Monday, August 20, 2007

The Last Greyhound

I considered plane and train, but went Greyhound bus to the Ashland, Oregon,  Shakespeare Festival several years ago.  I could catch the bus in Sunnyvale, California,  (where I then lived) at 4:30 one evening and arrive in Ashland at 5:30 the next morning.  It was convenient !  And cheap:  with a Senior discount, it cost $49 one way.  I didn’t consider using my Mini:  what with the  gas prices and the long day’s drive - anything else seemed easier.     In earlier years, my husband and I had driven  which was ok for two:  you could spell each other.  But solo?  Nada!  

(I did have a friend who  modified her Volks so the front passenger seat would lie flat, packed up and took off for a six months solo cross country.  She had a list of campgrounds and a plethora of 3-A maps.  This was the same woman, a Stanford engineering graduate, who rarely paid rent but went from house sitting job to housesitting job.  At one point, she took off for a Russian language summer session   in the old USSR.  Had it not been for tax complications, she would have stayed and worked there.  But I digress.)

Plane and train were in three figures.  And I would have to get to their starting gates:  San Francisco, San Jose or Oakland.  True, there were a couple of connections - San Francisco and Sacramento -  that had layovers of one and two hours but it it would give me a chance to move around.  With the train, I would have been dropped off at Klamath Falls where there was a shuttle to Medford and Ashland. Flying, I would go to Portland and then to Medford with shuttle to Ashland.  So the bus won, hands down!

I don’t know much about today’s train travelers, but I did find out bus riders are somewhat  a  different breed than airplane passengers.  A bit more scruffy and chatty.  There was a combination of young mothers with babes in arms (and  no screamers which I run into when I fly!), old time hippies, young Goths, backpackers and basic working folks going from one job to another - all colors, shapes and ages.  . 

At the San Francisco depot, where in my salad days as a Probation officer, I had chased down runaway kids,  it was relatively quiet  despite  commuters racing off to catch their  local buses. It certainly hadn’t changed much.  Hard   chrome trimmed seats, florescent lights and linoleum floors.  Didn’t seem to have been updated since the fifties. 

 I talked with a Vietnam vet and sometime artist who had bused from Eureka for a evaluation at the VA hospital; he felt safer in the bus depot than walking around outside on this mild, sunny July day.  I ate my previously prepared sandwich - and this you  do  these days even if you fly.  Only   coffee, tea or coke.  But I could have my bottle of water, which I kept refilling at each stop.

Going to Sacramento, I had the row of two to myself,  Much more room than on an airplane.  Peaceful and I was able to nap some.  At Sacramento, there was an adjacent restaurant which meant   a fair number of people just hanging out.  As this depot seemed to be  a central connecting point for buses east, west, north and south,  it was a rather noisy and crowded   but no one was discourteous.  My only concern was the possibility of sharing my two seat  row with an old time hippy guy who smelled as if he hadn’t bathed since the the first Burning Man gathering.  .   Fortunately, though we both boarded the Ashland - actually the Seattle - bus,  he was involved in listening to a very verbal young woman, and I missed sitting with either of them. 

I did end up sharing with several construction workers, enroute home before moving on to another job.  One of them - the youngest of the bunch and across the aisle from me - couldn’t sleep on buses and talked sotto voce  all night  to the three of us.  He was a big fleshy guy, spilling over his allotted seat space, who had played  football in high school.   His wife was not happy with his being gone from home on construction jobs so he hoped to get hired as a correctional worker closer to home.

There was a stop at Redding;  we all got out , used the facilities and walked around.  Then we were loaded back in and on to Ashland.  I had remember the Greyhound stop as being in the middle of town across the police department.  Alas, no more.   The bus stop was now  way on the outskirts of town. Fortunately, a yellow cab was there as I got off the bus and Nine Dollars  later I was at my hotel. (Reminded me of another night bus trip from Istanbul to Athens where I was unceremoniously dumped on the outskirts  of Athens, end of the line,  in the dark of dawn but  no cab in sight.  No wonder Athens is  no longer on  my list.).

I didn’t take the bus back - it was a 5:30 AM pickup with arrival at  about 5:30 PM in Sunnyvale.  Rather, I flew on to Seattle to visit  family.  And the sad thing is, I won’t be able to do this again as Greyhound is consolidating  its routing,  Both  Ashland and Sunnyvale,  along with a lot of other small communities, are no longer  part of  Greyhound’s  scheduling.  I now take Alaska Air  to the Shakespeare Festival. 

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