Living in New York City and working at the Manhattan Theater Club in 1979, I received news just before Christmas that my brother was going to be married in Nebraska on January 6.
I was making minimum wage; living on the edge. I had no insurance, no savings – no money for a dentist, no money for a doctor. I lived off Second Avenue, in a five-story walkup with a bathtub in the kitchen.
My parents, teachers, didn’t have money for a plane ticket – nor did my grandparents, immigrant farmers. Feeling left out, without options, I was walking to work, when I saw a sign, “Go Anywhere in the USA on Greyhound. Seven Days, $99.” Travel had to be completed by January 8.
On December 31, I was at Port Authority at midnight, lined up with a crowd of people.
The bus was packed to capacity, but I managed to snag a window seat. I was joined by an enthusiastic, young foreigner, who hoped to practice his English. I promptly feigned sleep, my head against the window.
My seat mate fell asleep on my shoulder.
The first stop was in Harrisburg to change drivers. And then we continued through the night to Pittsburgh, where they made everyone leave the bus. An hour later, as I got back on and my seat was taken. I sat on the aisle next to a woman in her 60s: an “expert” on bus travel who shared her wisdom.
“Don’t drink too much, because you’ll have to pee and the bathrooms in the bus and the gas stations are disgusting. You can catch diseases,” she warned. “Always find seats in the front of the bus, because they didn’t clean the bathrooms and you get the smell every time the door opens.”
She was headed someplace in Ohio to see a daughter, whom she said didn’t like her, but since it was the holidays, her daughter would feel compelled to let her stay.
I dozed off again, and about 12 hours later we were in Cleveland, where I got a new seatmate.
We hit Chicago that evening and I had time to walk out in street, where it was cold and dark, and you could see your breath.
The land was frozen, the moon up, as we drove the Interstate. I started to doze when there was a ruckus in the back. The bus driver stopped on the side of the road, and went back. It sounded like he said, “if you do that again, you’re off of the bus.”
The driver went back to the front and started driving again.
People had just started dozing, when the bus came to a screeching halt. The driver went back and this time, he pushed some guy and his stuff to the front of the bus, opened the door and shoved him out.
Then, we drove off. It was close to zero outside—and I worried about the man.
The gossip from the back made it to the front “the man kept taking off his clothes.”
Another a bathroom stop/break someplace in Indiana was enough to remind me about the “expert” and what she said about not drinking a lot of water.
As we got back on the bus, one passenger was complaining about a man with a small child. The kid, who was about four, didn’t want to sit and said he was hungry. I was worried that the bus driver would toss them out next. I traded places with the complaining person and held the kid.
The child settled on my lap, as I told him stories. He eventually fell asleep. His father said they were going to San Francisco to start over. It hadn’t worked out with the kid’s mother. She didn’t want a child. He had friends in San Francisco and hoped to make a new life.
After a while, he proposed, sort of, and asked if I would consider going with them. He said he just had a feeling about me.
I know this sounds bizarre, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, reject him, because his was already a challenging life, but told him truthfully, I was headed to my brother’s wedding. . . .maybe another time . . .another place.
We hit Omaha in the early morning, and I caught a bus to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where family picked me up to drive four hours to the middle of the state.
Four days were used for traveling on my seven-day pass. But I made it to the wedding.
On the trip back, the bus was empty and I had a choice of seats.
No matter the year, the situation, or the people, we are all on the bus, travelling.