Why does the Greyhound bus line call itself Greyhound? If you’ve ever ridden a Greyhound bus, I think you can agree with me that the name is not only highly inaccurate, but also a major insult to greyhounds everywhere. A greyhound dog is a slender, oddly beautiful creature that moves with incredible swiftness and grace. A Greyhound bus is a giant, unsanitary monstrosity that moves about as fast as Congress and is always chock full of angry, mentally unstable people – once again, a lot like Congress.
The problem with Eugene – home of the University of Oregon – is that it isn’t in Portland – home of Truman Capps, Internet Celebrity – and thus when I want to go from my home to my college I’ve got to travel for two hours. Since I hate driving and I can’t find a Pegasus to ride, my only real choice is to take a bus to and from school. If you’ve never traveled by bus before, everything you’ve heard about it is true. Everything.
The simple fact is that a Greyhound bus is the cheapest way to get from point A to point B short of jumping into a passing boxcar, which means that everybody else on the bus is either going to be a cheapskate college student or (infinitely more likely) someone who is dead set on saving the rest of their money to buy crack. You may think I’m exaggerating, but you don’t hear about people getting beheaded on a train, now, do you? That’s because train tickets are more expensive, and the sort of guy who will just as soon cut off your head as look at you is inclined to be thrifty about his travel arrangements.
This is the main reason that, when I’m looking into a bus ticket, I usually look for a bus operated by Amtrak. Despite Amtrak bus tickets being identical in price to Greyhound tickets, the other passengers are almost always a lot less colorful, and by “less colorful” I mean to say that nobody has ever tried to cut my god damned head off. Whenever possible, I try to buy Amtrak tickets, both because I appreciate the cleanliness and overall sanity of the Amtrak experience and because I appreciate not using the preferred transit system of psychopaths.
However, it’s not always possible for me to ride Amtrak. Recently, I needed to book a ticket to Eugene and found that all the Amtrak buses were full up. Reluctantly, I bought a seat on a Greyhound, and the next day I cautiously entered the Portland Greyhound Station, hoping that perhaps Greyhound had stopped being disgusting of its own accord since my last experience with the company.
Yeah, well, not so much.
I’ve got to say that I really applaud Greyhound for their commitment to lateness. With other services, be they air, train, or sea, you get the idea that maybe falling behind schedule is just sort of an accident. But I can only assume that Greyhound employees are loving students of the art of being late for things, as evidenced by the fact that my bus arrived at the Portland station on time, but then proceeded to sit there, unattended, for 15 minutes before we were allowed to board, and then another 10 minutes once everyone had been loaded. Sure, you can go ahead and take Greyhound’s side and argue that they were probably busy doing very important bus driver things while we were all waiting to get on the road, but I think it’s quite clear that Greyhound assumes that its riders, by deciding to travel by bus, are too stupid to see anything wrong with spending a full 25 minutes waiting for nothing, and thus they get away with it. Judging by some of my fellow busmates, I’ve got to say that Greyhound knows their clientele really well. Regardless of the reason for it, the delay gave me a lot of time to observe my surroundings.
I don’t know if any of you have been on a Greyhound recently, but have you noticed that the driver’s seat is now surrounded by plexiglass? I’m not kidding. He’s all enclosed, save for a door that opens in such a way that it blocks the passenger isle so that the driver can get out first. When I noticed this, I was suddenly afraid that I’d accidentally boarded some sort of prison bus in a situation reminiscent of Con Air. Not long after, an infinitely more terrifying thought occurred – what if the driver was the crazy one, and the plexiglass was there for our protection?
“Bus 56? Oh, yeah, Crazy Duane’s drivin’ that one. He decapitated a kid back in ’87 – looked a lot like you; hair’n everything! – but he’s never been late to a stop, so we kept him on, provided he stays in his little pen in the driver’s seat there. Don’t tap on the glass.”
Presently we got underway, and Crazy Duane mumbled a brief itinerary into the P.A. system, summarizing the bus’s upcoming stops in towns like “Woodbrn”, “Saluhm”, “U-Geen”, “Wheed”, and “Sagamendo”. That or he could have just been coughing and wheezing – it’s tough to tell with Crazy Duane. I suppose that’s what makes him so crazy; that and the decapitations, of course.
In Salem, we picked up a young guy in a flannel shirt with a cigarette tucked behind his ear and a garbage bag filled with all of his worldly possessions. Because the bus was full up he had a seat in the isle a little ways behind me, and proceeded to explain to his neighbors the circumstances that brought him to this particular Greyhound. Since this man was an Asshole in the highest degree, he did his explaining very loudly, and so the entire bus got to hear about how he stole a car two years ago and did time in some of the roughest prisons in Oregon and just got released yesterday and was still a bit drunk but really had to get down to Klamath Falls to see his family and how most judges will give a guy two days in jail and three years community service except when they saw him coming, and then it’s always the toughest sentence possible, because the world is so very, very, very cruel.
In Corvallis my seat partner got off and was replaced by a young man with a finance book who clearly wanted to have a long conversation. Our relationship got off to a rocky start:
“Hey,” He said, removing one of his earphones as I looked up from my book. “Do you ever watch the roasts on Comedy Central?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Oh.” He said, putting his earphones back on.
As we pulled into Eugene, a few more fetid gobbets of conversation came dribbling out of him:
“You ever hear a song called Short Skirt, Long Jacket, by Cake?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Oh.” He said, disappointment written across his face in 32 point Comic Sans font. “It’s a song about the perfect woman. You should listen to it.”
With that, I got off the bus, having reached my destination. There are few things I find creepier than having a complete stranger try to recommend me music. How would you feel if some guy in the elevator tried to convince you that Crest was a much better toothpaste than Aim? It would be weird, wouldn’t it? Now imagine he’s trying to explain that Crest is the toothpaste that describes the perfect woman, and for some reason is very interested in what you think of it.
As I walked through the filthy bus station (AIDS originated in the Eugene Greyhound Station’s bathroom, in case you didn’t know) toward the street, I realized that the plexiglass wasn’t there because the driver was afraid of psychopaths, or because the driver himself was a psychopath – it was there because the People in Charge of Greyhound not only know their clientele, they’re scared of them too.
I have to say, I see where they’re coming from.
Truman Capps also doesn't quite know what the deal is with airline peanuts - but that's a story for another day.