’d mostly gone for snacks and restroom breaks. I didn’t have a seatmate, so was more of an observer than a participant (beyond a few comments of my own), but resigned acceptance with a side of good humor ruled the day. It seemed those on the other ends of our journey were more distressed by the circumstances than we were.

About an hour later, someone from the back of the bus calls out, “He’s got the log book!”

We craned our necks, looking around at each other and wondering how we could have missed the announcement, when the same person points. The direction ripples through the bus so even those who couldn’t see the man knew where to look. “Watch him. Shoulders back, standing tall with that stride. No question he has the log book.”

Sure enough, the bus driver mounted the bus steps, leaping two at a time with a broad smile. He tells us the other driver realized the mistake and brought the log book back, so we’re free to go.

He turned on the bus, with a return of the AC that I found too cold, and hopped down to find his passengers in the station. He brought them all in and did a head count. Showing as much awareness as the passenger in the back, the driver asked, “Where’s the young lady who was sitting here?”

A woman in front of me stands up. “That was my seat, but the man who had been behind you took it when I went into the station.”

“He’s not here now.” The driver removed what looked like a kitchen towel from the seat and put it on the seat behind him.

“Oh, I’ll go back to my seat.” (Which she did.)

Then he realized that man was still missing also so canvassed the folks up there. He went to check the bathroom when one passenger mentioned the man going that way, but couldn’t find him.

A little delay after that and someone in the back calls, “Here he is!” based on the description the other passengers were discussing. The man had shifted yet again for whatever reason.

There were no shouts or arguments that we should just leave. Everyone who knew anything joined in to solve the problem, and the rest of us were patient.

Happy with every passenger accounted for, our driver locked up the bus and we were back on our way, a little over an hour after we’d been scheduled.

I adore our mountains with the forested reaches, old snow peeking through the latest snowfall, and houses or train tracks nestled into the mountain’s shadow. I’ll have to say the bus driver knew his vehicle and the route very well. Sure, cars were passing us often enough, but he kept to a quick, steady pace, unfazed at the shifts as we went around tight corners.

I kept my husband updated on our time, predicting when he had to pick me up, especially since the station closed at 6:30pm, but the bus driver exceeded his own expectations by rolling into the station at 6:59, having made up more than a half hour. Despite everything, he got us home only nine minutes later than we’d been when we rolled into Sacramento.

My reading over the last month included a non-fiction book called The Timekeepers which explores our relationship to time through history. One of the things the author considers is how the precision of time has created less rather than more idle time to pursue what makes us happy. I see the Greyhound bus people as a last bastion against our time-driven, stressful society. We know Greyhound will get us to our destinations as promised. The “when,” though, is sometimes in question.

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