Have you ever taken a trip by Greyhound? I don’t mean a trip from here to the next city. I mean a long trip; the kind where you have to figure out how to wedge your head between the seat and the window and still be comfortable.
It’s about time the story was told. I got back into Asheville on Saturday, August 18 in the middle of night. I had left Phoenix Thursday, the 16th, at 10am. It’s a long way across the country by bus, and here’s the story for you to read along.
I’ll just hit some of the highlights. I don’t want to bore you with the numerous stops for foot and to stretch the legs. The milkshake that was spilled down the back of my seat will be left out, but I’ll tell you about the snake that was found onboard in Amarillo. There are some other details I’ll leave out also.
Enjoy the ride with me
Joe Chung, a friend in Phoenix, gave me a lift to the bus station. Getting there early, we had about an hour to talk. Joe’s a great guy and a super smart businessman who has his hands in several projects in both Phoenix and Los Angeles – and all of them are successful.
When the call came to board the bus, Joe and I shook hands and he headed towards the parking lot while I got in the line. Getting my ticket out for the driver, he tore off the piece of paper that lets me ride the first leg of the trip and handed me back the rest of the folded cardboard.
Stepping easily into the bus like I’ve done a million times over the past few years, I found an empty seat and settled in. I wouldn’t have space and privacy for long. The bus holds 52 people and we had 53 on board, so the seat next to me was taken, but at least it wasn’t taken by two people.
Dozing off and on, I woke up just in time to see snow on the ground.
Yep. Snow on the ground – in Arizona – in August. I wondered where this global warming was as I swung off the bus to grab a quick cup of coffee and a smoke. For these purposes, taking Greyhound is definitely better than flying. When was the last time the pilot pulled to the curb at 35,000 feet so you could step out, stretch your legs and enjoy a cigarette?
The downside was there wasn’t anywhere in the bus station to get a burger or even a cup of coffee.
What it did have is some guy that was fascinated by the animals in Minnesota – and elsewhere. On the whole four hour trip from Phoenix to Flagstaff he talked loud and long about the different types of animals that were in Minnesota and now he continued his monologue in the bus station
Not soon enough it was time to get back on the Greyhound. Next stop?
Pronounced Tʼiisyaakin in Navajo, Holbrook is also the home of some of the “code talkers”. Code talkers were Navajo that spoke the native language in the South Pacific during World War II. Their tongue-tying language baffled the Japanese who were unable to translate this “code” that the Americans came up with.
We pulled into a little-hole-in-the-wall convenience story in Holbrook which doubled as the Greyhound Rest area. While each Greyhound has a restroom on board, most folks don’t use it except in an emergency.
For some reason one of the two cashiers working decided that NOW would be the perfect time to repair the door strike on the men’s restroom door. Well, if someone is working on the door, that means the door is propped open and no one can enter – so a line forms. Actually, with about twelve guys in line and all of us having to use the restroom, we resembled the Rockettes.
With one of the cashiers typing up the dancing conga line at the men’s room, there was only one cashier left to try to work two registers. A line formed there. Snaking back towards the Coke and past the Hostess Twinkies, the line hadn’t even moved ten feet when the bus driver stuck his head in the door and called for everyone that was riding Greyhound to line up and get on board.
I’ve never felt as much like I was back in Ms. Simpson’s third grade class as I did in that convenience store in Holbrook, Arizona.
Leaving the memory of ten guys with beards doing a line dance at the men’s room door behind, we pulled into another convenience store in Gallup.
While the men’s room door was in place and didn’t create a traffic jam, they didn’t have any coffee made. I don’t understand small businessmen. If I had a convenience store where I knew that at 6:30 every evening a Greyhound bus with 53 people on board would pull in, I’d have coffee ready.
Frustrated with not finding any java, I headed out front to smoke one. As I did I watched a local lady who was selling homemade necklaces and jewelry. I looked briefly at the things she had in the open case in front of her, but didn’t buy. There were a couple items I wanted to get for Ale, but with over two full days in front of me on the bus, I figured I’d better save my money and hope Ale would understand.
Four hours later we pulled into Albbuquire. With a 45 minute lay over, I had time to wander around and get some photos. When I do a shoot that spans the sun going down, I usually switch from color to black and white to help emphasize the nighttime feel of the shoot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You be the judge.
We were about 15 minutes late pulling out of the station at Albuquerque as five U.S. Marshalls came on board and were asking people at random for their ID and tickets. I tucked my head down and tried to look asleep and it must’ve worked. They got back off the bus without wanting to see my tickets.
I found out later though that there had been a rumor of a cartel member on board and after the excitement of the last 96 hours in Phoenix, I didn’t want to ask questions.
Eight hours later we pulled into Amarillo, TX. The only thing I could think of as we pulled up to the gate at the station was that old country song, “Amarillo by Morning”. Yep it was morning and I was in Amarillo. My life has become a country song.
I was starved so I headed into the restaurant ready to get me 3 fried eggs, toast, hash browns, coffee, bacon and a side order of ham. Damn credit card machine didn’t work so they weren’t taking any form of plastic.
So grabbing a cup of coffee out of the machine and a cigarette, I sat out front on the side walk and people watched until it was time to reboard the Greyhound.
And people tell me they wish they could do what I do.
Just outside of Elk City I saw something that looked good and I hadn’t seen since April when I last crossed the Mississippi – rolling hills. Out west there are either flat plains and deserts that go for miles or you have the Rocky Mountains. To see something that was in-between was welcome and refreshing. Other than the hills that started to break up the landscape there was nothing remarkable. So, it was on to…
The Greyhound station in Oklahoma City is only four blocks away from The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, site of the 1995 bombing by Tim McVeigh. When I found out back in Phoenix that we’d be stopping in Oklahoma City, I was looking forward to going by the building and grabbing some photographs. But we were only in town about 15 minutes, so I didn’t get the shot before it was time to head to…
Shawnee has to be one of the smallest towns I’ve ever been in. With two houses, and a feed-and-seed store that doubles as the Greyhound station, there isn’t much around. After about a ten minute smoke break, the driver called everyone back aboard and we were off to…
Slightly bigger than Shawnee, Salislaw had a McDonalds. I scored. Their credit card terminal was working so I loaded up on a Big Mac, Fries and a Coke to take with me as we rolled on down the interstate to…
Little Rock, AR
Not too much to see around Greyhound in Little Rock and no time to see what there was before we left town bound for…
Elvis’ home town has changed a lot since he died. Elvis Presley Boulevard runs down by the station, but that’s about as close to Graceland as you can get on this tour. Not even enough time to take a stroll down Beale Street before heading out again to…
I don’t know why when you’re in Memphis and heading towards North Carolina you have to head south to Birmingham first, but you do. It’s one of the reasons that any time spent on a bus expands by 66% over the time the same trip in a car would take.
Add the layovers and smoke breaks to the circuitous route the bus takes and you end up with a trip lasting longer than it seems it should.
As I was scuttling down the steps at Birmingham, the loudest scream I had ever heard in my life hit me from the back and a large black woman came charging down the narrow aisle straight at me. Faced with a choice of being run over by the largest living thing since the buffalo back in Washington or jumping over the guy inline in front of me, I leap-frogged over him to safety.
As the woman kept charging like a shopper at Wal-Mart, I could finally make out what she was screaming. SSSNNNAAAKKKEEE!!!!!
Snake? On a Greyhound? This should be good. Turning the camera around I missed the buffalo on two feet as she disappeared around the corner of the bus station, but caught a shot of a baby Python that someone had allowed to escape.
I talked with the driver and found out that apparently someone had smuggled the snake onboard and it had gotten loose. Afraid to take ownership and responsibility for this three foot long creature, it slithered into the onboard restroom right about the time the woman was finishing up. Sticking its head through a very small crack in the door, the snake looked up at her, she looked down at the snake and out the door she came.
If you see a very large black woman with a concert of cellulite on her arms, tell her they caught the snake.
I still smile as I wonder who – the woman or the snake – was more shocked.
With the bus refueled, the snake dispatched and the woman still nowhere to be seen, I climbed back on and found one empty seat. Next to a guy who by all rights should have been required to buy two tickets – because he took up two seats.
I never did get his name, but he was to enjoy the comfort of his seat – and half of mine – for the seven hour trip into…
Georgia that is. Getting closer to my destination. A four hour layover in the worst part of town will do wonders for your powers of observation.
Panhandlers everywhere you look, smokers without cigarettes wanting to get one from me and four street walkers.
I went inside. Starving I was able to find a three day old biscuit in the bus station vending machine and washed it down with a cup of vending machine coffee.
The four hours went fairly quickly as I watched someone have a seizure in the seat next to me, the cops busted 3 guys with more bling around their necks than a bad Stallone movie and memories of the snake lady in my head.
As the bus was almost empty, I enjoyed two seats all to myself. Finally room to stretch out; grab a few winks and watch the scenery go by when I woke up.
The downside? There was a screaming baby on the bus. Right behind me.
Well, life is full of tradeoff’s so I shrugged and started snoring as we rolled on to…
Grabbing my gear bag from the beneath the bus storage, I lit a cigarette and waited for my ride to scoop me up.
I was back in the mountains; it was good to be home again and almost immediately, I started trying to figure out a way that I wouldn’t have to leave.
CLICK HERE to see more photos from the trip