I've traveled 1,345 miles during the first three days of my journey, going from Ohio to Casper, Wyoming.
The idea was to post each day from the bus. It was a good concept until I boarded my first "Hound" as Greyhound busses are affectionately known as on the road. I was expecting a moderately full bus, with my own two seats and plenty of space to spread out for work. But, every bus I've taken has been packed to capacity and several have been overbooked (I will never again complain about tight quarters on an airplane!). So, working space is cramped, limiting my ability to compose posts on a laptop. Moving forward, I'll have to adjust and use break time more efficiently to get things transcribed.
Some observations from the first leg of the journey:
- It's everything I expected in that these buses are loaded with interesting characters. In between my daily reports, I will post profiles of those folks who trusted me enough to let me into their private world. The frustrating part is that I'd like to talk to more people, but on the longer legs, seats essentially become reserved and it's difficult to connect with someone other than your seat mate. I have to work on a solution to this dilemma, because there are too many interesting stories I know I'm missing.
- There is no such thing as a schedule in the world of interstate busing. I have yet to be on a bus that's departed on time. Even the rest stops, which are supposed to be 10-15 minutes at best, might drag on for 30 minutes based on the driver's whim. I spoke to a driver in Denver who told me that Greyhound needs more than 400 drivers, so the system is taxed. Federal law prohibits drivers from doing more than an 8-hour shift. So, things naturally back up, especially in the bigger cities.
- Greyhound drivers have a thankless job. One driver with whom I spoke repeatedly used the word "brutal" to describe his job. He told me that, on average, a new driver in the system lasts about three months. The drivers I've experienced to date are a combination of Southwest Airline flight attendants (who I've experienced) and prison correctional officers (who I have fortunately not experienced first hand, but can imagine). They bring humor to their work and know how to engage passengers. But they also have to be taskmasters to ensure that passengers are doing what they are supposed to do. One driver repeated the same instruction a dozen times ("Take your ticket completely out of the envelope"). I'd guess half of the people failed to do as instructed.
- People are willing to open up once trust is established. I've been amazed at what total strangers have shared with me once I got to know them and told them about this project. I realize that many of them just want to be heard. There is a lot of sadness on those buses, born of tragedy, rejection and failure. But there is also a lot of hope, the belief that whatever is waiting for them at the next stop will be healing.
More from Casper tomorrow.