Several minutes into the morning of Jan. 18, the Greyhound bus I’d been sitting on for the past half day jolted to a stop next to a long line of abandoned semi-trucks. We were on a narrow, winding section of mountain highway near Castle Gate, Utah, 100 miles away from Salt Lake City. There were several inches of snow on the road already, and more was falling. It was dark outside the half-lit confines of the bus: clouds covered the moon and no lights were on the surrounding hillsides. Red lights flashed ahead, and a procession of snow plows and state troopers crept past us.
We waited, confused, for what seemed like hours, until a man in the back of the bus announced that there’s a post on Facebook claiming a 30-foot-deep avalanche had blocked the road in front of us.
I fell asleep before we started moving again, but we didn’t reach Salt Lake City until nearly 5 a.m. Our scheduled arrival time was six hours earlier.
. . .
I took a Greyhound bus to Salt Lake over Half Block break because I thought it would be relaxing. I wanted to visit a high school friend attending the University of Utah, but after flying between school and home multiple times in the past semester, I didn’t feel like facing airport shuttles, long security lines, and cramped airplane seating again.
Traveling cross-country via Greyhound seemed like the perfect solution: the cost was comparable; the bus left right from downtown Colorado Springs; and even though the ride was scheduled to take 12 hours, airport travel takes nearly as long once all the lines and waiting are factored in.
I left without telling my parents about my plans. When they asked where I was and I answered, “somewhere in Utah heading west on I-70,” their answer was “in the middle of winter?!”
In hindsight, crossing the Rockies on a bus in January is an ill-advised idea. On the way to Salt Lake, I had to wait in Denver for three hours while our bus was rerouted to avoid the worst of the incoming snowstorm. On the way back to Colorado Springs, the bus was similarly delayed.
The striking thing about bus travel, however, is that no one’s bothered. On planes, passengers are on tight schedules and start complaining to the flight attendants after runway delays of under an hour. On a Greyhound, the drivers stick to their scheduled rest stops, rattling through a succession of slushy middle-of-nowhere gas stations and McDonald’s parking lots for their hourly smoke breaks. If people miss their connecting buses, too bad; another one will eventually arrive.
Despite Greyhound’s stated policies, no one bothers to check ID. The closest thing to security is bus drivers who start the drive with an admonishment to their passengers that there is to be “no smoking on the bus, no alcohol, and no fighting whatsoever.”
This is fine; in my experience, people tend to huddle in their own seats and leave each other alone once the bus starts moving. It’s in the bus stations, while everybody’s waiting for their hours-delayed ride, that things can get interesting.
As I waited in Denver en route to Salt Lake, a man in ripped sweatpants and a stained sweatshirt began walking up to people waiting on benches, explaining that money is an addiction. A few minutes later, a white-haired woman began laughing as she relayed poetry she’d written out on a yellow legal pad over the phone. A man nearby negotiated the price of renting a loft in Boise, Idaho from his friend, while two men standing in line with skis reminisced about their previous lives in South Africa.
. . .
On the whole, bus travel can be relaxing. Bus routes that travel through the middle of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming are often nearly empty. It’s easy to get a window seat — really, a whole section of seats — to yourself. The buses have slow Wi-Fi and personal lighting. The bathroom is a cross between a port-a-potty and an airplane bathroom in extreme turbulence, with some extra loud rattling sounds and sudden deaccelerations thrown in. But, at least it’s not necessary to clamber over your seat partners to reach it.
What bus travel requires, however, is a certain flexibility in regards to time, scheduling, and the idea of getting anywhere fast. It requires an acceptance of the unexpected and the inconvenient. More than anything, it requires a stockpile of books, water, food, and a healthy interest in gazing out the window for long periods of time.
But maybe sometimes, after a hectic block, that’s just the sort of experience we need.