by B. Amundson
Bus travel is the only way to experience America in all her nefarious, multi-dimensional sea-to-pretty-darn-shining-sea glory. Sure, airline travel can be a tad more efficient, the automobile more autonomous, and the railroad more conducive to nostalgic lounging, but only via the pristine Greyhound Americruiser can one truly touch the visual essence, inherent physicality, spiritual euphoria, mind-shattering ennui, and sheer volumetric mass of this great land of ours. And yet questions continue to arise, questions that conspire to keep even the most adventuresome gadabout from entering the enchanted world of mechanized canine conveyance. This diminutive guide is designed to provide clear, concise answers to the many inquiries and misconceptions that surround the much maligned beast, and to assure the tentative wayfarer that a safe, luxurious, enlightening voyage is easily within his grasp.
Why Ride the Bus?
This is perhaps the most remedial of all bus-oriented queries. First of all, let me emphasize that bus riding is not easy. Some maintain that it is actually tougher than watching Geraldo Rivera. Biblical rumors abound, circulating claims that even Job couldn't handle a sustained bus pilgrimage. Contemporary wags complain that the only difference between bus travel and thumbscrews is that you have to pay to ride the bus (but not much--a 30-day ticket can be obtained for a transistor radio and some Dentyne, and annual bus passes are easily secured if one is willing to use a younger sister as a bargaining chip).
One justification for an extended bus journey is the ever popular, "I Have Sinned in the Eyes of the Lord and Must do Penance!" This is particularly helpful if one hails from a community without a visible flagellation cult.
The bus also facilitates cross-cultural interaction. It is often possible to come in close contact with people who don't usually inhabit your neighborhood, providing a unique educational opportunity for all involved. Occasionally, a genuine Third World experience arises, especially if one takes care to board a coach with the Gulag or Calcutta via Black Hole destination sign clearly visible, which accounts for approximately 80% of all Americruisers on the road at any given time. A recent conservative think tank inquiry discovered that two-thirds of Argentina's Disappeared actually boarded the Harrisburg local in 1983, so there is an excellent chance that the intrepid traveler may have the opportunity to befriend our neighbors to the south.
The driver is the distinguished gentleman with the Ray, Roy, or Otis name tag. If your driver is an Otis, there is considerable cause for consternation, because all Otis' (or Oti, as they are sometimes called) eventually indulge in mass murder.
After you're settled and are underway, the driver will contact you, via staticphone, with this comforting introduction: "Howdy, I'm Roy, and I'll be your operator for this leg of the journey. We're scheduled to arrive in Omaha sometime between noon tomorrow and midnight Saturday, but in reality we'll get there pretty much when I fuckin' feel like it. I'm not safe, reliable, or courteous, and around here my word is the law, scumbags, so don't even consider it. . ."
All bus drivers are the kids you abused in high school. They remember this, and you in particular, and relish the fact that they have finally achieved a modicum of power. They will exercise this power to make your tenure aboard the bus a Living Hell.
Where to Sit on the Bus
Rule of thumb: No matter where you sit, you're doomed. If you sit in the front, you will encounter the ubiquitous old-lady-with-the-son-in-the-seminary. This woman has been a passenger for a minimum of 30 days and hasn't slept yet. This is mainly because her eyelids were removed as part of the ticket package. She carries at least 200 snapshots of her son-in-the-seminary, and you will remind her of said son, no matter what gender you are or what physical characteristics you possess. "My son's a good boy. He's so good to me," she will mutter ad nauseam until you are forced to blurt, "If he's so good to you, how come he put you on the goddamned bus for a month?" This will hurt her feelings for a moment and will create some guilt for you, but it will also grant you time to speculate on her son's possible activities as a bad boy, a proposition that is ultimately as terrifying as looking at the photographs.
If you sit toward the rear of the coach, you will have an experience similar to a Chuck Norris movie. You will also develop a crack habit instantaneously. Many of your co-transients will have translucent skin, and the perceptive observer will occasionally spot a goldfish flickering to the surface. Conversation will center on cigarettes and how long you've been riding the bus. The unwavering response to the latter will be an incredulous "120 hours? 120 HOURS? That ain't shit, man!" Acceptability amongst your peers will depend largely on your ability to cultivate a wracking cough, proficiency in the phlegm toss, and a reasonable level of tolerance for the lit cigarette to the palm.
The midsection of the bus is reserved for visitors from foreign countries. They are all riding the bus on the advice of well-meaning relatives back home, and they're all quite pissed about it. "You have a very big country, no?" they manage to hiss between gritted teeth and a less than reasonable facsimile of the polite smile. "We have a very big country, yes!!!" you should reply cheerily from a safe distance before explaining in a loud, slow, phonetically accurate voice that Mr. Rand McNally is a lying sack of feces and that contrary to the atlas, Kansas is actually 200 yards wide, 16,000 miles long, and "shaped like a fishing pole, yes!!!"
Nights on the Bus
You haven't laid claim to your dog collar until you've undergone a night on the bus. All seats recline ten degrees from the vertical for maximum comfort. The temperature is designed to veer wildly from subfreezing to a sweat box high of 130 degrees Fahrenheit to prove that variety is the spice of life.
To enhance the pleasurable aspects of the journey, refreshments are now served on every coach, with trained stewards rattling their carts up and down the aisle all evening for your consolation and convenience. Beverages vary from the ever popular Night Train and Mad Dog 20/20 varietals to the exotic codeine flavored Schnapps line, and all are reasonably priced at 50¢ per pull from the half-pint, less gratuity. (The price does include a complimentary wipe-o'-the-bottle sanitation gesture.)
Late night Greyhound resembles those sepia tone photogravures taken after the Battle of Gettysburg, although your chances of survival are considerably better. These chances will diminish severely should the need to visit the bathroom arise, however, and every precaution must be taken to avoid this worst case scenario. If the necessity becomes unavoidable, make a run for it, ignoring the hysterical laughter, muffled screams, slithering tentacles, and piranha-sized air bacteria that emanate from the seats surrounding the water closet. If the visit is completed in under fifteen seconds, it is possible to return to your seat with as few as four new tattoos, although the national average is nine.
The Rest Stop
After a nice, invigorating, 70 hour evening on the bus, you're more than ready for a hearty breakfast to usher in the new day, and this is the moment the Greyhound gods have reserved to reveal the truly astonishing depths of their cruelty. Roy will come back on the staticphone with a cheery, "Good morning, this is your operator, Roy. I hope you enjoyed last night's lifetime of luxurious relaxation aboard our sumptuous Americruiser " (This greeting will be met with unanimous obscenities, scattered jeers, and one suicide). "We've got a scheduled ten minute breakfast stop coming up at the only cafe in Tepid Gum, South Dakota. About 40 buses have stopped here since midnight, so they may be a tad low on supplies, but I'm certain you'll find something to satisfy even the most discerning of breakfast palettes." This is true, as long as your palette craves either a box of Total cereal or a package of condoms, because that's all they have left. By now the passengers are somewhat disoriented, and the bidding for the Total begins in earnest. The elderly gentleman with the foaming mouth who has been screaming about Satan and power tools for the majority of a fortnight (increasing the already astronomical comfort factor tenfold) emerges the eventual winner with a purported bid of $170 plus a contractual agreement to serve as janitor of the Cleveland depot for a minimum of one year. The condoms go to the guy wearing the Confederate flag.
A Myth About Bus Travel
This is the one about the exotic sexual encounter. You know what I'm talking about. It's about dusk, somewhere south of Amarillo, when suddenly a mysterious, vivacious, well-assembled, libidinally-oriented stranger boards the bus, proceeds directly to the vacant seat next to yours, and initiates the conversation with this throaty evocation: "I'm not going anywhere really. I just ride the bus to have casual, steamy, intensely physical, noncommittal, lascivious encounters with total strangers like yourself, big boy."
In all my years of Greyhound apprenticeship (well, actually weeks, but they were the visceral equivalent of decades), I've yet to fall prey to this vixen's tutelage, and it certainly isn't due to a lack of effort. At first I blamed the Hi Karate after-shave I'd applied generously for years; however, after some research I've determined that this woman exists only as a mythical creature, similar to the brakeman with a lantern by the side of the road, although better dressed. If you want to experience this woman firsthand, let me suggest the Penthouse Forum, America's most popular disseminator of contemporary mythology, but don't look for her on the bus.
A bus journey doesn't just coat the skin with a thin, oily film (although this symptom may surface from time to time). Nay, it permeates inexorably into one's essence, leaving an indelible mark upon the soul, until the voyage transcends travel to become a rite of passage, a pilgrimage of self-discovery, a metaphorical road trip into the very intestinal track of this Republic's gaping singularity. Granted, a certain amount of sacrifice is involved, but the rewards reaped are more than commensurate with any minor inconvenience that may be incurred. Because of this, I suggest you go for it A.S.A.P. It's never too late to Do the Dog.
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