BY: M. Taufiqurrahman
"Kathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh Michigan seems like a dream to me now It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw I've gone to look for America" (Simon and Garfunkel, 1972)
It was not only the Simon and Garfunkel song "America" -- about the physical and metaphorical journey of two companions in search of the true meaning of America -- that inspired me to travel the Midwest on a Greyhound bus.
I had more practical reasons. As a money-conscious international student living off a scholarship, it would have been foolish for me to travel by air, especially amid a period of sky-rocketing fuel prices.
Even if I could have saved some of my monthly stipend to pay for an airfare, the prospect of having to go through a long line of security checks at every airport was enough to dissuade me from flying.
So I decided to hop on a Greyhound bus and brace myself for whatever would come my way. And when my epic four-day journey across the American Midwest was over, the Simon and Garfunkel cliche proved to be true -- the best possible way to get to know America is by going on a Greyhound bus.
On the way between Chicago and Indianapolis, I shared the bus with many African Americans.
Probably 90 percent of the passengers were African American, and my class-conscious mind quickly drew the conclusion that this had something to do with the uneven distribution of income between white and black Americans, so that the latter were forced to endure a long Greyhound trip to visit family and friends because they could not afford to buy cars or to pay air fares.
But I might have been wrong. At the Indianapolis Greyhound terminal, I saw a large number of white, working class Americans who stood grudgingly in a long line for a bus that would take them to Columbus, Ohio.
But my class-based judgment was totally repudiated on the trip between Columbus and Cleveland. During this last leg of my trip, I saw roughly an equal proportion of African Americans and white Americans. They shared seats and traded profanity-filled stories of their epic Greyhound journeys.
Yes, profanity. Despite every bus driver reciting the same rule against using profanity before every departure, my fellow passengers jovially exchanged profanity-peppered stories about hardships they had endured, which predominately seemed due to delayed buses.
A scruffy looking thirty-something behind me, who could easily have been mistaken for a roadie or a member of a mid-90s alternative rock band, appeared to be very glad to find out that he was not the only one who had suffered from a Greyhound bus running 12 hours late.
"I think those people at Greyhound only have one goal, to piss off as many people as possible," the Tennessee-bound man said, provoking roaring laughter from the rest of us.
Next to him, a middle-aged, Cleveland-bound African American woman, seemingly out of desperation, made a vow that she would likely break.
"I will never set foot again on a Greyhound bus after this trip is over," she said.
When answering her daughter's call about when she should be picked up from the terminal in Cleveland, she said with a chuckle: "The schedule says that I will arrive in Cleveland at 10:55, but you know, this is Greyhound, so give me until 12:30 to get to Cleveland."
Every one on board was so tired that they decided to laugh it off.
However, a loud grumble was heard when a woman at the back, with a toddler sitting on her lap, said she had been traveling on a Greyhound bus for three days.
"I left California on Saturday night heading for New York and now it is already Monday afternoon." Nobody said a thing when, seemingly in response to this, the toddler began to cry.
"This is the first time in a long while that the baby has cried," the passenger next to me said in his southern twang.
When these people exchanged their stories about Greyhound running behind schedule, what came to my mind was the Greyhound motto: "We Are On Our Way."
This was strikingly fitting as, with the company's best intentions, however long the delay, I knew that somewhere out there a Greyhound bus was on its way to pick up all of the passengers patient enough to wait.
My fellow passengers' ordeals also reminded me of a tag line on the wall of the Greyhound terminal in Columbus, Ohio. I was half asleep after a 12-hour-plus trip when this poster brought tears to my eyes from laughter. "Travel faster, because we are named after a greyhound, not a sloth."
I reckon those lengthy delays were the result of Greyhound's new regulation, which dictated that although bus tickets had times and dates printed on them, seating was not guaranteed, and was based on a first-come, first-served system.
Under the new system, Greyhound planned to add additional "sections" (buses) in periods of high demand, but the level of demand required to trigger additional sections varied. Passengers were often forced to wait for the next bus.
Suffering may have been what the majority of Greyhound customers got from the new policy, but for a lone freeloader like me, the system was very advantageous as I was able to come five minutes before the scheduled departure time -- knowing full well it would not be honored -- and still get my ticket to any destination I wanted. Take that, Jet Blue!
As for the numb legs caused by standing in line for too long and the broken back from sitting for too long inside a coach -- it was all worth to it be able to share a ride with the blue-collar Americans and to see what that vast land had to offer along the way.