By Romeo Morales
TRAVELING throughout the United States can be a lot of fun, but a journey to its several states by bus can be mind-boggling. I discovered this quickly when, using a one-month Greyhound bus’s Ameripass, I moved from one place to another to cover as many states as I could within a 30-day period.
Upon learning that I was traveling by bus for almost a month, Elizabeth Miller, my very accommodating hostess in North Carolina, exclaimed: “You must be crazy!”
Indeed, I was. After the long and arduous ride, with little or no sleep at all while remaining on my seat for hours, I suffered the usual inconvenience of numbness of the legs, backache and cramps. Still, I was able to make it to at least 21 states, and some major cities.
My travel destinations included California, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Nebraska, Ohio, Indiana, Cincinnati, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, Atlanta, Alabama, Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas and Arizona.
Fortunately there were stops along the way to allow leg stretches, visits to the restroom, meals, and whiffs of fresh air. These breaks normally took from 10 to 20 minutes, or half an hour in some stops. The danger here if one is oblivious to the time allotted, is that he or she might be left behind. Bus drivers are strict and authoritative. I suppose they need to be in order to instill discipline among the passengers.
Almost all bus drivers turn into virtual despots once they get behind the wheel, telling everybody that anybody who refuses to follow the rules will be dealt with accordingly.
Take a load of what I heard on this trip: “Smoking is not allowed in this bus…more so with taking alcohol…If you have radios with you, turn it on in such a way that only you can hear it…Talking aloud in the bus is not also encouraged because you might disturb the other passengers…Observe the time allotted during stopovers unless you want to find yourself alone in the bus station.” And so on.
Driving through the long stretches that linked our different destinations could have bored us to death but the colorful billboards and signs along the way spiced with a lot of humor broke the monotony of endless driving. For example, one said: “It’s show time! We have 100 beautiful girls and three ugly ones!” Another one proclaimed: “Do you mind if I smoke? Do you mind if I die?”
Traveling by bus in the United States of America is really uncomfortable and boring, despite the advent of computerization and high technology. There is no music, no television. You behave like fearful schoolchildren herded together in one place. Obedient is the rule. Sit if you have to, stay if you have to stay. Somehow, you get the feeling you’re a trained dog.
Surprisingly, some passengers have come up with ingenious ways of breaking the boredom of a long journey. What they sometimes do is speak loudly enough to be heard by anyone waiting for somebody to make comments like: “just one more day.” Another passenger who sees the same seating buddy again and again after several bus stops blurts out: “It’s nice to be sitting with you again.” Or being a little sarcastic: “You again!”
Anything can happen in the bus during the journey. A baby can suddenly become ill or even a playful and smart child can end up as the bus entertainer. In the case of the sick baby, after a 911 call, two fire trucks immediately responded. In a matter of minutes, they were off to the nearest hospital. But in the case of the smart child who was showing off, most of the passengers whom he hoped were watching him, were snoring after getting bored with his antics.
In El Paso, when almost everybody was asleep, a 5’8” burly man in brown border patrol uniform boarded the bus in the middle of the night, stood in front of everybody, projected a very serious face, broke the silence as he introduced himself: “Sorry to disturb everybody, this is your immigration officer. If you are not an American citizen, please bring out your papers,” he said in a voice full of authority.
This happen right after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been attacked by terrorists who crashed the American passenger planes they hijacked in Boston, Newark and Washington, D.C. into the twin towers in New York and the west side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
I was sitting just right opposite the driver and naturally, I was the first one the officer would most likely want to check. He looked at me. I stared back at him too. He didn’t utter a work. He took the passport from the girl sitting beside me, flipped over the pages and returned it to her. One by one, he approached the passengers until he came to a young man in his 20’s who appeared to have no papers. I remembered seeing the young man in Charlotte, North Carolina where I boarded the bus anew after a week’s stay with the Millers. He was the one with a skateboard and a knapsack, who wore a fade denim and black t-shirt. The INS officer instructed him to step out. Then a man, who looked like a preacher stood before us. He had in his left hand of what appeared to be a Bible. He uttered some verses from it and when he was about to lead us into a prayer, the driver abruptly stopped him. “I would not allow this inside this bus. Let them pray by themselves, please!”
We never saw the young man boarded the bus again. Before we hit the road, the INS officer climbed up the bus again. He took a glance at me for the second time. He said, “suman, pancit (rice cake, noodles).” Of course, I was taken aback. In fact, I was a little stunned, not knowing what his intention was. After recovering my composure, I responded with a question: “How come you know those words?”
He replied: “My roommate cooks those food for me.” We both released a faint smile. Before he left, he spoke again, loud enough to be heard by everybody. “Good night, have a nice trip.”
In the course of my trip, I added to my stock of knowledge such earth-shaking stuff like the most violated law in the U.S. is the so-called “speed limit”, the most abused words are “great” and “whatever”, the most common way to greet somebody when you have nothing important to say is “How are you doing?” or “What’s up?”
Finally, I never realized that after seeing Macy’s, JC Penny, Toys R Us, and other big stores in almost all the states I traveled, I’m beginning to think that the U.S. after all, is just one big department store.