Saturday, November 08, 2008

Buses/No Buses

Today was a day of firsts for me in terms of socialized transportation -- both local and regional. I embarked for the first time on a Greyhound bus which took me from Cleveland to Youngstown so I could visit my family. In order to reach the Greyhound station on Chester and E. 16, I opted for the new Healthline (I prefer Silver Line) buses on the glorious EUCLID CORRIDOR. This trip probably required more planning than I had provided, as lots of systems linking was involved, and route timetables should have come into play. A mistake was letting my dad talk me into taking the early bus to Y-town.

The conversation went like this:

Me: Yeah, I think I'll take the 11:00 bus. I'll get in around one.

Dad: There isn't an earlier bus?

Me: (beat) There's one at 8:55.

Dad: Why don't you take that one?

Me: That's pretty fucking early.

Dad: C'mon, it ain't that early. What time you usually get up on Saturdays?

Me: You mean, like, what time do I get out of bed or what time do I actually start my day?

Dad: Both.

Me: Noon and never.

Dad: Well pretend you have to work.

Me: 8:55 is when I get up for work. And that's if I feel like taking a shower, which is not often.

Dad: (beat)

Me: Okay, I'll do the early bus.

* * *

My lady friend and I spent Friday night drinking Christmas Ale and watching Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. We also played the Bike Game with that film. If you aren't familiar with the Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Bike Game, you should ask me about it privately. More than likely, you'll want to play. That is, if you have the evening free. And you won't have to wake up early in the morning. Friday night, however fit only one of those criteria. By film's end, I was pretty messed up.

I had my alarm set for 7:30, which I figured would give me ample time to make it over to Euclid Ave from Cedar-Fairmount. However, I slept through the first two alarms and eventually rolled out of bed around 7:50. I blame the Christmas Ale (and Pee-Wee). Skipping the shower (I took my father's advise and pretended I had to work), I tossed clothes on, stuffed some random travel crap into my bag and hit the road at about 8:10. This provided a measly 45-minutes to make the Greyhound. I was nervous, especially since I had to catch one bus before I could catch the other. Plus, it is a good 20-minute walk to Euclid Ave from my apartment. I hustled, missed one Silver Line by about 5 minutes, waited on Euclid for another 15 before the next one came. By the time it arrived, though, it was 8:40 -- 15 minutes until my bus left -- and I still had to make it downtown.

The new CORRIDOR buses are quite nice inside, though not terribly different from ordinary, non-shiny RTA buses, just larger. The jury is still out on the center island means of loading/unloading. It seems that the bus takes longer to pull up to one of the raised center platforms than it would if the bus were just picking people up off the sidewalk. I suppose this is justified by having fewer stops. I cringed each time the driver stopped, as that ate more time off my too-tight schedule. Still though, I was amazed to have arrived at E. 18 at 8:50 -- a mere 10-minute trip despite all the stops.

I exited the bus and leapt down from the raised platform with no regard for the ramp leading down to the crosswalk. I booked it down to Chester then over to E. 16. It was a short run, but by the time I got to the bus station, I felt like I was about to pop. Desperately hoping that the Greyhound was running characteristically late, I breezed into the station and found myself at the end of a five-person-deep line. The clock on the wall read: 8:52. I took this moment to examine Cleveland's Greyhound Station. It was very clean and modern inside and I was quite impressed. It could have been the time of day, but there was a surprisingly low Crazy quotient. Therein permeated no odor -- foul or otherwise.

I considered my only other experience in a Greyhound Station -- Pittsburgh, PA, 1992. My Grandpa deBiase had taken it upon himself to take the Greyhound from Tampa, FL to Pittsburgh. This signified a daunting task for anyone, let alone a 450 pound, 55-year-old retired Air Force Sgt such as my grandpa dB. At the time, I was about 8, and my mom and I had ventured down to the Greyhound station to pick him up. From what I recall, the place was a sty, with grimy tile floors, nasty benches, and bums -- oh the bums! We waited for several hours, my mother spending most of the time fending off advancing hobos, with no sight of Grandpa. And the man was nearly impossible to miss. We were at a loss, eventually abandoning our post. We hoped that GdB would understand this violation of the Leave No Man Behind policy. My grandpa arrived some 17 hours later and phoned my dad from a payphone at the station. He was promptly rescued.

Years later, Grandpa deBiase came into my room as I was writing something -- what it was, I don't exactly remember. I was probably 14 at the time. He sat on the edge of my bed, told me that if I was going to write a story about anything, it should be about his bus trip up the East Coast. He even provided a title: "Riding the Dog." I was a snotty teenager then and summarily dismissed the idea. Looking back, though, I wished I had enquired more about that excursion, as I believe it would make for interesting [creative non-]fiction. My grandfather passed away in 2002.

* * *

Back in line at the Cleveland station, I felt that a long span of time had elapsed. The clock now read 8:57. They made an announcement of the final boarding call for my bus: Akron/Youngstown/Pittsburgh/New York.

"Fuck, that's me," I said.

The woman in front of me turned around. She had several bags and a large U-Haul moving box. "That's your bus?" she asked. I nodded. "You better hurry up and get your ticket. They probably ready to pull out. Here, watch my stuff."

She ran out to the platform. I could make out that she was gesturing to a few Greyhound employees. She came back inside, said, "They ain't even loaded the luggage yet and I couldn't find the driver so I think you good. You can go ahead of me."

I thanked her profusely and said I would help her with her box once I got checked in. The man ahead of me in line counted out his fare in coins. It took a painfully long time.

"Come on man," the woman said, gesturing towards him.

The man split and I stepped up right as he left. The lady at the desk got me all signed in and handed me the ticket. I then helped the woman carry her box to the baggage check, thanking once again. I may have even thrown out a "God bless" for good measure. As I sprinted across the station, a security guard flagged me down. The bus driver was just leaving the restroom and she was able to stamp my ticket. I went outside and climbed on the bus. The front of it read: CHICAGO, but I had a hunch it was lying. Luckily, I was right. The bus was about half-full and I found a seat in the back near the rest room. Very shortly thereafter, we were on our way.

The only incident worth mentioning on the trip was our stop in Akron. Greyhound's Akron station is essentially a shack off of I-77. One of the passengers boarding the bus was an overweight (morbidly obese) woman in an electric wheelchair. For her to enter, an automated lift was to be utilized on the side of the bus. The crew tried for a half hour to get the elevator to work. It seemed the woman was too heavy. She would roll off the lift and it would work; once she got back on, no dice. Eventually, a Greyhound worker and a random passenger took turns using a hand pump built into the contraption to manually lift the woman up and onto the bus.

Riding the dog, I thought.