The True Value of Taking The Greyhound To Spring Break

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Fall of my senior year in college, my best friend Jill and I decided to book a cruise to the Bahamas for spring break. I saved my nannying money for the deposit, and looked forward to our splurge. When spring arrived, we still had yet to plan our transportation from our origin in Richmond, Virginia, to the Carnival port in Miami. What had previously sounded like an excellent road trip full of giggles and bad rest stop snacks had evolved into a financial nightmare. The price of gas had jumped a full dollar per gallon in the last six months, and when we looked into parking we found it would be $20 a day, which was more than our entire “fun” budget for the trip. With just over four weeks to go, we frantically investigated flights and trains, to discover, of course, that this last minute booking would be several hundred dollars. We were college students with part time jobs; we had limited funds and were not going to squander money needlessly on something boring like transportation.

For $157 a person, Greyhound would arrange for someone else to drive us in coach comfort all the way to our destination in just under 24 hours. We purchased immediately.

Within two minutes of stepping out of the chaos of the Richmond bus depot and onto the coach, Jill and I became the subject of interest. We were committed to sitting together, so we could preserve the elements of the fun road trip we originally planned. We were also two young women traveling alone on an overnight bus, and were doing what we could to be safe. The bus was quite full, and the closer we got to the back, the more people stared and giggled, muttering to us that we “didn’t want to go back there.” We assumed they were ushering us away from the bathroom, and unafraid of the scent of stale air freshener, we took two of the three seats on the back bench. After settling in, a man came out of the bathroom and sat next to us, and I understood why everyone had been so concerned about our choice of seating. Our companion was clearly down on his luck. Neither he nor his clothing had had a good washing in quite some time. It dawned on me that this was a bus that originated in New York and terminated in Miami, and maybe he had been on the bus for a day already. I imagined how hard he must have worked to buy his passage to a completely new place. Maybe he had family in Florida, or a job opportunity, or maybe he simply searched for a different way of life. He slept silently next to us for the first leg of the journey while the other nosy passengers made rude gestures about his smell, and kept watching us as though we were going to give them some satisfying reaction.

At our first stop, Jill and I moved closer to the front of the bus when a pair of seats opened, to escape the gawkers and to get closer to the only authority on the bus, the driver. On our way down the aisle, a man vaguely resembling Kevin Federline made a rude comment about how he could have taken care of us back there, before groping me from breast to butt as I passed by his seat. Too afraid to say anything to a man with whom I might be spending an overnight journey, I passed by him and said nothing.

On the way to Miami and on the way home following our trip, we traveled with a number of different people. The group of girls going to a party a few cities away. The woman bringing her child to visit their family. The man who claimed to be a UFC fighter, going to showcase himself in an important cage match. The man who was just getting out of prison, trying to get to a place to stay so he could reunite with his child. All of us were thrown together for a variety of reasons. While occasionally rolling my eyes at the conduct of our fellow passengers, or the annoyance of sitting bleary eyed in a bus station somewhere outside of Jacksonville at 2am, I was profoundly aware of how fortunate I was. I was on my way to a luxurious vacation with my friend, and in this motley crew of passengers, I felt safe and confident knowing that my companion and I were looking out for each other.

Taking that bus was an exercise in trust. Falling asleep next to 50 strangers is the same as trusting a train full of people every day on my way to work. I cannot control their histories, their mental states, or their propensities toward violence or harassment. Yes, I was violated on that bus, to a degree that still gives me the chills years later, but it could have been different, and it wasn’t. He exited the bus somewhere in Georgia, and only enters my consciousness when I am feeling most heated about gender inequality in our society.

In the years since, I have grown accustomed to taking the bus on shorter journeys between major hubs on the east coast. It is cost effective and easy. I have heard many friends lately say “I’ve made the decision that I am an adult now and I don’t have to take the bus anymore.” I wonder what quantifies being “an adult now,” and what that has to do with choosing to take a bus. I am confident that I will always look for opportunities to maximize my experiences at my destination by saving a little bit on transportation, either by planning ahead more effectively, or by sacrificing what I consider convenient. And maybe I will learn something on the way.

The Greyhound was a vehicle for Jill and I to get to our indulgent vacation, but all of us were journeying together, passing through each other’s lives in the vulnerable moments of discomfort and exhaustion, toward something a little bit brighter. At the end of the trek, as Jill and I hauled our suitcases to a cab to take us to the cruise port, our companion traveling at the back of the bus exited and wandered into Miami, hands in his pockets, without any belongings. I hope he found his way to happiness.

Item: Roundtrip ticket from Richmond to Miami
Actual Cost: $157
True Value: About $600 in last minute travel costs, and the lifelong ability to define the statement “check your privilege.”

Sarah Feldstein has only broken down on the side of the road in a bus once.

Image via Flickr

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