Aboard a Greyhound Bus for the Holidays
I remember it well. It was my first trip home from college while attending State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Back then, my first winter in Plattsburgh was the coldest winter I’d ever experienced in all my life. It seemed that every time the wind blew, my vital organs shivered. A part of me wanted to berate my guidance counselor for ever recommending me to Plattsburgh in the first place.
“Make sure you got everything,” my resident assistant said to me as I was getting ready to leave. “Once you leave the dorm, you can’t come back until January. The entire campus is pretty much closed during the holidays.”
In truth, I was a bit homesick, especially for my mom’s cooking. The closest thing to my mom’s Pad Thai in Plattsburgh was Lo Mien at the local Chinese take-out made with store-bought spaghetti. I asked my mom in advance to make some of my favorite dishes for when I arrived. I was planning to not talk to anyone until I finished eating. Not ever before was I so eager to get home for the holidays.
I took the ultra-cheap means of transportation to get uptown and to the Greyhound bus terminal via the Student Association passenger van, which cost me a whopping one-dollar since I bought at the counter on campus. I didn’t have much—just a backpack with some of my personal items and a duffel bag filled with dirty laundry I didn’t bother to clean what studying for finals and all. And in case you’re wondering, I do my own laundry! My friends from school insisted on making their moms do their laundry whenever they went home for break. I was surprised they didn’t ask their moms to come up over the weekends to clean their pigsty as well. My mom would have cracked me over the head with her notorious Indestructible Soup Ladle if ever I dreamed of doing such a thing—and then demand an apology just as soon as I regained consciousness.
When I reached the terminal, which was nothing more than a little office within a strip-mall within a run-down parking lot, I saw that there were a lot of students already waiting there with what looked like everything they owned. Two Greyhound buses stood stationary as the drivers of both buses helped to unload cargo to the awaiting passengers. I remember thinking that I did the right thing by purchasing my ticket a week ahead of time so I wouldn’t miss out on the first-wave of buses at eleven o’clock that morning. In all, a one-way trip from Plattsburgh to New Rochelle, New York took seven hours to travel 330 miles, as there was a layover of about an hour in Albany. I was just relieved that I didn’t have to fight for a ticket, as a ticket purchased ahead of time guarantees me boarding, right?
“We have a problem,” the bus driver told me, as I stood in that blistering cold and windy day at the very foot of the coach bus that was supposed to be taking me home for the holidays. I was the last person on line as there was no one else behind me. In reaction to this, I’m pretty sure I bunched my eyebrows like I always do whenever someone tells me something that plainly doesn’t make sense to me, followed by
“What do you mean?” Suddenly, the woman from the terminal walks up to the driver and tells him something and then walks back inside to her warm, cozy office.
“We’re at full-capacity. There are no more seats.” Of course I then looked up at the coach bus with all its windows. Half of the people were looking down at me and most of them were my peers. They were all from either Long Island or New York City. I’m not really sure what the hell I was looking for at the time—maybe it was an empty seat the bus driver forgot about, that was available for me to use. “I’m sorry, he said.” I almost felt sorry for the guy. He looked hurt and didn’t look at all comfortable, as if he was about to inject a needle into a dog to put it asleep. Sure, it was part of his job, but he sure as hell didn’t like that part of it.
So what the fuck happens now? I almost said aloud. The campus is closed, remember? You’re three-hundred and thirty miles from home; you can’t go back to campus, and you have only nine dollars to your name. What now? Not ever before had I felt so helpless or desperate. A part of me was about to explode. I was about to throw a shit fit, which I had not done since wanting a bike—a GT Performer—while I was a pre-adolescent. I was about to crack some heads. So I said the only diplomatic thing I could think of:
“But I have a ticket!” I waved it in front of him as proof. If any of you guys have ever seen Hotel Rwanda you’ll know the desperation and helplessness I was feeling right then and there.
“I know you do, and we are sorry. You see, we're overbooked…” Sorry? I’m freezing my ass off here with no way to get home and you’re sorry? “Another bus will be here tomorrow morning. You can catch that one.” Ha! NO PROBLEM! I’ll just spend the night in a FUCKING SHELTER and walk back here tomorrow morning. No sweat! Oh, and I Hope you have a Merry Christmas! But instead of saying all of this, I went the diplomatic route:
“The campus is closed. I have nowhere to go.” The bus driver then drew in a deep breath and sighed. He placed his hand and on the side of the bus and leaned.
“Well, there is one thing we could do, but you might not like it.” Hope. There is hope. Out with it! I don’t care, I gotta get home! “You could sit on the stairwell of the bus, I mean, I don’t normally do this, but it’ll only be until we got to Albany. Screw it, I’m game…I took a look around me and at the barren landscape and then began boarding the bus. I was on board.
Looking back, I’m sure that I looked like a tool sitting there atop the stairwell while going roughly seventy-miles-an-hour without any restraints, but whatever. I was happy that I had a ride home that day. Aside from my ass looking like a waffle (Ralwus would know) and my feet feeling like icicles due to the draft that emanated from the door of the bus, it really wasn’t all that bad. The bus driver and I made chit-chat the entire two-and-a-half-hours or so about family, college and the New York Yankees. I had the heat at full blast hitting my face and my feet ice-cold the entire time—hot and cold.
The bus driver whose name I cannot
for the life of me recall—let’s call him Pete—apologized to me several
while driving and each time, I told him, “It’s okay.” He and I shook
hands when we parted (So wherever you are, "Pete," I thank you for not
leaving me behind as you probably risked losing your job in doing what
you did for me).
“Have a Merry Christmas,” Pete said to me.
“You too,” I said.
“Don't lose that ticket, all right? You’re going to get a full refund. Again, I’m sorry.”
“I’m thankful,” I told him and walked away, carrying my bags.
When I got onto the bus in Albany, I was happy to find that not only did I have a seat, but I had two seats to myself. Just as soon as I sat down, by window, I reclined my chair and was actually able to catch a quick nap. I woke up just in time to catch the last five miles or so before reaching New Rochelle.
“How was your trip?” My mom asked me when I got inside my mom's Toyota Camry.
“Great,” I said to her, smiling. And it was at that.
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