Friday, April 12, 2013

On the Road to NYC

A few months ago, Greyhound was asking journalists and bloggers to try out their new Express service. Since I was already planning to go to New York for the Rainbow Book Fair to launch Render, I jokingly asked the PR person if I could get a free ticket to NYC. I couldn't believe it when she said yes. Yesterday afternoon, I departed from Atlanta for an 18 hour bus ride up the East Coast. I was going to be a brave soldier and do the whole 18 hours without stopping for a break. I was thinking of it as practice for when I finally go to Australia and have to sit on a plane for 20 hours. I'm writing this at a hotel room in Richmond – the halfway point of the trip. Let me tell you how I got here.

April 11, 2:05 p.m. 
That was the scheduled departure time for the first leg of my journey. My friend Wendy dropped me off at the Greyhound station in Atlanta and wished me luck with more than a little trepidation in her voice. As a matter of fact, just about everyone I told about this trip thought I was crazy for doing it. Unlike other countries, Greyhound has a reputation for being the "poor people" mode of travel. Greyhound doesn't help that perception by having some of its terminals in the worst sections of town. The Greyhound station in Atlanta is next door to the jail on the deserted side of downtown.

Waiting in Atlanta.
I waited inside a cordoned off Express departure area, but it's nothing special. You're still in the middle of the noisy, bustling terminal with people talking too loud on cell phones, dragging in 10 suitcases and eating some of the foulest smelling food you can imagine. On the other hand, the staff was completely professional and courteous. They don't know I'm writing about them, so they have no reason to treat me any differently or give me any kind of preferential treatment.

The new Greyhound Express fleet is painted with a dark blue and silver livery and the interior is definitely a step-up from the normal bus. There are wide leather seats, more leg room, cup holders, an electrical outlet for your phone or laptop and free wifi onboard. The bus driver on the Atlanta to Charlotte leg was named Brenda and she was funny and no-nonsense. We left the city in a torrential rainstorm and hit early rush hour traffic, but Brenda got us to Charlotte on time.

Downtown Charlotte.
6:30 p.m.
We arrive in Charlotte for a 20 minute layover so the bus can be cleaned, new passengers can board and a new driver take the wheel. The Charlotte Greyhound station is also downtown. It's a tiny station with a canteen and vending machines. The restrooms are a horror show, so be warned. I'm fairly certain they hadn't been cleaned all day.

Back on the bus, there was some haggling with the driver and new passengers, who wanted to bring two giant suitcases onboard (you can only bring a small carry on or purse) and got huffy about having to check and stow the bags. We departed 10 minutes late, but the new driver got us to our next stop (which I didn't realized we had) very fast.

Comfy leather seats.
8:30 to 10:00 p.m.
We stop in Greensboro to let a few passengers off and pick up a few. Greensboro's bus depot looks really nice from my window seat. A short time later, we pull into Durham - another stop I wasn't expecting. Durham is a cozy looking little city and the bus terminal is really spiffy. I hope this is a sign that Greyhound is working to improve its stations around the country. While we're meandering through Durham, I can't help but think of Susan Sarandon reading poetry to Tim Robbins while he's tied to the bed in Bull Durham. I could use some poetry right about now.

When we leave Durham, I start to wonder if I am going to be able to handle another nearly 10 hours on the bus. Although I have a row to myself, the bus is now full. The lights have been turned off and I can hear a kid screaming in the back, lots of snoring and, while I don't mean to be crass, the bus smelled like a can of farts. The bus driver, apparently used to this phenomenon, shot a few mists of air-freshener  in our general direction as we rolled into the night.

12:30 a.m.
We arrive in Richmond ahead of schedule and I have now decided that the idea of continuing on to NYC and arriving at 8:45 a.m. is just not going to happen. The staff helps me switch my ticket to an 11 a.m. Friday departure and shows me where to grab a cab. Yes, I'm going to lose a whole day in Manhattan, but I would have been sleeping anyway. I'll have a report on the rest of the trip later in the weekend.

2 comments:

Sun Singer said...

I used to travel on Greyhound and the long-gone Trailways when I was a kid, and later in college. Can't say that I miss it, but there were times when it was handy.

Malcolm

Maureen said...

The things you put up with for a free ride!

My limit on a bus is about 15 minutes. And that's local.

Have a great time in the Big Apple, Collin!

Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

Welcome to Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional, the website for poet, novelist, playwright and journalist Collin Kelley.