Life in the USA
This material courtesy of Vesper Fe Marie Ramos
Mainland USA has an inherently simple geography that lends itself easily to exploration by land. Excellent well-maintained interstate highways make it, in many ways, a driving country. Land as far as the eyes can see, driving through fields and farmlands and steel bridges and urban jungles. There is nothing like driving towards New York City at dawn during the fall, the skyline amidst the rising sun in the glow of all the yellow, red, brown and green. Or one could definitely ponder upon the pale eeriness of the Midwest during the winter, a glorious sheet of white satin upon the earth. It could be argued that the road trip is the only way to see the real America. With exorbitant gas prices though, it may pay off a lot to take the bus.
Perhaps the most recognizable bus line in the US is Greyhound, whose name and logo stem from the famous breed of racing dogs. The company has been around since the early part of the 20th century (~1914), but it has been through a number of changes and overhauls, the most recent being in 2004 where they adopted a new modern look with their metallic dog insignia. The “new” Greyhound is hopefully better, faster and with bigger business.
According to the Greyhound website (www.greyhound.com), they have a fleet of 1,250 buses, with an average age of a little over than 7 years, serving over 1,700 destinations in the US. They report carrying over 19 million passengers in a year, with revenue of 1.2 billion dollars. The busiest bus terminals are New York City, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Richmond, Baltimore, Nashville, Washington DC, and Dallas.
Interstate bus travel is not that popular among many Americans though, who are often rushing about and prefer the speed of planes or trains. Many people in the US consider taking the bus as a very cheap form of transportation. But this has to be qualified. Bought 14 days prior to the trip, a roundtrip ticket from New York City to Cleveland is just 90 dollars. That is a pretty sweet deal. Bought in the terminal that very same day, however, the price jumps to about 160 dollars! And a refundable fare is almost 200 dollars. That is cutting it close to airplane ticket costs.
Still, the belief that bus travel is cheap does have its grounding. For one thing, the Port Authority terminal in New York City is definitely incomparable to La Guardia airport. Bring old newspapers or garbage bags with you if you are catching a bus from there. There are no seats, and you literally have to hold your place in the line to board the bus. The bathrooms do have running water and toilet paper and are fairly clean. Of course, the Cleveland and Chicago bus terminals speak a lot more for Greyhound, but as there is no reserved seating, you still need something to sit on while waiting in line.
The buses themselves are clean, along with their toilets. For long trips, you will find that the bus is cleaned after every major stop. On a trip from New York to Chicago, expect at least one major bus change (where you change buses), and about two reboardings (where you go down so they can clean the bus, but you use the same bus, and hence can leave all your luggage there). If it gets too cold or too hot in the bus, passengers can always request the driver to adjust the temperature. But bring a jacket to be safe.
The seats in the bus are comfortable enough. They can be reclined using a small lever on the side. For big men and women, go for the aisle seats because it can get really cramped in that 50-seater bus. If you absolutely need your mobile phone, do NOT sit behind the driver because he will request you to turn those phones off because they interfere with the E-Pass on the tollways.
Feel free to bring any food with you for the ride. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed. Munch with peanuts and chips, and there will be plenty of stop-over’s at decent places to grab a bite. The average eating stop-over is 30 minutes. The average smoking stop-over is 5 minutes.
The ground crew may seem a little lost at times. If unsure, ask. Always keep your ticket and boarding pass with you at all times even if you are reboarding the same bus. In major terminals there will be two lines, one for the new boarders and one for the reboarders. Make sure you are on the right line to avoid annoying the driver, who will also be the one to inspect your ticket. No matter what is printed on, listen to what the driver will tell you. One of the criticisms with Greyhound is their scheduling and it can get weird. You might expect to change buses in Pittsburgh but if the driver tells you, you will change in Cleveland, play the part of the fool and ask him again and again. What he says goes. Often these drivers do know the system well enough to know that they are running way behind schedule and you will not make the original bus change schedule. In salute to them, they will exert every possible means to still get you to your destination at the earliest possible time even if it means having to juggle you around. Though they can get lost, these drivers do act professionally and maintain control over their ship. Should your seatmate harass you, simply get up and report it to the driver. He will call the state troopers and have your enemy escorted off the bus.
Just as in any traveler’s nightmare, keep an eye on your luggage especially when changing buses. No one will haul your luggage for you. You have to do it yourself. It is beneficial to carry a bright pink easy-to-spot-bag with you which you can check from the corner of your eye as you board the bus.
Interestingly, the Greyhound website finds it vital to inform the public that thirty percent of their passengers make more than 35k USD per year, and more than half actually had education beyond high school. Over-all though, it is the diversity of the people you meet, from passengers to the crew, that makes the Greyhound experience quite an adventure to appreciate the real road-trip USA.
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