by Arvo Zylo
I've ridden so many buses in the last 3 years. I've become used to the stale smell of urinal mint fluid and toilet disinfectant mixed with shit. I've also become quite accustomed to hearing bad music blaring out of several different devices/ear buds at once. sometimes it sounds like Musique Concret, but usually it doesn't. I almost always carry a walkman, and listen to the same cassette with two albums by T. Rex on it: "Slider" on one side and "Electric Warrior" on the other. Recently my second dub of it wore out.
People bring their entire families on these things because it is considerably cheaper than the cost of gas. People talk loudly on their phone because they crave attention, (even if it's negative attention) or it's quite evident that the people around them wouldn't have the balls to confront them. Sometimes people stuff their discarded McDonalds french fries inbetween the seats so that it can fester, collect mold, and attract insects.
When I was a kid, the rest stops looked pretty scary. They'd look basically like poorly lit, abandoned car washes. I can only assume it is because someone leaves the sink to run for hours at a time or a toilet is flooded so that it pours out of the door way. Graffiti would be all over the yellow walls of the bathrooms. They often didn't even have vending machines, and the gas stations were closed. I do miss the truck stop diners that are quickly diminshing.
Now the rest stops do the best they can to be like mini malls. They have stuffed animals, t- shirts, refigerator magnets. and some of the bigger ones have a whole line of trucker supplies; CB radios, back braces, even showers. Everything has high fructose corn syrup in it, especially the 5 hour energy and various other cartoonishly labelled "enhancers". Trail mix is the healthiest thing. On occasion, I see a banana or some apples, but not often. Sunglasses are too expensive.
I usually ride Megabus, but I used to ride Greyhound often. They used to have an "Ameripass" or "Discovery Pass" where you can travel as much as you want and whenever you want within a couple weeks or a month. Now I don't know how they stay in business, because megabus is much cheaper and considerably cleaner/more pleasant. I've been told that Greyhound is in cahoots with the prison system, and they help ex cons get home when they've just been released. Maybe that's how they can manage. Greyhound covers more territory than Megabus, so you can take it from Florida to California if you've got 4 or 5 days to spare, and you're a glutton for punishment. I've seen some quite miserable people who've tried to make similar journeys. I've also heard people say on two occasions that they've met people who were kidnapped and taken around the country in a van by the CIA, and then put onto a Greyhound bus to get home.
Touring around the south and especially Texas was interesting. Around the border of Mexico, there were people that had been on in transit for 3 days when it was only supposed to be 13 hours, because of a drug bust on the bus combined with layover. Going from Chicago to Texas, there was a man that was talking for 6 hours. After the first hour I thought we were having a conversation, but then I put my headphones on and he just kept talking. He lives in a motor home in rural Wisconsin and was in his late 50s. He said he was going to Mexico to sell a motor boat and some other things, so that he could fly out his future wife from Nigeria, and they could get married. She was someone he'd met on the internet, and he was certain she was the one. Most other characters are less interesting, if you can even call that interesting. Many are on drugs; weird burnouts in tattered camouflage pants and Metallica t-shirts, talking total nonsense. Some of the people getting out of prison apparently bring drugs with them from out of prison and shoot up on the bus.
On Megabus, I met a 19 year old male that looked like he had breasts. He said he was a rapper and he wanted me to produce music for him. I saw an 80 year old stroke victim in a wheelchair get onto a bus by himself and make explosive diarrhea all over the bathroom. I met a couple of dominatrixes on the way to New York who were doing some kind of dominatrix tour.
Megabus doesn't have an overhead compartment, so peoples' baggage gets thrown unceremoniously into a little compartment by maladjusted, heavy set people with braids, instead of the more voluminous compartments that Greyhound has where you can place your baggage on a little cart.
Still, the double decker is more appealing, except that the drivers get paid less, and seem more unsteady in their emotions, unsurprisingly. I've been told that the drivers get $10-$13 an hour. That is shameful, but that's the way it goes.
Occasionally I get to sit in the front row of the upper deck and watch the traffic head on. At this height, the cars whizz by, and again sound like flying insects because of the height and the fact that I'm partially surrounded by glass. That's the way it comes off to the ears. In the winter, the windshield builds up a marvelous wall of frost except for two little clear pod sections where the ventilation hits. The street lights glance through as we pass them, and the little green lights above each seat at night look kind of like flying saucers.
The things that most people talk about are always ridiculous, unless they are talking about traveling. Traveling is the most stimulating thing.