December 4, 2021

Greyhound Bus is still in business, Folks!

By John Guy LaPlante

I thought Greyhound was as dead as Tyrannosaurus Rex. I haven’t seen a Greyhound in years.

It used to stop in San Luis Obispo. That’s the nice small city 15 miles away from where I now live in California. But Greyhound gave up stopping in SLO here eight or nine years ago.

This may be news to you but I have traveled Greyhound many times. Mostly from Connecticut where I used to live back then. Short trips of a few hundred miles. Some of thousands of miles.

They do have some fine equipment and excellent drivers.

By and large, I am an admirer of Greyhound.

Some of their buses are state of the art. Panorama windows. Air conditioning. Generous seats, some which recline, well, a bit. And a clean toilet with a wash basin aboard — always a last resort for me, however. Or any passenger.

Usually a coffee machine. Plus teas. Movies with personal earphones. Sometimes a stewardess.

In these days of covid-19, it’s impressive to see the modifications they have made to make bus travel as good and as safe as possible.

If you’re wondering, I do not own a single share of stock in Greyhound. I’m being as objective as possible.

One thing I like a lot is that when you enter a city, often you ride right down the main streets seeing the fronts of everything. Another is you get on the bus right at the curb and get off at the curb, not a huge hike away as you have to do usually for the trains — maybe carrying your luggage five, six, or seven cars down the track to get to the passenger car that you are booked to be on.

On any Greyhound or other long-distance bus, your luggage will go into the big bins that buses have underneath. And often your driver will put it into a bin for you.

I have taken short trips of 200 or 300 miles. But also long, multi-day transcontinental trips.

Nearly always to visit one or another of my kids. Or to come home.

I had a valid driver’s license back then. I drove a lot. No more. About to turn 92, I have given up driving. I believe it’s too risky, for me and for others on the highways. A tough decision but I believe the right one.

Back when I was a frequent Greyhound rider, I did it mostly to save time and money.

Once I rode Greyhound from New York City all the way to Los Angeles. More than 3,000 miles. Another time from New York City to Seattle. That was also more than 3,000.

Another time from Seattle north to Vancouver, Canada, then clear east to Montreal, Quebec. That must have been more than 4,000.

Then a short 350-mile ride south home to Connecticut.

And of course, on many of these Greyhound rides, especially the long ones, I rode them back home again. A wonderful trip.

Oh, on all those long trips across the USA, the same bus went the whole, long way across. But a new driver took over every 7 or 8 hours.

Sometimes it was a man. Sometimes a woman. They were expert drivers and they took pride in their work. Always courteous. And as helpful as possible to passengers.

But why am I writing about this today?

It’s because for the last few months or so, I have been receiving emails from Greyhound which advertise trips, long and short.

How much a ticket for any trip would cost. What steps Greyhound is taking to protect passengers during these big-worry days of the pandemic. Strange.

The second or third time I got an email like that, I asked myself, why am I getting these emails?

Yes, me, a very old man. For sure, riding Greyhound is all past-tense for me.

Here’s what I think Greyhound’s been up to.

They had looked up old records and noticed that I had been a darn good customer. They still had my email address. I had never changed it. Bingo! They began offering me trips.

Unfortunately, they had no way of knowing I could no longer be a Greyhound customer.

Anyway, all this brought back to me many memories of my numerous Greyhound trips. Adventures is what they really were.

Here is one example. My Greyhound ride of a couple of hundred miles in South Africa. That was an interesting part of my trip around the world alone.

And another solo adventure was my long, long bus trip vacation I took through some 10 countries in western Europe. That was on Eurolines. It was perfectly named. It went all over.

This company lived up to its name. I’m the only male in the photo. I considered the bus luxurious.

It offered service in 14 European countries and in fact operated all the way east to the Ural Mountains, which is where Europe ends and Asia begins.

I never went that far.

I had dozens of wonderful experiences and not a single bad one.

Please note that all this was some years ago. I’m sure a lot of things are different now.

As some of you know, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine for a full hitch, which was 27 months back then — 3 months of training, 24 months of work.

Well, all Volunteers were given two days of vacation time for every month of work.

Nearing the end of my hitch, I still had 18 days of vacation time coming to me.

What to do?

I decided to take a bus trip through some countries adjoining Ukraine.

This was after the European Union was created, which suddenly gave permission to a citizen in any country to visit any other countries in the EU without stopping at borders or having to buy a visa for each country. That was really a big, big deal.

I’ll be telling you some of the countries I visited over there.

All alone.

In my numerous bus trips in the USA, Canada, and even across Mexico, I did have some unusual experiences.

More than once I’ve been asked to give a talk about some of these trips. Excuse me, adventures.

I’ll bet you’d like to hear about a couple and I’ll be glad to oblige. So I’ll start right now.

One winter, I went on a long ride up into the state of Washington.

I was on my way to visit my son Mark. He was a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle and he was completing his Ph.D. up there. Back then I was living in Massachusetts. There were 3,000 miles between us. A nice visit would be good therapy for both of us.

Our Greyhound bus was making its way through rugged mountain country. It had been snowing hard. In fact, we were part of a mile-long line of cars, trucks, and buses stuck for hours. Yes, way up there on a two-lane mountain road.

Our driver kept the bus running. That way he could keep the heat going for us in the bus.

Every half hour or so, he’d put on a thick overcoat and fur hat and walk up a hundred yards or so to talk to the police officer who was directing the traffic.

Then he’d come back to the bus and even before taking off his hat and coat, he would say “Good news, folks. I’ve just been told we’ll be on our way in just an hour or so.”

Well, he took three walks up there to speak to that police officer. Then come back and tell us it wouldn’t be very long now. Finally, he came back, and without his usual report to us, he shifted the bus into gear and we started moving forward, slowly but steadily. Wow! My oh my!

We all gave him three great big cheers!

This is the Greyhound that later got stuck in the snow on the mountain road. If you can’t see the driver, that’s because he’s taking the picture.  Me? I’m the oldest in the group. Hint: the light blue sweater.

On that trip, he must have put in for a lot of overtime pay. He deserved it.

Here’s another true story for you.

I was riding solo on a Greyhound trip toward Burlington, Vermont. And I had been lucky.

I was sitting directly behind the driver, which meant that I had a clear view of what was coming up ahead. That always made the trip more interesting for me. Plus I had the aisle seat next to me for myself. I liked that. I didn’t feel crowded, which was nice. And it was a convenient spot for my picnic lunch at noontime and the magazine I had been reading.

Directly across the aisle from me were two ladies, sitting side by side. Traveling together, for sure.

At a small town, Stowe I think it was, we stopped at a small Greyhound terminal to pee and stretch our legs. It took me a little longer than usual to get that done.

When I came back out to the sidewalk, I was shocked to see our bus driving away! What?!

Hey, at every such stop, the bus driver is supposed to keep a head count. How many got off, then how many got back on. The numbers are supposed to match.

This guy had not done that.

And obviously those two ladies had seen that I hadn’t gotten back on. And that my magazine and picnic lunch were right there across the aisle from them on my empty seat. Why hadn’t they warned the driver that I was not on the bus?!

They didn’t know this but my suitcase was in the bin at the bottom of the bus!

I was in a bad, bad fix.

I noticed that right across the street was a Domino’s Pizza Shop. Domino’s delivers, right? I ran over and asked the manager if one of his drivers could give me a ride to catch up with the bus.

“Too busy, sir. Too busy!”

What to do? What to do? I ran back into the terminal and was lucky to find the terminal manager busy doing something right there at the front counter.

I was agitated. I tried to explain as calmly as I could the jam I was in.

He threw up his hands. “Sorry, sir,” he told me. “Not much that I can do for you. I do have a suggestion for you. Call a taxi. That bus is gonna go straight up the highway. It’ll stop in about 45 minutes for a meal break. It’ll be there half an hour. Maybe longer. I’ll bet you could catch it.

“Want me to call a taxi for you?”

It didn’t take me 10 seconds to decide.

“Yes, yes! Please do!”

And right away I went outside to the curb to wait. It showed up in 6 or 7 minutes. Seemed an eternity.

Surprise. I expected the driver to be a man. It was a big, hefty woman. About 60. And she had a boy about 12 or 13 in the seat next to her. She never got around to explaining who that kid was.

I told her how about the bad fix I was in.

“Well, sir, I’ll try,” she said. “But I do not speed. Never speed. You’ll have to give me a deposit. $20 will be just about right.”

I found a $20 in my wallet and gave it to her.

And then jumped into the seat behind the boy. Didn’t want to lose a minute.

Well, in those 20 miles or so I don’t think she drove a single mile faster than 50.

I kept my fingers crossed all the way. Just had to catch that bus!

Finally we got to the restaurant. I could see the Greyhound parked there. I relaxed a little.

I asked her how much. She said $16. She gave me four dollars back. I could have tipped her but did not. I’m not a cheapskate. She didn’t deserve a tip.

I just dashed into the restaurant.

I spotted our driver right away. He was sitting alone at a small table. He was eating a piece of pie with ice cream.

He saw me coming. And I knew he knew I was upset.

He threw up his hands even before I had a chance to say a word.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he told me. “I’m very, very sorry.”

He looked at his watch. “So glad you got here in time.” He jumped up. “Time for us to go!”

I didn’t get a chance to cuss him, which I had intended to do.

So, no restaurant meal for me. Well, I had my picnic lunch on that seat. If it was still there! And then I spotted them. The two ladies who were sitting across the aisle.

They saw me also. One threw up her hands. “Sorry!” That’s what she seemed to be saying.

Her companion didn’t say a word. But I could tell she was sorry also.

We all got aboard. I took the same seat. So did the two ladies. My lunch and magazine were still there. I ate my lunch and on we went.

I wondered why they hadn’t mentioned to the driver that I hadn’t made it back to the bus. But I kept mum.

When we got to the Greyhound terminal in Burlington, which was a large one, our driver saw me get off. He must have been thinking I would complain about him. But I didn’t not say a word to him.

I went directly to the manager and told him my story. He was surprised. Just threw up his hands.

Immediately he wrote out a voucher for me for the $16 that I had paid the taxi lady and told me what to do to collect it.

I had planned to growl about our lazy driver who hadn’t kept the passenger count. But I didn’t bother. I was sure that guy would never miss a passenger count again. Everybody makes mistakes.

Now, my readers, back to my main topic.

If what I have told you about Greyhound’s current advertising and promotion program interests you and you would like to know more it, it’s easy — just Google “Greyhound Bus.”

Good luck!

While I’m at it, I’ll tell you something else. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the buses but I want to tell you I’ve also taken some interesting train rides.

I’ve enjoyed riding trains. For one thing, it’s easier to sleep on a moving train going clickety clack down the tracks through the night, although it won’t be a good night’s sleep than on a bus constantly slowing down, speeding up, slowing down, speeding up again, on and on. But there’s a big difference in riding buses and trains.

As a starter, trains invariably cost more.

There’s another big difference.

Train routes have all been designed to be as direct and fast as possible.

So they don’t travel the most interesting and scenic routes. They travel the most level and direct routes. That’s for sure.

Another thing is that on trains the only thing you will get to see well outside will be out the window on the side of the train you happen to be sitting on. So for sure you will miss interesting things on the opposite side.

And entering a city, what you will see is the back of everything–the back of the factories, the back of the warehouses, the back of the houses, often the back of the worst neighborhoods, and then finally always the train yards. All invariably dismal, it seems.

At major railroad stations, these train yards usually cover acres and acres of parallel tracks for parked freight and passenger trains. And the huge sheds where they get refurbished.

So here again is my bottom line — by far I prefer long-distance buses. Yes, sir. But this doesn’t mean there are not mediocre and even bad bus lines.

I know better. I’ve traveled on numerous bus lines.

Please note that all this was some years ago. I’m sure a lot of things are different now.

In Peace Corps I was a university-level teacher of English. I taught English because many university students wanted to learn English. American English.

It seemed many dreamed someday they would get to live and work in the United States.

I believe that’s also true of many students in universities around the world.

I also had several other important responsibilities as a Volunteer. And I really enjoyed the work and took pride in doing it well.

Well, Peace Corps gave every Volunteer two days of vacation per month.

I used a few of those right there where I was living and working.

But I let quite a few of them add up for sightseeing trips I planned very carefully.

For instance, I took eight days of vacation time to travel solo on buses of a very large and good Ukrainian bus company.

I would plan these trips for right before or right after a national Ukrainian holiday which I would have off. That way I could max out my trip.

Then I took a big bus trip outside Ukraine. Traveling all by myself again.

It was quite ambitious. A dozen cities in seven countries in three weeks.

I’d be going to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Then back down to Poland again.

Then Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, then back home to Ukraine.

I did worry if I’d have enough time to get a decent look at them. And if I still had what it takes.

As you can see, my visits had to be brief. So of course what I’d get to see would be skimpy.

Yes, I’d be going alone. On a tight budget. I was sure it wouldn’t be easy. And not without risk.

If something happened to me, how could I explain to anybody? I didn’t know the languages spoken in those countries. And a few things did go wrong. But bottom line, I had a good time. And I learned a lot about that part of the world. And myself.

Oh, one reason I chose those countries was that they had become part of the European Union. Which formerly required purchasing visas to go from one to the next.

Now visas were no longer needed. Visas cost money and they are such a pain to acquire. No more red tape!

I had thought of including Belarus and Russia. But visas were still required there. Besides, I had been to Russia years before.

Adventure finished, I returned to Ukraine and went back to my work as a Volunteer.

I had my camera with me. If I had tried to take a picture of everything I found interesting, I would have gone broke fast buying the film that I would have needed.

I look back on all that as a fine experience in just about every way.

I learned so much about those countries and those people. And to repeat, yes, about myself.

I just checked something. know what? Already I have written 3,187 words about this. And I could write more. But it’s after midnight and I’m all pooped out. Enough is enough.

What to do?

I have a suggestion. If all this interests you, I believe you would enjoy Chapter 35 in my 535-page book, “27 Months in the Peace Corps. My Story, Unvarnished.”

That chapter is entitled “I get to travel a lot.”

It is 23 pages long. Has much, much more than I have been able to tell you about this evening.

In fact, I believe you would enjoy the book.

But why did I include the words “My Story, Unvarnished” in the title?

Well, I am pleased to tell you Peace Corp was very good. But nothing is perfect, right?

Now I must ask you. Are you aware of the terrible thing that has happened to Peace Corps in these harsh days of the covid-19 Pandemic?

Awful!

Volunteers in some 80 countries around the world had to be hurriedly recalled. Countries like China and Japan and Nigeria and Peru and Bolivia. On and on.

As you may know, I was a very old man when I started in Peace Corps at age 77. And at age 80, Peace Corps officials at headquarters in Washington, D.C., put out a press release that I was now the oldest of some 7,500 Volunteers serving in some 80 countries around the world.

BUT most Volunteers by far are very young — 19, 21, 24 years old. Just getting their careers started.

How awful to have their careers stalled this way. So, so sad. But there was no alternative.

Peace Corps is one of the most admirable and effective and important programs Uncle Sam has.

It seems that with the fantastic new medications being quickly developed by some of the world’s finest pharmaceutical companies, the covid-19 pandemic will run its course and become a thing of the past far sooner than expected.

And all those eager young Volunteers will be assigned back to the original countries they had been posted to.

And then Peace Corps will get back to carrying on the work * * that it has become famous for.

That day would really make it into our history books!

* * * *

Comments

  1. Joan Perrone says

    You are always such an interesting read. I love your stories. I did read your book about your Peace Corps adventures. It was so brave of you to do this at that age.
    We have all been fine. Frank and I and most of our family have vaccinated. We are still being careful and wearing masks. Can’t wait to get back to normal again…whatever that is.
    As you know, we first met when your spoke at our church social club meeting. Unfortunately, we have not been able to hold a meeting since March 2020. We, at last, have been given permission to hold a meeting with the usual COVID restrictions, and a limited number of members on April 19th. We all can’t wait to get together with each other again.
    I have done numerous jigsaw puzzles, crocheted a number of afghans, and have read a lot of books. The weather is starting to get a little warmer, so soon we will be able to sit out on our new patio that we had put in last August. We are ages 82 and 83…we are catching up to you. LOL
    Keep the blogs coming…I would appreciate it if you would change my email address to craftyjoanperr@gmail.com. Thanks…..Joan

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