Thursday, 10 February 2011

What's your worst public transport story? This is mine..

What's your worst public transport story? Everyone's got one. I've been on an Edinburgh bus, more than once, with people smoking heroin at the back. I've been on the Megabus from Edinburgh to Dundee with sick from one Dundonian class act rolling from the front to the back with every tap of the break and burst of the accelerator from the unwitting driver on the deck below. I've been on a citylink coach from Sheffield to London where a baby two rows in front of me has refused to stop crying for the duration of the journey. For all I know, he's still crying now. But none of that could have prepared me for what we were undertaking when we boarded the NY to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Greyhound bus service. 34 hours of unadulterated bad time.

It started innocuously enough when we boarded at 9.30am at the Port Authority bus terminal on 42nd street. A nice empty bus with maybe 4 other passengers which wound it's way through the city to Newark in New Jersey. From there it was fairly uneventful until we reached a place called Harrisburg in Pennsylvania  when two women boarded, shepherding 6 feral children all of whom had menacing looks in their close together eyes.

Luckily we were due for a change of bus soon enough so we put up with the raucous screeching and unbridled seat kicking for an hour or so before it was time to change.

I can't remember the names of every tin pot town we went through so from now on I'll mention only those of importance. After having managed our disappointment of seeing the 6 child party boarding we got on our connection and the despair truly began. I noted there was a bit of a buzz, people seemed to be getting on famously, I thought to myself, then, I started to zone in on specific conversations.

'Just got out today' I heard one guy, who could only be described as a gang member, say. He had 'Soulja' crudely tattoo'd on his hands.

'Bitch I toldjoo, I'll be back at 7!' Another exclaimed before raising his voice further to a booming baritone 'MOTHERFUCKER GONNA HAVE TO WAIT!'

I sank down into my seat and tried not to catch anyones eye. Although it was hard not to. I now understood why people had sucked in their breath sharply when I'd informed them of our plan to ride the Greyhound.

When we arrived in Pittsburgh, a city freshly defeated in the Superbowl the night before, we all had to disembark only to re-embark the same bus 30 minutes later,  this became somewhat of a pattern over the next 26 hours.

On re-embarking we noticed the loudest of the passengers, a guy called Chris, who I had heard to remark earlier 'this medication of mine is making me see everything, two' and that's verbatim by the way, was still in the concourse with his face pressed forelornly against the glass door as the bus pulled away. What happened to Chris? 'Oh he'd been dranking' the 17 year old couple who'd been taking the brunt of his frankly terrifying chat for the last 8 hours, told me.

Chris ejected, the bus now had a semblance of normality, that is to say we didn't feel in immediate danger, and things remained like that all the way to Columbus Ohio.

I'd been having fitful 7 or 8 minute bursts of sleep for a while, but when the bus pulled into Columbus I rubbed my eyes and sat up because this was worth a watch, roughly 18 Amish people boarded, resplendent in full Amish gear, beards and matching 1950's luggage. They stayed on for a while and although the most serene part of the journey it was undoubtedly also the most surreal.

As we entered the midwest at daybreak the Amish alighted only to be replaced by the most motley crew yet. A band of what could only be described as 'Midwest Tweakers' that is to say, prescription drug addicts, got on and things took a turn for the worse.

The previous bus drivers had all been keeping a close eye on the earlier reprobates and had so far managed to instill a modicum of decency and good behaviour but that all changed when a little old guy with a stinking attitude took the wheel. He was a law unto himself. He kept his eye on the road and that was that. The Tweakers had taken to openly drinking and at one stage a full blown fight broke out at the back. A race issue I later found out, but I personally, had a suspicion that it was alcohol related. Thankfully Emma and I, had the foresight to take seats at the front by this stage so we were, to a certain extent, removed from it. As much as is possible on  a single decker bus.

The atmosphere remained tense until we arrived into a town, I forget the name, somewhere in Missouri. I had learned by that point in the journey, that when you have certain amounts of whatever the stress hormone is called, coarsing through your veins, sleep is impossible. Auditory hallucinations however seem to come thick and fast. 'What was that?' I'd ask Emma, she would look over her book at me, confused. 'I didn't say anything' she'd reply.

We changed here for the final bus of the journey, and so, thankfully, did the fighting, buck toothed yocals who'd been putting a dampener on our jolly sightseeing tour. We breathed a sigh of relief and normality (sic) was restored. We hunkered down for the final 8 hours and even had a conversation with the tattoo'd guy from the military sitting next to us who it turned out had another full 2 days, before he got to his destination in LA. The chat ended almost immediately after it became clear that he genuinely believed that the end of the world was coming on December the 21st 2012. I put in my earphones at that point, even though my I-pod had run out of battery.

We eventually made it to Tulsa unscathed, where we met our good friend Sam, we'd made his acquaintance in Budapest 3 years ago and tomorrow we drive, that's right, drive, down to N'Orleans after having spent the most relaxing couple of days, gorging ourselves on hamburgers and Mexican food and drinking delicious beers from around the world.

Greyhound still had a nasty surprise for those who's journey hadn't finished, there was a snow storm coming in, so the bus was terminating there for the evening. 'We'll be putting you up in the local homeless shelter' I heard the rep say as he faded out of earshot and we climbed into Sam's nice warm 4x4.

Without doubt the worst public transport I've ever experienced but it was just about worth it for the glimpse at the US's underbelly and an America that not many tourists get to experience. One of those ones that's bad at the time but good for a story. That's easy for me to say now, I wasn't the one who got done in.

Next stop N'Orleans.


  1. you think that's bad? missed my commuter train tother day. had to wait 3mins for the next one. nightmare!

    on a side note, is unadulterated adultery a let down or what? is it adultery? isn't it? was it?

    something to ponder on your next greyhound-of-hell bus

    tokyo stevie-o

    ps. like yer blog. it's like sex in the city. but for lads. in the country

    pps. i kid you not, the verification code i was just prompted to enter was "boidoper"! sounds like gary glitter's internet call sign!!

  2. After 3 years of saving up, surely you could have got a cab?
    I am glad you're blogging, it pleases me immensely. Exx

  3. Worst bus in the world... X78 to Rotherham. Fact.