Riding the Bus–Magic and Not So Much

“I have often thought,” said my dad, driving me home after my second and last year at boarding school, “that we would all have been happier if I had just given you a hundred bucks and a roadmap for your tenth birthday.” At age 16 I couldn’t have agreed more. Now, I’m a bit appalled.

It was late days in November. It was 4:30 and dawn was not even a dream in the dark, with a light shining over the door to the administration building, sparkling on the frost. I stood under a steady street light, waiting for my first bus ride, cross country, from Poughkeepsie, NY to Bangor, ME. I was going home for Thanksgiving. I was fifteen years old and had arranged the bus trip myself. Maine seemed a long way off.

The night before, the Duchess County Sheriff’s Department had sent a patrol car through the campus and toilets had flushed in every hall in all three dorms. Timothy Leary lived just up the road, and it was the summer after Woodstock. I waited for the bus that would take me to Port Authority, another Sheriff’s vehicle cruised by. They must have seen me, but didn’t stop. The trip started in the dark and ended in the dark. At first I sat in the back, in the fashion of some character in some book. I moved to just behind the driver for the last six stops. By then I didn’t even have to ask “Are we there yet?” There were only two or three other passengers, and the driver, probably as bored as I was, was telling me the name of the town and how many stops to go.

I learned some things on that trip. First, check to see if the bus is stopping at every Woolworth’s 5 & 10, or drug store to change up its passenger list. If a bus was headed up US 95 rather than Rte. 1 I could leave two hours later and still beat the coastal bus. I’ve enjoyed locals, both busses and trains, since then; the journey is more important than the destination.

I had Douglas Adams beat by nearly ten years. I learned to carry a towel. Blanket, pillow, and sopper-upper of icky stuff – a towel is the all purpose traveling companion. I wished I had brought food, too. I wished I had thought to bring Dramamine. My next trip north I brought both. The Dramamine knocked me out for the first three hours, and I still had an onion roll and half a brick of cream cheese in my back pack by the time we rolled into Bangor. Some poor lady I had trapped next to the window crawled over me to get off the bus. Or maybe I got up and moved, but stayed asleep. I was a Robert Heinlein fan and several of his books featured soldiers who could sleep on their feet and in other awkward situations. I was in training.

There was a magic that happened as soon as I boarded the bus. Home, or school, faded away and I existed in the moment. By the time I arrived, I was wholly at my destination. It was as if I travelled through an air lock, arriving ready to start. When I started to work, a commute was necessary. Whether a half hour drive, or a twenty minute walk, I needed that time in my bubble.

A second important bus ride was the year I took the Magic Bus back to Tangier from London. $34 bought a three day trip on a bus, ferry service across the channel, and an overnight stay in Barcelona. I took that trip twice, both times going south. The bus was filled with British retirees heading to Malaga for some fun in the sun. They started drinking when we hit France and did not stop. Now that I am in their league, I can see the advantage of the bone-numbing altered reality. They sang songs, told stories, and made copious use of the on board toilet.

In addition to the bus driver, there was a coach wrangler. We actually had three different drivers but only one on board at a time. The bus would pull over in the middle of nowhere and the old tired driver would get off, and a new, hopefully fresh, driver would get on.  The wrangler was constant, asking if anyone needed to go “winky-tink,” providing cork-screws, egging the singers on, and flirting with the two young Moroccan men who, along with me, were just taking a cheap ride home.

My knees killed me. Even though I took full advantage of being friendless (no seat-mate) to stretch out, I was more than ready for the stop in Barcelona. Were I not nearly broke, I would have bailed on the bus and taken a train the rest of the way home. I was in my mid twenties and nearly knackered. The retirees kept singing.

Barcelona was a kick. We arrived in the early evening, and I was invited to accompany some passengers to an early (10:00pm rather than mid-night) dinner . They had all made this trip before and knew where to eat. They were looking for pals of theirs, transgendered people who were undergoing the “cure” in Spain rather than staying in England or the US. It was a weird night in this city of architect. Two cervezas with a wedge were plenty what with straps pulled down to reveal newly minted breasts, and skirts hiked up to confirm they were still in progress.

Back in Morocco, with ready access to my pay that had been accruing over the past two months, I sprung for a first class train ticket, got a hot meal delivered to my car and stretched out. The first Magic Bus ride was something of a lark; the second, I can only imagine, was because I was again nearly broke and it was the cheapest way home.

The last bus ride was the one that signaled a sea change in my traveling attitude. This was the last leg of a trip to Mexico and back. I was well into my fifties, and the return trip had been filled with the sort of events that made me wonder if I was getting a Karmic slap. Thunderstorms grounded us in Taos. We spent the night on benches in the airport for a 3:30pm flight out the next day. We eventually got to the Airport Hilton in Boston, then had to rush through a series of overpasses and tunnels to catch the bus back north. Nothing was so sweet as the “Welcome to Maine” sign over the Portsmouth bridge.

At some point I was no longer in it for the journey. I just wanted to be home. It seemed as if all the knocking around I had done was enough. I hadn’t seriously traveled since Andrew and I went to London, and then on to Las Vegas to finish our elopement. We had visited family and I had gone to conferences, but those were never about the trip, just the destination. Once we had taken a camping trip through eastern Canada. That had felt the pressure of time and the remnants of a hurricane. A couple of the campgrounds were sweet, but a schedule drove us onward. We fetched up in Yarmouth and made it onto the ferry to Bar Harbor. That last leg of our journey seemed blessedly non-existent.

Now we are on our journey to the Eastern Apicultural Society meeting in Kentucky by train. I’m trying to be conscious of thing things I’ve learned. I’ve accepted that bossy is my nature and I know that I’ll make decisions. I won’t let “What do you want to do?” catch me by surprise. I’m focusing on the journey and watching people and enjoying the swirl of movement. I recognize that I am something of a solitary bee, not a hive animal at all. I’m making an effort to travel well with others. I’ve got stuff to do; I don’t need anyone else to amuse me. I know I’m going to get home, eventually. And, although I haven’t needed it yet, I’m carrying a towel.

About Susacadia

I am a writer, fiber artist, and occasional raconteur. I've been around the block a time or two, but stuck to any career I ever had for at least 10 years. They have all morphed logically from one to another. But under it all I have eternally been a teacher and a learner.
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