Thursday, April 12, 2018

Taking a Greyhound Bus Ride in North Carolina

Riding a Greyhound Bus in the South...

Have you ever been on one? I had not. Do you picture a bunch of basically uncouth characters and homeless people going to places unknown? How long does it take to go somewhere on one? Several extra hours? Have you seen the new commercials where they advertise extra leg room, free WIFI, movies, etc?

Here's the story of what it's like to take a bus from Greensboro, NC to Wilmington, NC...about a 3.5 hour drive by car - 7.5 hours by Greyhound...

The Greensboro bus station, and indeed 4 other ones I was "privileged" enough to see first hand is just about as scary as you'd ever think. In North Carolina, bus stations are apparently all in the run-down downtown areas of each city. There seems to be a homeless shelter across the street from all of them...whether the shelter was built next to it, or it was built next to the shelter, I'm not sure. But the parking lot and the station itself is their territory, and a prime place to panhandle or intimidate...not too much of the latter as the police are also usually nearby. More on the homeless people later...

Some of the bus stations are open 24 hours a day. Most are not. I was told after Greyhound bought out Trailways they closed down many of the stations and cut hours for the employees. The Gboro station was supposed to open at 7:30. Buses start loading at 7:50, and you're supposed to be checking your bags 45 minutes ahead. There are 2 employees in Gboro...a maintenance man about 70 years old, and the ticket OJ Simpson look-alike with a surly attitude. His regular time to report in is 7:45. Yes, you read that right. His regular time is 15 minutes late. The second day, he didn't make it until 7:50. He comes in, looks to see if the buses are on time on his computer, starts a pot of coffee, and finally opens his window about 7:50 to 7:55.

The first day, not knowing any of this, I have my niece take me to the station at about 7:20. We both had to get up around 5am to do this. The maintenance guy tells us the station doesn't open until 7:30, so we sit in her SUV and wait. There are a few wandering derelicts outside, but not many at this early time. It was about 40 degrees, so they weren't out and about yet. Finally, he opens the door, so I take my bag and go in...and she goes home (on the other side of Greensboro). Then, of course, I learn the ticket guy isn't due in till 7:45...LOL.  So I went back outside to smoke and freeze, and wait. O.J. shows up finally and I go in to be sure my internet ticket is accurate and I don't have to check my bag.

By about 7:55, he opens his window and starts issuing tickets and answering questions. The bus isn't there. He checks his computer, sells some more tickets, checks his computer, weighs some bags, and checks his computer. The bus isn't there. Finally, around 8:30, he proceeds to tell us that the two buses expected are delayed...mine by ELEVEN hours, and the other one by (maybe) 4 hours. Seems that they "lost a driver" for mine, which was still in Atlanta.

There are 2 buses for my route every at 8am, and one at 1pm. The 1pm bus gets to Wilmington at 7:30 in the evening. I can't drive in the dark, so that's out. I have 3 connections to make, so there's nothing for me to do but try the next day. My poor niece had to drive BACK across town, pick me up, and take me to my friend's house in High Point. Earlier she had to drive from her house to High Point and back to Gboro on the other side of town, then to her home. So she's probably driven about 2 hours for all of this.

Let me pause here and tell you about the time a bus trip takes. I live in North Myrtle Beach, SC, which is about a 4-hour drive to High Point. If you take the super highway I-40, it's less. A Greyhound bus from Greensboro (there isn't one in High Point- they closed it - takes 16 hours to drive from Myrtle Beach to Greensboro! Now, this is the main source of all my problems. If I had been willing to ride a 16-hour trip, I could have driven to the bus station, parked my car there, and do a round-trip ticket to Greensboro. I was not willing to do this, as it would have entailed 2 extra days to go. I have cats to feed, and work to do.

The bus trip to Wilmington NC, which is one hour from my home, only took 7.5 hours. Wilmington is about 3 hours from Greensboro. So I asked my nephew who lives in Wilmington to take me to Greensboro. He was also going to my brother's birthday party. Problem was, he had to leave the party and go to Atlanta, so couldn't take me home. Thus, it was either a 7.5 hour bus trip to Wilmington, or a 16-hour bus trip to Myrtle Beach.

Now everyone who knows me well knows that I can't drive across a bridge. Even to spend a day with Davy Jones in Charleston, I could not drive across a bridge. So I had to find a place on MY side of the Wilmington bridge to leave the car. We decided on a Food Lion, about 5 miles away from it. Of course, I took a wrong turn and got lost driving there, but we won't go into that part....LOL

If a 200 mile trip on Greyhound takes 16 hours, I can only fathom that going to someplace like Pennsylvania or New York must take about 3 days. Can you imagine? They stop at every bus station on the route...about every 1.5 hours. I had 5 stops and 2 bus changes on my trip.

Leg room? There was barely, maybe, 8 inches from the seat to the back of the next seat. If you have big feet, like a man with a size 11 shoe, you have a serious problem. Unlike a plane, you can't walk around a bus. On the road, it rocks and swings like any vehicle. There's a bathroom in the back. I can't picture walking that far. Thankfully I didn't have to use it. WIFI? Maybe. Movies? No. Snacks? No. Restaurants near the bus stations? No way. So your trip involves snack machines and drink machines. (Except in Fayetteville- the drink machine doesn't work) If they would tell people that, they would bring their own food. They want you to use the snack and coke machines, though. the first day's trip was canceled. My niece takes me back to my long-suffering best friend's house to stay another night and use her recliner to sleep. She, like me, usually starts out sleeping in the recliner and goes to bed afterward. She also stays up half the night like I do. Both days I was so exhausted I was sleeping sitting at the tables in restaurants. By 11 pm, I was out like a light, with her watching tv. I was wonderful company- Not. The second day, my niece had to work, so my friend had to DRIVE ME TO GREENSBORO at 7:30 am. I felt sooo bad. I still feel sooo bad. Yes, I would do it for her, but it would half-kill either of us. Thank God for 40-year friendships.

Day 2 attempt. We get there at 7:30, and of course O.J. is not there. She didn't want to leave me so we sat in her car until he got there. Actually, I stood by her car and smoked, and she sat there talking to me through the window. He drags in at 7:50, so I go on in to be sure the bus is actually coming this time. At about 7:55 the bus pulls in before he even opens his window. So I run out to tell her bye and start my adventure.

Senior citizens, handicapped people, and those who are changing buses are supposed to sit in the front. This bus was full. I get on with this one heavy bag, and there are no seats towards the front at all. This very sweet black man offers to give up his extra seat for me, and puts his 2 big bags plus mine in his LAP. He pretty much looked homeless, but he was the only one that offered to help with anything. The Greyhound employees help? Hah! Forget that. With one exception every driver stopped the bus, made announcements, and was gone inside. If you are truly handicapped, I warn you not to ride a bus. Oh, they say they are handicap equipped, and they do have a wheel-chair lift. But you'd better have a caretaker with you and plan to just stay on the bus most of the time. The drivers have no interest in fraternizing with the passengers.

So I sit next to this sweet little guy, with his lap full of probably 30 lbs of bags or more. He tells me the seatbelts are very uncomfortable and he doesn't advise putting it on. Nobody else wears theirs either. If you have an aisle seat, you have to hold on for dear life just like you did when you took a school bus as a kid.

The man tells me that he buys a round-trip ticket every month and travels on the bus for about a week. He doesn't go anywhere in particular...just different places. He's originally from Louisiana and his mother did the same thing. They love to travel. I suspect he has no home but didn't press him about it. He looked out the windows and talked about how pretty the homes were that we passed. Most of them were shacks. I hope some of the stations have a place to take a bath...although I didn't see anything like that. This guy is lonely and so thankful to have someone who will talk to him and be kind. I will talk to anybody. So we talked for an hour until the first stop, which was where I changed buses and broke his heart. I was actually very sad to leave him alone again. I made an unexpected friend on a bus.

We stopped in Durham for a pickup, but nobody was allowed to get off the bus. About 45 minutes later we stopped at Raleigh and I got off. Raleigh's bus station is a much nicer building. It was chock-full of people that looked homeless or at least poverty-stricken. We had a 40-minute layover so I went outside to smoke...along with about 20 others. Once again I find that this part of our society are some of the most friendly and helpful people you can find. Everyone talks like they know each other. The younger ones jump to open a door or help you with your bag. The employees ignore everyone, although they are friendlier here than in Greensboro. 15 minutes early, they call our bus, and this driver is a bit nicer than the first troll, lifting my bag for me, and creating a front seat for me...this time by an unbelievably nice black lady who called me "baby" several times..."You are ok, Baby, don't worry about me. You're not any trouble, Baby.". Once again, the best people around. We leave 15 minutes early and head to Fayetteville. Miserable ride with no leg room, but the best possible company. No "movies" or anything that I could see.

Fayetteville was a BIG bus station because they also have city buses there. Lots of cops, lots of employees that ignore you. Broken drink machine. Luckily they did at least have a water fountain. You have to walk about a block from the building to smoke, and I was yelled at for not walking far enough. An old white dude in a wheelchair went back in and ratted me out. HE had to go that far, so by god, I wasn't going to get by with standing 30 feet nearer than he was. Keep in mind that I can barely walk anyway...I get so breathless. Yes, I should quit smoking. No, I haven't. And I had this 25 lb bag I had to lug around, plus my pocketbook. Did anyone give a crap? No. Greyhound is NOT an airline or an airport. The next time you want to complain about an airport, think twice. I didn't take my good rolling suitcase because I didn't want to check a bag and have it lost.

Now the bus from Fayetteville to Wilmington is loading. THIS driver is a real sweetheart. We are early too. And there are TWO and another guy in the back. The driver sets me up right behind him and we talk and tell stories the whole way. He was ex-military with an ex-wife and two ex-kids, and loved his nomad life as a driver. He stayed in hotels, took any buses where they needed him, and loved it. Therefore he was friendly and helpful to everyone. He told me the one thing that made him really mad was when someone called him an "Asshole". Because, he said, I am NOT one. We stop at one little building to see if there is a pickup, and there isn't. We didn't get off the bus. The next little stop was sort of a store with a bus station. He let me off to smoke and he went inside to use the bathroom. Our other passenger got off to go home. This was in Whiteville, NC.

Now, remember my car was parked on the west side of the bridge, and probably 10 miles from the bus station in Wilmington. I had sweated the whole weekend trying to figure out how to get a ride to it. I was afraid a cab would cost me $50-60, and I actually had the cash if I had to do that. I was hoping I could find someone who lived in Wilmington to pick me up and take me to my car. So far I had had no luck. And now it was just me and the bus driver, going up the same highway as we had driven to Greensboro to start with. He sympathizes with my bridge phobia. Said he used to have the same thing but being a driver, he had to get over it.

We are riding along, and I said, Are you going over the 421 bridge? Yes, he's right at Highway 17 and 133. THAT IS WHERE MY CAR IS!!!!  I ask him if there is any way he can let me off when we get to that intersection, and he says he guesses he can do that.  I am overjoyed that maybe I can take a cab for a few blocks. 

This kind, wonderful man drives this HUGE Greyhound bus into the little exit for Leland, NC, and into the Food Lion parking lot, and to my car. People are staring...LOL.  He parked, picked up my bag and walked down the steps, and waited on me. I hugged that man like he was a long lost friend, and he just smiled and said he was happy to do it. I am still floored that there are so many nice people in this world. And sometimes you can "depend on the kindness of strangers"...whether it be a homeless dude giving up his spare seat, or a bus driver that enjoys his life and passes along his goodwill and sweetness.

By the way, if you've heard that many cities will give homeless people a bus ticket to anywhere they want to go just to get rid of them,'s true. The driver told me that is why there are so many homeless people in the stations. Everywhere they go, somebody pays them to leave. I recently read that Myrtle Beach alone has 1300 plus homeless people. All the other cities ask them where they want to go, and they all want to come to the beach.

Will I ride another Greyhound? Not on your life. But I met some angels along the way that made it bearable. These are the people that Trump would love to leave starving and penniless instead of giving them disability and welfare. I can only hope that someday he is put in a situation that makes him dependent on the kindness of society's forgotten ones. But I hope he gets kicked to the curb from some of them first.