Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Greyhound Bussing America [Pt.2]

Classic imagery that helped define the Greyhound Bus company
In which my luck continues to hold.

One of the things I like most about solo travel is the luxury – the indulgence, really – of being able to please myself with regard to itinerary, level of accommodations, methods of travel, choice of eating establishments and so on. Paradoxically, one of the things I like least is the fact that because I am travelling alone, I don’t have someone else to share my experiences with [suddenly, it occurs to me as I write this, that maybe that’s why I write this blog – as a way of sharing my travel experiences with you, the reader].

My three day stop in Raleigh, was particularly pleasing because it gave me a chance to catch up with extended family, and to share part of the journey with them. So when cousin George saw me off at the station, after he and his lovely wife, Jan gave me a send off BBQ with the whole family present, I was sorry to go, having enjoyed their lively company and warm companionship during my all too brief stay.

The woods and forests across the rolling green hills of North Carolina may well be "...lovely, dark, and deep," but like Robert Frost, writing in his famous poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, I too "...have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep."

With that in mind, and the exciting prospect of three nights in New Orleans waiting for me at the end of a 24 hour bus ride, I departed Raleigh just after 7.00PM for the Crescent City.

Raleigh, NC, to Atlanta, GA. Distance: 410 miles (659 kms)

From my observations, the further south I travelled, the older the Greyhound Bus fleet seemed to get. That’s not to say the buses were unsafe or unroadworthy, just that some of the seating was well-worn, that there are more rattles and squeaks emanating from various parts of the chassis, and that you might be unlucky enough to find the storage compartment on the back of the seat in front of you, missing.

The bus was 90 percent full, as we left Raleigh, with the usual mix of 80 percent African-American and eight percent Hispanic passengers. The other two percent was made up of mostly of Caucasians like myself. For a while I shared a seat with a youngish male who was trying hard to sleep, although without much success.

At Greensborough some passengers disembarked and to my delight I managed to grab a window seat. Now I should add here, that I don’t do long bus trips all that often, and I do overnight bus trips even less. I don’t have a problem sitting up during the day watching the scenery flash by, but when evening comes, and it’s time for bed, I prefer a nice firm mattress, a fine soft pillow, clean fresh sheets and a warm bed – and I was clearly not getting any of these on this overnight run! Which is why I was delighted to get a window seat.

Coincidentally, it takes almost the same amount of time to fly from Adelaide, Australia, to say, London, England, as it does to travel by bus from Raleigh to New Orleans, which is why I decided to treat the bus trip the same way I treat international travel. When I fly on long flights, I always ask for a window seat, and when it is time for some shut-eye, I wedge myself hard up between the back of the seat and the window, and doze fitfully through the night. It isn’t the firm mattress, soft pillow, fresh sheets and warm bed I prefer, but it works.

At 11.30PM we reach Charlotte, North Carolina and I buy a small travel pillow for $4.30 from the café in the bus station. At 1.50AM, a jot into my notebook: Pillow the best $4.30 I’ve spent on the trip so far!

Personally, I prefer to travel during daylight hours. The whole point of embarking on this bus trip down south was to see America. Spending twelve hours in darkness, rolling across the American countryside does not constitute seeing America in my book, but clearly not all bus trips can be conducted during daylight hours. Not profitably, anyway.

Image: Highway view by day - seeing America (Well, sort of...)

Image: The same view at night - Not seeing America!

As the bus rolls through the dark landscape, we make brief stops in Spartanburg, and Greenville, South Carolina.

Spartanburg gave the world the Southern rock group - the Marshall Tucker Band, and General William C. Westmoreland, who came to much prominence when he served as senior US military commander in Vietnam during the height of that conflict. It was also the home of Pink Anderson, the southern bluesman who unwittingly provided half the band name for Pink Floyd. According to Wikipedia, Syd Barrett came up with the band's name by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and North Carolina bluesman, Floyd Council, after he noticed the names in the liner notes of a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album.

Hopefully, you will sleep a lot easier tonight, having learnt that.

Greenville on the other hand gave America the Rev. Jesse Jackson: two-time presidential candidate, civil rights activist, and Baptist minister.

Image: Jesse Jackson in 1975, surrounded by marchers demanding full employment. [Source: Wikipedia] P.S. Gotta love that 'fro', man.

Since we were now heading into the real south, a few words about the Rev. Jesse seem appropriate:

During the 1960s, blacks in the [Greenville] area were subject to segregationist restrictions; for example, they were limited to the back of city buses, were not permitted to stay in hotels or motels for whites, and had to sit in the balcony of movie theaters. Especially significant was the restriction of blacks from use of the public library, which partially motivated the activism of the library-denied Jesse Jackson. Jackson, working through the NAACP, organized a sit-in at Greenville's F.W. Woolworth "five and dime" store, and quickly emerged as a civil rights leader. [Source: Wikipedia]

Somewhere off on our right are the Great Smoky Mountains, but since they are at least 50-60 kilometres away, I doubt if we could have seen them even during broad daylight – so I continue to doze on. At 4.15AM we reach Atlanta, Georgia. I’m feeling remarkably chipper, having slept most of the journey from Raleigh. We have a 90 minute layover, and a change of buses before departing at 6.00AM.

Preparing to board at 5.30AM, I encounter my first security check of carry-on bags. I immediately wonder if this is a portent of what is to come? Should I be concerned? Do the new passengers look any more dangerous, deranged, and altogether debauched than either myself or the people continuing the trip down south? The short answer, No. They look tired, haggard, and desperate to reach ‘home’, wherever that may be. Who knows how long some of them have been waiting for their bus, or how many hours they have been on the road, or are still to travel?

I wonder if security personnel are on hand 24 hours, or just during the early morning hours, when travellers are more likely to be exhausted from upset sleep patterns, and cranky due to missed, overcrowded or rescheduled buses.

A Few Observations

  • Sadly, Greyhound staff seem to do the absolute minimum necessary to help customers. If you don’t ask you don’t learn or know what’s going on. Staff are faced with an endless stream of tired, stressed and frazzled travellers, but don’t seem to want go out of their way to make things easier than they can be – either for themselves or their customers.
  • Thankfully, there are few children travelling on buses, and those that are, are remarkably well behaved and quiet.
  • Line up early to get a window seat – if a window seat are what you are after.

Image courtesy of World Photo Journal.com...

7.25AM: A golden sunrise breaks above the horizon heralding a beautiful day ahead.

To be continued…

Read The Full Greyhound Bussing America Trip Report:
[Part 1] New York City to Philadelphia, PA…
[Part 2] Philadelphia, PA to Raleigh, NC…
[Part 3] Raleigh, NC to Mobile, AL…
[Part 4] Mobile, AL to New Orleans…
[Part 5] Tips and Advice…
[Part 6] A Final Word…

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