The Broad is Back!

July 2, 2007

On the road again–via bus

Filed under: American culture,New Broads,travel — by maggiec @ 5:26 pm

I’ve been furiously grading papers for the end of spring term, so even though I’ve been making lots of observations, I’ve no time to write them down.

But this week I have inadvertently given myself much fodder for the blog. I had been in Tennessee visiting my mother, and I have to be in Schenectady, NY for a summer job. Because I have two large suitcases, no car and little money, I decided to take Greyhound bus from TN to NY. What an education!

I regularly took the bus when I was in college, but that was mostly trips under four hours. This trip is 25 hours in total. I’m on the final leg, NYC’s Port Authority to Albany, right now. I’ve discovered a very different group of people on this bus. For New York City residents, many of whom don’t own cars, the bus is an easy way to get upstate. My fellow passengers are a collection of students and business people, as well as vacationers, I’d guess. The relative wealth is palpable.

But on the two earlier legs of my journey, the lack of wealth was what was palpable. I only saw one other person with a laptop computer, and I pegged him as a student. I never took mine out of my bag. Not only did I not want to call attention to it, there was no room to do so. The bus was packed at all times. I found that pretty surprising.

I don’t know anyone who travels by bus, therefor, bus travel must be uncommon. Stupid assumption, I know.

As travel companions, my fellow bus riders were a very nice group of people, unfailingly polite and friendly. But I realize we just come from very different worlds. All of my middle class buttons about health and nutrition were being pushed. It was killing me seeing women smoking around their babies and giving the little kids HiC drink and PopTarts for breakfast. Or even worse, orange soda and Doritos. I admit that I used to let standards slip when traveling with my young son, but I would make sure I had pure juice for him to drink and fresh fruit or raisins. As a teacher, I know the difference good nutrition makes for children. As much as I love sugar and sweets, I know that pure sugar and artificial flavors and colors are pretty much poison for developing brains.

But better nutrition costs more money, and my guess is that the money wasn’t there. And if money wasn’t the issue, the stops we made for food didn’t really offer the healthiest choices. This morning for breakfast, for instance, we had the choice of Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza or a little shop that offered varieties of soda, juice drinks, cakes, pastries, chips and cereal bars. I’m feeling a little queasy remembering it. I got milk, but I really had to struggle to find something else I would, or could, eat. My days of pizza breakfasts are sadly far in the past!

Then there was the waiting. As much as I complain about airports, and I do complain about them, let me tell you, they are lovely compared to most bus stations I’ve been in on this trip. Most were dingy looking, smelly, understaffed and crowded. Buses are all open seating, so people line up incredibly early for boarding. In Richmond, Virginia, I stood on line for over an hour just waiting. And what amazed me was how patient the people were, or was that docile? I can not imagine the complaints I’d be listening to if people in airports had to stand at the gate for over an hour before boarding time. No, at airport gates there are chairs and clean carpets and delicious food stalls.

When I was waiting to transfer planes in Chicago a few weeks ago, I was grumpy because I couldn’t find something I wanted to eat. There was a McDonald’s, a Chili’s grill, a Greek diner-type food stand, a bakery/coffee stand and some snack stalls with chips, soda and candy. Am I spoiled? At the bus station there was a coffee stand and a food stand selling soda, ice cream and candy. At inflated prices, I might add. Most of my fellow travelers, veterans of the long-haul bus circuit, I’d guess, had coolers of food with them. Luckily I had brought drinks, fruit, some nuts and some granola bars. Mom offered to make me some sandwiches, but I said no as I had too much to carry. Dumb move. I was thinking of mom’s sandwiches after a while! Next time I know better.

I thought at least I could get some work done on the bus, but then I realized that I couldn’t use the laptop. That was ok, I still had a book. Oops, motion sickness, something that only bothers me in cars, and oh yeah, buses. In the 20 years since I’ve taken the bus, I’d forgotten that. So mostly I slept and listened to a recorded book I’d put on my Mp3. And I was one of the few people with an Mp3 on the trip. Most people had CD players or nothing. One man I traveled with from Tennessee to NY who was going on to Massachusetts had no music, no book, no newspaper even. He just talked to whoever sat next to him or slept. I ended up sleeping a lot, which was good for me and made the trip go faster.

I did talk to one seat mate, a young man of 17 about to go to basic training for the Navy. He was from Johnson City, TN and was returning to a trip to visit his cousin in Nashville. The only other big city he’d been in had been Washington, DC, which he hadn’t liked. He said the people there were mean. When he learned I was from Sweden, sort of, he had a million questions. When he learned I’ve lived in four countries and my son is fluent in three languages because he went to school in those languages, he was envious because he’d only left Tennessee once in his life. I told him my son would envy him his stability. He replied, “Is he crazy? Any time he wants to trade places, I’m ready.” He’s right, of course. My son would be crazy to trade the opportunities and experiences he’s had.

As uncomfortable as parts of it were, I am not ruling out traveling by bus again. It was much cheaper than flying and even cheaper than driving myself. It was certainly the greenest way I could have covered over 1000 miles of road. And now I know what to expect.

It was great to see a side of America I am losing touch with, if I ever was in touch with it. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I’m so broke. Last week’s trip was a real eye opener into just how lucky I am.



  1. Does this mean you are within striking distance of NYC for the summer? I’ve never been to Schenectady . . . 🙂
    I don’t take the bus back and forth to Boston anymore, because I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford the train, and on the train I don’t get there feeling wrung out. Avoiding the bus is one of my big luxuries, so I give you major props for coping all the way from TN. I flew there the one time I went.
    Email me when you have a phone number so I can call you 🙂

    Comment by Emily — July 2, 2007 @ 9:08 pm |Reply

  2. Didn’t know you were in “my neck of the woods” – well a few hours away from GA…sounds like the bus trip was an experience to say the least!

    Comment by Kris — July 8, 2007 @ 1:57 am |Reply

  3. Well, Kris, right now I’m in upstate NY–Schenectady. But should be back at mom’s in August. Reunion time??

    Comment by maggiec — July 9, 2007 @ 5:46 pm |Reply

  4. Sounds good to me…let me know when you’re back at your mom’s.

    Comment by Kris — July 13, 2007 @ 6:02 am |Reply

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