Traveling This Country: Greyhound Stories

Many means lead from New York to Canada. One is Amtrak, the slowest national train service I’ve witnessed so far. 11 hours from the Big Apple to Montreal and this only once a day – that just didn’t sound too efficient to me. True, I heard the ride up was supposedly drop-dead-gorgeous and the seats comfy. I was still not satisfied when it came to losing an entire day just to travel to and fro.

So I checked my other options. Rideshare via the suspicious craigslist – not really what I was looking for either. Unfortunately, a $500 plane ticket was also out of my league. Megabus would have been my first choice, but the company only runs inside the country.

Sadly, I opted for the last back-up plan I made: The dreaded Greyhound Bus. Now, I am usually not against buses, don’t get me wrong. Check out my post on the Chinatown Bus to see how I usually embrace getting from A over B to C throughout the Northeast Coast. However, I’ve heard comparably bad stories about the Aging Dog. Such as a news report that went on a few years back when a young guy was brutally murdered by a fellow passenger (read more here). A German friend of mine had taken it up to the Niagara Falls only recently and she assured me that they had increased bus security and that her ride had been rather peaceful. It was solely her word-to-mouth-say and the small price that convinced me to get on a Greyhound after all.

It all started on that particular Friday evening when I decided to get in line a full hour before departure. I barely got to Gate 26 at Port Authority when I was already halted by a long queue reaching far beyond. Evidently, I had not been the only passenger who decided to be over-punctual. It also looked to me as if the previous bus had been severely moderately overbooked and involuntarily forced people to take a later bus.

After fighting for my spot in line as a single passenger and trying my best to occupy myself for another 45 minutes by doing absolutely nothing, a random French-Canadian thought it appropriate to sneak ahead of me and everyone else just to be one of the first to get on the bus. Of course his behavior was not tolerated. The fact that he was a full-grown man with a ten-year-old child did not matter to anyone. A young Montrealer behind me verbally lashed out and started a dispute in … French, how could it else be. I couldn’t make it all out but I believe the gist was that everyone in line is equally frustrated and that he has to go in the back where he belongs. This caused many angry glares between the two but luckily the older guy finally gave in and went to the back of the line – or somewhere in between where people didn’t care as much.

Right then the line started to move and I already considered myself lucky to almost be through with this. But only two people ahead of me the conductor stops everyone. “No more room! Only one spot free! One seat! One seat!” The couple ahead of me is severely disappointed. I volunteer to grab the last seat and off I am – hopefully to Montreal and never to stand in line again.

By now I am very tired and hope to catch some sleep on the ride up. But two hours later we are disrupted from our sleep. “Everyone get out! Albany! Everyone take all your stuff and get out!” the Chinese driver screams into his microphone (as if the fact that it already enhances one’s voice is not enough to get his point across). We are then led into an over-cooled waiting room and have to endure half an hour until it’s off to the border. No more sleep after this. The grimly looking border officers are not making matters easier, either.

While on the way to my destination there were only two stops (which were already brutal enough), the Greyhound managed to stop for five full times on the way back. I believe we must have taken with every New York town of insignificance, no matter how many people joined us at each stop. While it wasn’t so much the people I found annoying, we did manage to have a drunk guy from Albany back to New York, who only sat a few rows up. This time the bus was chauffeured by a burly, serious-looking driver, who certainly didn’t have much sense of humor and liked bluffing at us through the microphone every once in a while.

I believe the next time I will simply have to self-host my ride up (rent a car) or take the despised Amtrak, which loses too much time but maybe lets me sleep for longer than a few hours.

The Greyhound – an entertaining but rather desperate means of travel in case all back-up-options fail. I am sure it is better on shorter rides but 8 hours up and not being able to sleep at all was just too much for me. I thought it was just me and my small-minded view of things. Then I met a lively Cali girl in the hostel who was trapped in between a window seat and an overweight passenger on her ride up, which wasn’t too much fun for her either. The stories one can tell…

Don’t let this gorgeous view fool you…!