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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Groovin' on the Greyhound: a diversion

OK. So maybe sometimes having a "steenking car" would be kind of nice.

It all started 10 years ago or so. Being a member of the class of
'69, my 30-year high school reunion was held 10 years ago. I gave
this little or no thought at the time. I'd remained successfully
incognito from the alumni committee for 30 years in spite of having a
listed phone number all that time. Not that I really had anything
against reunions. I just figured that the folks I hung out with in
high school would be very unlikely to show up at a reunion. Much too
'establishment', right? However, one sunny Saturday morning in
September of 1999, I get a phone call:

"Is this Stephen Yoder?"

"Is this the Stephen Yoder that went to Willow Glen High School and
graduated in 1969?"
"Uh...maybe." (Pretty clever answer, huh?)

"Well, this is Samantha Bryner and me and Randy Siegel have been
trying to find you."

Whoa! Sam and Randy were on my "A" list of old friends. They had met
up at the 30th reunion and decided to use the wonders of the internet
to track down the old gang. So far they had tracked down me, Bill
Allayaud, Thom Johnson, Vickie Veltman, Ned Williams and Chuck (now
'Charles') Perrone. Soon to follow were Nick Lange and Grant
Fellersen. As many as could proceeded to get together in December of
'99 and every couple of years afterwards during which time the group
was expanded beyond the original core.

Fine, but what's this got to do with a Greyhound? Well, originally,

During the course of these biennial get-togethers, it started sounding
like it might actually be fun to go to the 40th reunion in 2009. I
knew I'd be retired by then and figured that this would be a once-in-a-
lifetime chance to pull off a really cool entrance. Since the 30th
(and I think the 20th) had been held in Santa Cruz, I figured they all
were. Now Willow Glen High School is in San Jose but Santa Cruz was
our playground so it made sense to reunite there. Well, Santa Cruz is
a harbor and we had plans to be starting our retired life of living on
the boat in hot places in 2009, so I figured it would be way cool to
sail into Santa Cruz and dinghy ashore for the festivities. When the
inevitable "So, what are you doing these days?" question came up I'd
be ready. And I'm not above getting a parrot and earring for the
occasion either.

But alas, as regular readers of this blog know, it didn't quite work
out that way. First off, we didn't get away from our home port of
Newport in time to head south this season. But, even if we had, they
went and held the reunion in SAN JOSE instead of Santa Cruz. What the
heck were they thinking? It's would way be cooler to be standing in
the Coconut Grove and point out to the Santa Cruz harbor and say
"That's my boat at anchor there" than it would be to be standing in
some meeting room at a San Jose hotel telling about the boat at anchor
in Santa Cruz. Oh well, since I didn't sail the boat down anyway.....

But the second item that turned my glorious return to the fold into
"lame" instead of "cool" was how we got there. No car means we can't
drive there. It also means that it's difficult to get to the airport
or pretty much anywhere else unless we walk. Now, the bus depot is
walking distance from the boat so that's nice. And, through various
transfers it can get us all the way to Santa Cruz where we would be
staying with Scott & Sandy. Nice. No one has to drive very far to
pick us up. And, although not as cheap as it should be, bus travel
was cheap enough to let us rent a room at the hotel where the reunion
was being held and still come in a little under what airline travel
would have cost. But those were pretty much the extent of the
advantages of bus travel.

To start, there are 2 buses a day leaving Newport. One is at 5:45 AM
and one is at 3:45 PM. To minimize layovers, we opted for the morning
one. I suppose we could have arranged for a taxi to come get us at
the marina but we're made of heartier stock than that. No, we arose
about 4:30 AM, had a little juice, locked up the boat and, with
backpacks and duffels firmly strapped on to our persons, headed to the
bus depot. The trip requires that we walk over the Yaquina Bay bridge
which we have done dozens of times. But at "O-dark-thirty" in the
morning, that sucker is DARK! The only time you ca see the sidewalk
is when cars approach and there aren't that many of them out and about
at that time of day on a Wednesday. No huge problem except that the
sidewalk over most of the bridge is quite narrow and there is no
barrier on the traffic side. So, being unable to see one's feet, it
would be very easy to step off the edge which is about twice as tall
as a standard curb on a street. So, one tends to want to hug the
outboard railing which would work pretty well except that our duffels
tended to push us away from the railing and back towards the traffic
edge. Just the way one wants to start the day: terrified of falling.

Nevertheless, we managed to get to the other side unscathed and, as is
our wont, arrived at the depot about 30 minutes early. Now this isn't
a Greyhound Depot but rather a little affiliate bus line depot. Which
means it was closed. So we sat outside with a couple other hearty
folks and waited. Fortunately, it wasn't raining. Eventually the bus
driver arrived (He's a whole other story. One about a guy with
serious power and control issues) and we all piled in for the ride to
Corvallis, our first transfer point.

Now before I continue, I need to say that I had been pumping myself up
for the trip with stories in my head about how cool bus travel could
be if you just let it. Granted, I hadn't ridden the big grey dog
since the early 70s and thoroughly hated it then, but I'm older, more
mature and experienced now. I don't just automatically take the
negative view anymore. This could be fun, right? Well, let me tell
you. If you thought bus travel was bad back then, you're going to
really hate it today. The only thing that was a little better was the
fact that the bus generally tended to be less crowded than in the old
days. Other than that, it was all worse. For one thing, bus depots
always used to have snack bars if not out and out restaurants.
Remember the Post House restaurants that were in all of the larger bus
depots? No more. Remember the cool little seaside diners that the
buses stopped at in movies like "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (the
original one, not the remake)? They don't exist anymore, if indeed
they ever did. We were traveling from one coastal town to another
coastal town. We should have been driving along the coast the whole
way with stops at rustic little gas station/diners where we'd meet
colorful people. And everything would be in black and white. Yeah,

The first depot, in Corvallis, wasn't actually all that bad. The
chairs were those uncomfortable plastic ones that used to be in bus
depots everywhere. They had lockers where we could leave our stuff
while we walked to Burger King for breakfast and an internet
connection. At this point I was still thinking that this might not be
too bad after all. In a little while, the Greyhound rolled in and we
boarded. The buses are pretty much the same as they've always been:
stinky bathroom, none too clean, some of the seats lean back like
they're supposed to and some are broken, etc. But the seats were
reasonably comfortable and the bus was pretty sparsely loaded so we
found a couple seats and settled in for the ride. Except for a few
brief loading/unloading stops we wouldn't really have a chance to
disembark until out lunch stop at Medford. Tried to sleep a little
but you have to be really tired to be able to sleep on a Greyhound
unless you bring along a pillow which, since we had to schlep our
stuff across the bridge, we chose not to do. The lunch stop in
Medford was at a Pilot Travel Center: gas station, convenience store,
Taco Bell, and Subway all under one roof. I suppose it's the modern
day equivalent of the cool little gas station/diners in the old movies
but it definitely lacks their charm. Of course, they may have not
seemed all that charming to bus travelers of that era either.

Back on the road and headed for the first place we'd actually have to
transfer buses and have a layover: Sacramento. The worst thing about
the trip so far was that we both had really sore butts. There's very
few ways to change your position to relieve the pressure on various
butt parts. Consequently, the part of the butt I refer to as "the
hinge" gets really sore. The hinge, on me anyway, is a line that runs
perpendicular to your butt crack and crosses the crack just below the
top. When you slouch down, it seems to be the spot that takes the
majority of the abuse. And we abused our hinges mightily.

We pulled in to Sacramento about 8:45 PM. This is where we get our
first glimpse of the kind of torture that Greyhound has developed over
the years. We were facing a 3-hour layover. In Sacramento, the depot
no longer has the little plastic chairs. Instead they have these
horrible things made out of heavy wire. They are very rigid and
godawful uncomfortable. They have permanent armrests between the
seats so that, even if you could find the room, there is no way you
could lay down on them and take a snooze. The general consensus is
that they're uncomfortable on purpose so that bums won't come in and
sleep on them. But that argument is completely bogus. Every big city
bus depot we saw had security guards. And the homeless people we saw
sleeping directly on the sidewalk would probably consider the floor at
the Greyhound a step up if the guards would let them in to sleep. So,
if the argument about why the benches are so uncomfortable was ever
true, it no longer is. If Greyhound really wants to increase
ridership they should go to an airport surplus sale or something. Get
some freakin' padded chairs for gawdsakes!

The restaurant at the Sacramento depot was closed. Might be out of
business for all I know. In its place were vending machines. You
could get your choice of 16 oz. soda or water for $2.25 or a small bag
of chips for about the same price. Whoo-hoo! After suffering with
the chairs for an hour or so, we decided to put our bags in a locker
and take a stroll to pass the time. Fortunately, the Sacto depot is
downtown near the capitol in an area that wasn't too scary to walk
in. We strolled many many blocks. Saw lots of little chi-chi shops
that we couldn't imagine anyone buying anything in, tiny little mini-
marts, a few nightspots, hotels, and lots of restaurants and such that
looked oh so cosmopolitan. Pretty much everything was closed. The
logical thing to do would have been to find a bar and have a couple
beers to pass the time. But Greyhound has this very strict no-
tolerance policy. Not only can't you bring alcohol aboard, but you're
not supposed to be drinking between buses either. "So what?" you
say. "Screw the Man!" you say. Well, the bus driver is within his
rights to kick you off the bus or just not let you back on if he
decides he smells alcohol on you. And since our tickets were non-
refundable, I didn't relish the idea of being stranded in Sacramento
in the middle of the night with no bus ticket to anywhere just because
it's easier to pass the time on a comfortable bar stool with a cold
brew in hand. So we passed. But the night was balmy and the stroll
managed to eat up the remaining 2 hours pretty well. Of course, when
we returned, we found out that our bus had been delayed another hour
due to a flat tire near Reno. Crappage! On the plus side, since our
next layover was to be 4 hours in San Francisco, this just meant the
layover would be an hour shorter.

Finally the bus did arrive (12:45 AM) and we piled on for the trip to

Now the SF bus Depot makes the Sacramento depot look like Grand
Central Station or something. The SF depot waiting room was tiny and
had a guard at the door. You couldn't get in without a bus ticket.
But who would want to. It consisted of a big screen TV tuned to CNN
with the volume safety-wired in the LOUD position, more of the
ubiquitous wire torture chairs, some vending machines that were $0.25
cheaper than the ones in Sacramento, and bathrooms that were so
disgustingly dirty that this one woman we met who was seriously motion
sick didn't even want to puke in the toilets, they were so filthy. Now
THAT'S dirty. By this time I was so tired all I could do was try to
find some kind of way to get comfortable enough to sleep. I finally
found that if I sat on the bench with my duffel on my knees, I could
lean forward enough so the duffel was sort of like a pillow. In this
position I managed to sleep (sort of) enough to pass the time until
6:45 AM or whenever it was that we finally were able to board the last
bus for our final leg to Santa Cruz via San Jose. This part of the
trip is largely a blur as I managed to sleep off and on through the

When we arrived at Scott and Sandy's our only request was to let us
take showers and then hit the hay for a few hours, which we did.

Since this little narrative isn't really about the reunion, I'll skip
over it except to say that it all went very well. It was good to see
lots of people I hadn't seen in 40 years and it was also somewhat
surprising to realize how many people were in my class that I never
did know. Of course with a graduating class of over 600 people, that
shouldn't have been surprising.

The return trip on the bus was better, partly because it was 3 hours
shorter due to shorter layovers (YAY!). But it was still plenty
long. It started at the depot in Santa Cruz. The bus was about 35
minutes late to begin with but that really didn't matter much to us.
But we were joining a bus that was on its way north from LA. When we
climbed aboard, it was pretty evident that there were not going to be
2 seats side-by-side anywhere on the bus. There were lots of places
where one person was taking up 2 seats. In these, the person seated
either pretended to be asleep (yeah, right, like anyone could sleep
through the bus driver's amplified announcements) or gave off a surly
vibe to discourage anyone from asking to share the seat. So, playing
right in to their game, we look for the least threatening people and
sit with them. When we got to San Jose, enough people got off that we
could sit together.

By now we were pretty well-versed in reading on the bus and so the
time passed fairly quickly until our first layover (2 hours) in
Oakland. Again with the security guards (which I'm actually just fine
with), again with the vending machines, and again with those hideous
torture chairs. Oh yeah, and again with the blaring TV, but this time
ESPN replaced CNN. We were entertained off and on by this woman who
had been on our bus from San Jose. She could definitely be defined as
'colorful' but I think 'whacko' is actually closer. I don't even know
what all she did to earn that description, but I do know she was a
whack job. The time passed agonizingly slowly but it did pass.
Eventually we were on the road to Sacramento, site of our next (2 hour
or so) layover. Veterans of Sacto layovers that we were, we promptly
lockered our stuff and went for a walk. This made the layover much
less agonizing and pretty soon we were back on the bus where we would
stay until our breakfast stop in Medford. The return trip wasn't
nearly as bad as the trip down. However, by the time we got home we
had seriously sore butts.

It was so good to see our little floating home and to have a normal
evening again. Lulu made pizza and we watched "Arrested Development",
"What About Brian", and "Nip/Tuck". We also lucked out and didn't get
rained on during out return trip across the bridge.

You know what the worst thing was about the bus trip? I got on line
and found that we could have taken the train for about the same
price. Maybe a little less. Oh well.


Anonymous said...

It's good to know that US bus travel is worse than ever, so I don't have to find out for myself.


Shelly and Randy said...

We didn't imagine the blog from the sailors would be a bus ride nightmare! Sounds pretty horrible. New meaning to welcome aboard, right?