This story is about traveling across America on a bus and what it feels like. I was in McAllen, Texas, visiting my son, and I needed to get back home to Greenwich, Connecticut. McAllen is in deep Texas, close to the border with Mexico and very close to Reynosa, Mexico. Usually, I would fly from McAllen to La Guardia with a stop in Houston. But I wanted the experience of going by bus. I wanted to do it on a train via Amtrak, but the rates are just as expensive as flying, and part of the trip would be done using buses as the train does not go that close to the border in that part of Texas. I took Greyhound from McAllen, Texas, to Stamford, CT, where my wife would pick me up.
Traveling via Greyhound would allow me to see the countryside of this great country and several states before I landed in New England, where I live. This was supposed to be a fun trip seeing the countryside out of the window, taking pictures, making friends, and generally having fun. Instead, it was a 4-day nightmare that I would not repeat. I had a romantic notion that the trip would resemble a train ride on the Orient Express. This trip disabused me of that notion.
Before I launch into a litany of complaints, I must say the bus system is used by many people in this country; people who use buses to work or travel to other cities, which is the only mode of transportation. It would be disrespectful to think I have it bad because of one trip. But the uniqueness of the journey warrants it to be told.
The trip started with me being dropped off at the bus terminal in McAllen. The terminal was home to many bus companies going to every place in America and Mexico. As I said, McAllen sits at the border with Mexico, and many people move to and from Mexico destinations. Imagine a terminal full of adults, children playing, babies crying, and a high general din. People were talking primarily in Spanish. No wonder this close to the border.
I found the counter to Greyhound and bought my ticket to Stamford, CT. I was told that sister companies would be substituted as needed in some of the legs of the trip. Therefore, I would change buses, which would be easy and transparent. I waited for the first bus at the station. It was crowded and noisy, but I enjoyed taking it all in.
The first bus was not a Greyhound line but a local affiliate full of people with suitcases, bags, kids, food, and a lot of noise. The bus was going to Houston, and during that time, it made several stops to drop off and pick up passengers. At Houston station, we changed buses and drivers, transferred our luggage and ourselves to the new bus, and started the next leg of the journey. The destination was New Orleans, Louisiana. And the bus was crammed with people again. These were new passengers, but the primary language was still Spanish. The bus made several stops to drop off and pick up new passengers.
By now, the day had gone, and it was late at night. I had just fallen asleep to the cadence of the engine and the bus hitting bumps in the highway; the lights were out, and it was dark on the bus, with everyone sleeping or snoring. Everything was at peace. Just then, the bus got off the highway and made its way to a local terminal through side streets, lights, and intersections. I was awakened by the changes in noise and all the twists and turns, so I was wide awake when we finally pulled into the local terminal. Again, it was late at night, and we had to transfer to another bus and a new driver. Many people got off at this stop, and new ones boarded the new bus. I was disappointed that we were not in New Orleans but in a suburb across the lake and would not be going thru New Orleans after all. All that expectation of seeing some part of New Orleans faded as the bus made its way to the next stop in Mississippi.
As we made our way to the next stop, I went back to sleep, and dawn approached; I was awakened by the bus pulling into the next station. All were asked to leave the bus and wait for the new bus that had not arrived yet and would take us to the next destination. We changed buses at a stop in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi. Food and drinks from the vending machines only.
I had to actively watch my bag in the bus’s cargo area as some of the luggage did not make it to the next bus. Thank God I was closely watching the proceedings and was able to intervene, get my bags, and put them into the new bus.
Also, we did not have a facility or the time to shower. The best I could manage was washing my face, underarms, etc., and combing my hair in a broken-down bathroom at the bus terminal. We ate what was available on vending machines.
Our route wend its way through Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, The Carolinas, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and finally, Connecticut. Waiting for the next bus became a routine; only the locale changed. By the time we made it to Penn Station in Manhattan, I was a veteran at this and knew what to do. Also, I was glad to know my journey was at an end. I waited for my connection for several hours early in the morning, but with the terminal being empty at that hour, knowing that I was almost home and the familiar territory of Manhattan made the wait almost okay.
I finally arrived at the Stamford bus terminal early in the morning of the 4th day and was glad to see my wife waiting for me at the terminal. She took one look at me, and a glimpse of pity crossed her eyes. I must have looked like something the cat dragged in. I had not showered in four days, slept poorly on the bus, and changed buses several times at night. I was tired and hungry for a warm meal but glad to be home.
We went home, and I was glad to make it home finally, have a long hot shower, change my clothes, and get something healthy to eat. I related the trials and tribulations of the past four days to my wife and how it had been fun if you overlooked all the bothersome things I had to go through. She smiled at me and said, “Well, you got it out of your system, didn’t you.” I thought she was spot on, and I probably will never take a long trip on a bus again. There are more exciting ways to see America. Next on the agenda is to take Amtrak across the country and make it to Los Angeles or Seattle.
What are you doing to see America??