Adventures In Busing.

A Simple Plan.

The trip seems so much shorter now. Source: Google Maps.

The trip seems so much shorter now.
Source: Google Maps.

The Greyhound bus left Nashville at 10 PM and would arrive in Evansville at little after 2 AM. By car the trip would take just under two hours, but the bus took a more scenic route and had stops in northern Tennessee and Kentucky. I’d made the trip before and had the routine down: I’d disembark, go to the ATM in the front of the bank, get five bucks, go to a pay phone, and call a taxi. The trip from downtown back to my dormitory was always exactly five dollars. Evansville’s a small town, and, I’m sorry to say, I was a naïve college student who didn’t think about tipping.

I’d done this at least half a dozen times. It had become so routine I took it for granted that nothing could go wrong.

2:07am: The ATM is located in a closet-sized atrium behind glass doors. And for some reason some thoughtless bank employee has decided on this particular occasion they need to be locked.

It’s early February. It’s freezing. I’m wearing my trench coat and fedora which do surprisingly little to keep out the cold. I think I look like Humphrey Bogart. I probably look more like Mickey Rooney. It occurs to me how much warmer it must be in Casablanca, even at night at this time of year.

There must be other ATMs around. A friend of mine had once walked from the campus to the riverfront, and not only did it take him a few hours it also took him through some of the most dangerous parts of town. Being a naïve college student had protected him, but I don’t want to press my luck. And I’m too exhausted to hoof it. I never could sleep on the bus so I’d done my Latin homework. I’m not going to let being stranded downtown prevent me from handing that in.

2:33am: I find a different bank with an ATM of its own. I’m willing to pay the $1 surcharge for withdrawing off-brand, but the doors are locked.

2:57am: I find a stand-alone ATM. Out of service.

3:11am: I’m strolling along the riverfront near the Four Freedoms monument wondering what to do. A cop car pulls up alongside me. The cops ask to see my ID. I politely hand over my student ID and explain my problem. I’m nervous. The riverfront seems deserted but is a notorious spot for men seeking discreet encounters. The cops seem to believe me.

“Well,” one of them says. “Keep looking. You might find an ATM around here somewhere.”

They drive off. Thanks for not arresting me guys.

3:27am: I return to the Greyhound station with a vague plan of begging a taxi driver, or someone, for a ride. The only person in the station who doesn’t work there is a bearded man sleeping in one of the chairs.

3:53am: I’m now well acquainted with all the banks—all three of them—within close walking distance of the Greyhound station. I wonder why they’ve all adopted a policy of making their ATMs inaccessible after hours.

4:10am: Back at the Greyhound station. I have one quarter. Like a person under arrest I can only make one call. I dial. The phone rings. And rings. And rings. My friend Sandra answers. The whole story spills out of me. She says, “Chris is stuck downtown.” In the background I hear her roommate Kate. “He’d better be. If this is one of his jokes I’m gonna kill him.”

4:27am: Sandra’s Pontiac pulls into the Greyhound station parking lot. She grins and tosses me a blanket as I climb in. She’s got the heater cranked up as high as it’ll go. “Thanks,” I said, my teeth chattering.

8:12am: After a few hours of sleep I stumble into Latin class late. And that’s when I realize I left my homework back in my room.

UPDATE: The friend who walked downtown has informed me he thinks it only took him a little over an hour, but he was carrying a bookbag with a six-pack of beer and at least four bottles of alcoholic beverages. Maybe if I’d been carrying that I could have traded some of it for a ride.

Evansville's Four Freedoms Monument. Not much has changed since I was last there. Source: Google Maps

Evansville’s Four Freedoms Monument. Not much has changed since I was last there.
Source: Google Maps


The Egg And I.

Sometimes my walk home from the bus takes me by a large stand of bamboo. I’ve heard that people often regret planting bamboo because of how quickly it takes over. In this particular yard it hadn’t just taken over. It had formed a massive wall that completely blocked the yard, the house, and formed a dark tunnel around the driveway. Sometimes in the early mornings if I walk by there when it’s still dark I can hear the bamboo rustle with birds waking up.

In a grassy patch in front of the bamboo I found an egg. Why there was an egg there is still a mystery. It was too big to be a wild bird egg, with the possible exception of an eagle and then it was too small. It was white and the size of a regular chicken’s egg you’d buy in the store, but it was also flecked with little pieces of what could have been dried grass. It was also strangely heavy for its size, and didn’t feel quite like a regular egg. I picked it up and turned it all around, not sure what to make of it or what to do with it. Finally I tossed it onto the road, thinking it would bounce or just roll.

It broke. Yellowish yolk and clear fluid leaked out onto the road.


Here’s photographic evidence even though it should be unnecessary. How could I make up something this weird?

Just then a car came out of the driveway. Oh great, I thought, now I’m going to have to explain to whoever lives behind the bamboo why I’m breaking eggs on the street. And the honest explanation sounded too ridiculous to be plausible. Or maybe, I hoped, it would sound so ridiculous they’d realize it had to be true.

A bearded guy with glasses poked his head out of the driver’s side window. “Hey, feel free to take some of that bamboo with you!” he said then drove off.

I was glad he left in such a hurry or I might have asked how many eggs his bamboo laid in a week.

Black Hole Sun.

hydra It had been a shitty day. I wish I had a better word to describe it because shit can become fertilizer whereas it seemed like everything I’d dealt with that day was just destructive, like a black hole. Everything I’d dealt with just seemed to pull in everything good and bright out of the universe and pulverize it, but it just doesn’t have the same impact if you tell people you’re having a black holey day. Finally it was time for me to head home. Actually it was a little past time for me to head home.

When I got to the corner I could see the bus coming. I was on the wrong side of the intersection. The light was green. I have no qualms about crossing against the light when I have no chance of being hit, but the road was a river of cars speeding by. I waved to the driver, certain I wouldn’t be seen. Half a dozen times or so I’ve had bus drivers go right by when I was clearly waiting at a stop. A couple of times I’ve been able to see their eyes as they go by, focused solely on the road ahead, blissfully unaware of anyone waiting for a ride. Other times I’ve been able to see the driver turned halfway around in the seat, talking to someone standing behind them.

It started to rain.

I knew I was going to miss the bus that was coming, but I also knew that if I went back to my office to get my umbrella I would miss the next bus too. I didn’t want to be stuck standing in the rain for at least half an hour even with an umbrella.

The light was still green.

Then a miracle happened. The driver stopped at the stop across the street. The light turned yellow, then red. The WALK sign flashed and I hurried across the street. Panting I climbed into the bus.

“I saw ya, man, ya didn’t need to run!” the driver said. And just like that it was a good day, even if I did still have to walk a couple of blocks home in the rain.



You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?

Tourists don’t ride the bus. Well, I do, but I’m not like other tourists.

I find things the locals don't know about.

I find things the locals don’t know about.

So it was wonderful to me when a few people, a husband and wife, I think, and their son asked me for directions. And there was no mistaking that accent. They were Australians. Or from New Zealand. I’ve heard those are actually two different countries. The important thing is they were from two hemispheres away.

“Could you tell us which bus we need to get to the Parthenon?” the woman asked.

I nearly fell over my own tongue starting to answer. The Parthenon is the centerpiece of Centennial Park which, for years, was the site of the largest Australia celebration outside of Australia. This was a fun annual event in September attended by the likes of the Australian ambassador to the U.S. and Colin Hay. I loved being around bona fide Aussies, hearing them drop terms like “g’day” and “dinky-di” so casually I could almost believe those were real words. There would be a tent where they sold food and beer, except they called it “tucker” and “ice cold tubes of the amber fluid”.

This should be real.

I could have used this.

It was also the only place I could find Vegemite. I’m not kidding. I love the stuff, but that’s another story.

The festival ended several years ago when the original organizers moved away, and I wasn’t sure whether this family was even aware of it since this was early June. We were near downtown, but fortunately standing on West End, a large road that leads directly to Centennial Park. I told them all they had to do was catch the next bus. I could just as easily have said, “Follow me,” since I was going the same way, but I was struck by a sudden and overwhelming shyness. There were so many things I wanted to ask. What brings you here? Are you having a nice time? Can I help in any way? What part of Australia are you from? Where in Australia is Wellington? Do you have any Vegemite? Don’t you love that song about the bunyip of Hooligan’s Creek? Instead I just smiled politely.

“Is the Parthenon easy to find?” the woman asked.

“Oh, yes, very easy. There are two or three stops along the front of Centennial Park, and you’ll see the Parthenon as you go by.”


The fence for some stupid construction project wasn’t up at the time.

I gulped and hoped that made sense. When the bus arrived we boarded. I made my way to the back while they sat close to the front, watching out the windows and checking a map. I desperately wanted to call in to work and say a couple of dingoes had got me and I’d be waltzing Matilda on walkabout, and maybe throw in a “crikey”. Instead as I disembarked I merely smiled and said to them, “I hope you enjoy the Parthenon. It’s just a few blocks away from here.”

Australian for "sex in a canoe".

Australian for “sex in a canoe”.

The Driver’s Seat.

002Have you ever wondered what bus drivers need to do when they need to grab a bite to eat, or nature calls? They do what you and I do: they keep a mayonnaise jar stashed under the seat and…er, I mean they pull over and stop somewhere.

For a short time I was stuck daily with a driver who insisted on stopping at a McDonald’s on the route. This was in spite of the fact that she was always running late. She blamed the previous driver for this, but it never seemed to be a problem on days when someone else was driving. Maybe it really was the previous driver who’d held her up, but the substitutes didn’t spend most of the trip turned halfway around in the seat talking to someone standing behind them.

One day she was ridiculously late, but that didn’t stop her from stopping at McDonald’s. Somebody at the back yelled, “Hey, I’m late for my job! Can you skip that today?” She turned around, looked at them, then slowly got off the bus. While she was still in McDonald’s another bus went by us. I watched it longingly, unable to savor the irony that I’d have been home sooner if I’d taken a later bus. I even thought about jumping into the driver’s seat myself. Somebody else, I thought, needed to drive this bus.

Apparently I’m not the only one who thought so. The next week we had a different driver.

Don’t Talk To The Driver.

I have no idea who's responsible for this, but I love it.

I have no idea who’s responsible for this, but I love it.

“You were supposed to turn back there.”

“No sir, you’re thinking of the number thirteen route.”

I was standing quietly at the front of the bus waiting to swipe my fare card, but I couldn’t because a guy had come up to the front and was arguing with the driver. It wouldn’t have bothered me but the light had turned green and cars were now speeding around us.

“Well what am I supposed to do?”

“You can get off here and you can walk two blocks over that way and catch the thirteen.”

“But I paid. Can you give me a transfer card?”

“No sir, we don’t have those anymore.”

When I started riding the bus you could pay your fare and get a transfer to ride another bus for an extra ten cents, but they stopped offering those fifteen years ago. Where had this guy been?

“If you go catch another bus and tell the driver you got the wrong bus they might let you on without paying.”

“Maybe I should give ’em your name. What’s your name?”

“Just say you were on bus number 701.”

The guy wasn’t happy about this. He was pretty insistent he wanted the driver’s name, but he finally got off the bus so we could get underway.

It’s one thing to be held up in traffic because there’s just a lot of traffic. It’s another to be held up because some jackass doesn’t know what he’s doing.


You Can’t Get There From Here.

001Why is the sidewalk closed? Why do I have to go at least a block out of my way and cross in the middle of the street just to get to the bus stop? All this is because construction is going on. And may be going on for an unknown length of time. The bus may even be rerouted, and they won’t advertise that. You just might be sitting at a stop for a very long time.

I get that urban renewal and new construction has to go on. It’s a fact of life living in a city. It just irks me that it’s the pedestrians are the ones who get hit. The construction would go a lot faster if they had to shut down the street.


Brown-Eyed Guy.

He was heavyset with a languid look but leaned forward in his seat. He spoke with a deep, low voice. I don’t remember how we got started talking, but I’m pretty sure he initiated the conversation since one of the first things he said was “You wouldn’t believe some bands I’ve worked with.”

“Try me,” I said.

He stared for a long time then said, “I won’t name names.” Then why did you even bring it up? I thought. He continued. “I’ll just say I used to tour with some boys who worked for Apple Records.”

The name Apple Records bounced around in my consciousness looking for something to connect to. If he’d said Konk Studios or dropped a name like David Watts that would have meant something to me, but I shrugged. I didn’t know Apple Records.

“Four mophead boys from Liverpool,” he said slowly.

Bingo. I knew, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind that Apple Records was the label founded by The Beatles, but it wasn’t anywhere easily accessed. Hey, The Beatles are great, but I just don’t give them a lot of thought.

He got off a few stops before I did. When the doors closed the bus driver said, “He’s so full of shit his eyes are brown. He’s never been anywhere near The Beatles.” There’s a reason Nashville is called Music City. Within walking distance of where I work there are blocks and blocks of recording studios and music industry offices. I’ve never been in the industry myself but I’ve done temp jobs alongside people who worked as backup musicians for some of the biggest names in the industry. The odds here of actually being on a bus with either Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr are better than average. And yet I believed the bus driver. She knew without even looking that the guy had brown eyes.

Some People Just Look Like That.

004The bus driver glared at me. And I thought he had good reason for glaring at me. He was driving a regular bus, and I’d been standing at an express bus stop.

An express bus will only stop at express bus stops. This is true whether you’re boarding or departing. If you’re riding an express bus you might have to figure on walking a little further than usual, because it won’t necessarily stop at the stop that’s closest to where you want to go. It will, however, probably get you there faster. Express buses also run, theoretically, every fifteen minutes, while regular buses run, theoretically, anywhere from every twenty-five minutes to twice a day. At least that’s the case where I live, which is a city where public transportation isn’t a high priority.

Regular buses, by the way, will stop anywhere. According to the rules you can catch a regular bus at any regular bus stop or express bus stop or at any intersection, although I’ve also seen people flag down buses from the middle of a block, and on a couple of occasions I’ve had to weave through cars stopped at a red light because the bus driver couldn’t make it to the lane closest to the curb.

So the bus driver on this particular day was glaring at me because he was behind schedule, the bus was so packed with people it was creaking, and I was standing at an express bus stop when the regular bus stop was just thirty feet away. I felt like he was thinking, “Couldn’t you just wait for the express?”

Bus stop placement is one of those other things I’ll just never figure out. In some areas they’re a quarter of a mile or more apart. In some areas they’re ten feet apart. Sometimes I’ll be at one stop and there’ll be someone else at the one just a few feet away. When that happens I hope the driver understands why I wanted to be upwind of that other guy, but that’s another story.

As I watched the driver I realized, too, that he hadn’t just been glaring at me. He glared at everybody. I thanked him when I was getting off and said, “Have a nice day.” He cheerfully said, “You too,” but he was still glaring. I think he just had that sort of face.

Hey, my ride’s here.


You Picked A Fine Time To Clam Up Lucille.

While I was waiting at the bus stop a cop car pulled up. Two cops got out, handcuffed the guy next to me, and left. I was in downtown Cleveland. Most people had asked me, “Why would you want to go to Cleveland?” when I told them where I was going. One friend said, “It’s been nice knowing you. You’re gonna get shot there.” Seeing a guy get arrested was as close as that prediction would come to coming true. As for why I was in Cleveland, my wife and I were there for a dog show. And I took advantage of the opportunity to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Museum of Art. I also toured the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and didn’t let the fact that it was still under construction at the time bother me.

The bus driver was an older, white-haired woman with glasses. She mentioned her name was Lucille. I told her I was visiting from Nashville. We chatted a bit about baseball. The Indians weren’t doing well to her chagrin. I told her my grandfather had given me a baseball signed by Bob Feller. She was impressed that I even knew who Bob Feller was. She told me some things about Cleveland, and a couple of other passengers joined in the conversation. We were rollicking along as we rolled on through Parma.

Laughing I asked Lucille how long she’d been a bus driver. Her whole demeanor changed. “Why do you want to know?” she asked sharply.

Now everyone who reads this is probably rolling their eyes. I have a tendency to say insensitive things, and I had clearly offended her. I’m still not sure why. Did she think I was questioning her abilities? Was she really an international spy and did she think I might blow her cover? And it was a fair question. Why did I want to know? I could have been honest and said I sometimes write about things and thought that would be an interesting detail. And I also believed she loved being a bus driver because she enjoyed talking to people, and she knew Cleveland and the surrounding areas–Strongsville as where my hotel was–well. If I’d thought for  second that it was an inappropriate question I never would have asked.

She was silent for most of the rest of the trip. When we passed a restaurant that advertised paprikash Wednesdays she asked me if I’d ever tried it. I said no.

“You should.”

I still haven’t, but I appreciate the advice, and the ride, Ms. Lucille.

%d bloggers like this: