Bad Greyhound bus stories are like people with the name Dave. Everybody knows at least one.
If not from first-hand experience, then from the media, where passengers are depicted as either crestfallen chaps travelling cross-country or law-evading hoodlums fleeing to new lands.
The Hell Hound has featured in Mars Attacks!, The X-Files and Vancouver Is Awesome, at the centre of stories containing cannibalism, decapitation, and men who claim to be in direct contact with the almighty creator himself. Ten points to you if you can figure out which is which. (It is a trick question, of course – they’re all from the news! Who needs sci-fi when the real world is substantially more horrifying?!)
And yet, for a mode of transport that has such an appalling reputation, I’ve found it to be… really not that bad.
Recently, I took a Greyhound bus from Vancouver down to Seattle, and I was surprised by how pleasant the journey was. Given the recent suspension of Greyhound journeys across Canada, it seems I was lucky to have the trip at all.
Perhaps it was because it departed at 7:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and much of its loveliness could be put down to the coach being almost empty, the toilets being in a pre-destroyed state, and the driver being in a, likely short-lived, amiable mood. But hey, I’m all about celebrating the small wins.
I know that journeys aren’t always so rosy, and I know this because last year I travelled across the U.S., from the West Coast to the East, using the Dirty Dog as my primary mode of transport.
It was an experience, certainly, but not an “I’ll have to talk about this with a therapist” kind of experience. More of an experience that I can regale people with during dinner parties, at Christmas events, at stand-up comedy clubs. Because that’s the beauty of travelling via Greyhound: You might not disembark feeling rested and revived but you will return with an armful of anecdotes like a soldier returning from war.
Sure, I encountered a plethora of nutters, but I was in America after all. Madness is everywhere, not confined to the padded leather seats of a Greyhound bus.
That ex-convict sat muttering to himself in the seat adjacent? He’s saner than the guy who served you your croissant this morning. More switched on than the woman checking you into your hotel. More coherent than the majority of the country’s past presidents.
Anyway, I like to think that what is one man's crazy is another man's colourful.
If you give fellow passengers a chance you will find most have interesting stories of their own to tell.
I met a teenage couple on a bus from Phoenix to Albuquerque who had fled their family homes to start a new life together. Like a budget Romeo and Juliet. I chatted with a man who was travelling across states to meet a woman he had met online. (He had clearly never seen Catfish). Another was travelling to stay at a friend’s place, after his wife had kicked him out the night previous for going to the strippers. (He had no regrets, if you were wondering). There was the elderly gentleman from Nashville, who was travelling to reunite with his estranged daughter.
The Greyhound houses a Mötley Crüe of passengers, but journeys can be so incredibly long — sometimes six hours, sometimes sixteen — that passengers emerge from them like the students emerging from detention in The Breakfast Club. Bonded from the experience, all differences melted away as a result of lengthy, forced cohabitation.
And if you really can’t stand the company? Put your earphones in, pull your hood up, and stare bitterly out the window. If you make it clear you’re not in the mood for chit-chat, people tend to find someone else to pester.
Perhaps it had been my trollish appearance after being on the road for a few months, but I was rarely bothered to a point where I felt uncomfortable. Nobody tried to amputate my body parts. Nobody wanted to start an argument. I wasn’t hit on once. It was quite disappointing, really.
Not only is it the clientele that puts people off the Greyhound but the clock: It is notorious for its inability to keep time. Buses are almost always late, except when they’re not - and you are. But what do you expect from budget transport? Providing you pack a book, always arrive 15 minutes before departure and don’t make concrete plans for the following 24 hours, you should be fine.
Because a Greyhound bus is like no man’s land. It doesn’t adhere to a schedule. It is wild! Roguish! Rule-breaking! And thus, by association, so are you. Embrace the laissez-faire attitude. Appreciate the fact that you can seemingly bring any cargo on board, no matter whether it be a McDonald’s Happy Meal or the pet hamster. Revel being in a realm where the social norms we have to abide so strictly in the real world are utterly non-existent.
Need to break wind? Don’t hold it in, you’re on the Greyhound bus! Let it rip and give others a knowing smile. Hoping to blast obnoxious and repugnant rap music from your phone? Go for gold! The driver might scold you at some point, but he’ll give you at least a 30-minute listening window before doing so. Looking to offload and talk about your deepest, darkest regrets? Spill all! Everyone is a qualified counsellor on a Greyhound bus.
If there were rules, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton wouldn’t have abandoned their limos in favour of a bus in the third season of The Simple Life, and I wouldn’t have any funny stories to tell at this year’s Christmas party. And what is the point of travel, if not to blab endlessly about your experience once home?