When Ed asked me to write a post I was a bit stumped as to what to write about. So many blogs are out there nowadays that dissect and comment on countries/events etc that I wasn’t sure my offerings would compare!
Then, he suggested I write about convicts on greyhound buses (you will see from my last post that this was my worst moment on my travels). But I thought rather than only subjecting you to one awful aspect of the US Greyhound, I should really, enlighten you to all the horrors that await you..
Before I planned my travels I looked up loads of information on bus transport/train times/cheap flights etc. In most countries there are steep differences in prices between various modes of transport, and for this reason you will probably use buses for travelling around on long journeys.
In Australia you will probably use the Greyhound bus, a cheap, quite reliable bus service which appears to just run travellers from one spot on the east coast to another! In New Zealand you will have a wide range of bus tours to chose from (Magic Bus for me was amazing, but Kiwi Experience, Stray and Naked bus all do a good job).
Having managed navigating these two monumental countries you may arrive in the USA (LA probably) feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed about your trip on the US Greyhound. Well, let me tell you this is all about to change!
Having read in the lonely planet that the LA bus station was in the centre of Downtown/Dodgeville my friends and I decided to hire a car for the first month. That meant I didn’t have to face the bus journeys until a month in to my USA adventure. My friend Vic and I were travelling from New Orleans to Orlando. This was my first true experience of what travelling on a bus in the USA would mean. It took us 48 hours to get from one place to another and the bus was full from start to finish. Fine you may say, you get what you pay for. And when you have a friend by your side this is true. The scary time comes when there is no friend, and you have to spend 48 hours next to a convict.
Just to clarify- I am not using stereotyping to make assumptions about my fellow travellers. Most travellers on the bus in the USA do look a tad ‘rough’. There are not many Gapyear travellers in the USA, and most people who had even a small source of income will either own a car or fly to destinations. That means that bus travellers are poor! Also, they really were convicts!
As part of the USA’s ‘welfare policy’, every prisoner released from jail, is provided with a greyhound ticket which will take them out of state (why keep a prisoner in your own back yard). Convicts can be picked out by the light grey tracksuit they are wearing, and the clear plastic bad they carry with them that holds their worldly possessions… Now, I am all for the opportunity for reform and rehabilitation BUT there are times when looking at 5 convicted men on your bus will make you quake a tad!
In fairness to the Greyhound company they are trying to improve their reputation- gone are the days that they are happy to be source of urban legends (did you hear the story about the man who was stabbed to death with a biro on a greyhound? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Tim_McLean
Or the couple taken to Mexico and then fleeced of all their money and jewellery when they thought they were on the way to Las Vegas for the weekend?)
Yep- you probably have heard those stories because I know for a fact that I had! In New York and around Chicago the buses have been reinvested in- with plush new seats and WIFI on board. These buses feel safe and make your journey feel effortless. Unfortunately, further south/west you go the less the buses reach that standard. They are old. They are cramped. They have seats that fall apart. My favourite part of the bus is, however, the bullet proof wall which the driver is locked into from the beginning to the end of his trip. Yes- greyhound does value their customer!
In some of the bus terminals (which greyhound helpfully place in abandoned areas of cities) you will face security measures from people with guns. They search your bag and run metal detectors over you. This tends to antagonise a lot of greyhound patrons because it means they can’t carry their guns on board (or knives or weapons for that matter). Fights break out and the police get called- when this happened I slowly used the time to push my bag to the front of the queue ready to head to the next port of call.
You will also find that Greyhound like to stop off at points at convenient locations and times on route to your destination. For example, a quick 72 hours from Chicago- Boston, is due, in part, because you get to spend some quality time in Buffalo between 2-5 am. My highlight of this destination, was being warned by a man that he wanted to stab me because I was English..
I know that the above may sound awful and may put you off travelling around the USA. Don’t be- if I can make it so can you. However, don’t misjudge the effort that travelling around the USA may bring. There were only 3 or 4 times when I really felt really unsafe on the bus but on these occasions I sat myself very close to the driver, put my ipod on and stared with intent out of the window next to me.
Most of the time you just need to be polite but wary of others. If your instinct tells you to ignore someone then do- I made the mistake of having a nice chat with an old man in Memphis, who then tried to persuade me to go back to his house for ‘fun times’. This man was 80 FFS!
Keep your passport on you. State troopers frequently get on the buses to make sure you are legal citizens. I had this happen to me twice and you do not want to misplace your ID at this point. One traveller who didn’t have their state ID was carted off by the troopers never to be seen again (I don’t know if that’s true but that’s how it seemed)
Most Americans like most people, just want to hear about your trip. They love the British accent (I got told I sound like a princess) and they ask you funny but ridiculous questions like how related to the queen you are (well I’m sat on a bus in the middle of the night so clearly I am next in line to the throne!) I had two young men offer me ‘protection’ on the bus from Chicago to Boston, which was great till they got off 10 stops before me…
Ed: You’ll be glad to know that her sassy shortness, Daisy, arrived safe and sound in Boston and continued to have a great time! She’s now back in the UK preparing to launch a STEPS Tribute Act in the Australia, New Zealand and many more places…(joke).
Here we both are enjoying a Gapyear.com Meet!