Greyhound often receives its reviews from terrified American drivers who have written off bus transportation in the United States as a service for the poor. Ask anyone in your family about Greyhound and you will likely hear horrifying gasps, a few phlegm-filled “yucks,” and an indignant announcement that they would never ride Greyhound.
The latter reveals that, indeed, they never have. Thus, they have not the faintest clue of what they are talking about. Of course, we all know that ignorance doesn’t stop anyone from sharing their opinion.
Last month my then-fiancée and I traveled from Cleveland to Cincinnati for a weekend. I was on assignment for CraftBeer.com and she tagged along to help with some bonus filming. Plus, y’know, she’s my better half and I generally enjoy having her around if we can make it happen.
But back to the point.
Our Greyhound experience was hardly perfect, but it was closer to hitting perfection than it was to the Stephen King-esque assumptions made by suburban drivers who simply couldn’t imagine sharing transport with strangers. Below is a (relatively) chronological account.
American buses, in general, have a lose relationship with schedules. Usually, I’d shrug this off, telling myself worse things can happen. And indeed they can. Our bus leaving five to ten minutes late is Heaven compared to, say, ingesting e. coli — which I think we can all agree is something worse that can happen in most scenarios that draw our collective ire.
Still, after experiencing Swiss efficiency, I’ve become less forgiving of tardiness.
Greyhound rules and regulations ask you to come obscenely early. Specifically, an hour before departure. In fact, much of Greyhound treats travel as if you’re at an airport. You line up at numbered gates with departure listings and you never leave on time.
Three years ago during my first Greyhound trip (also to Cincinnati), I arrived 30 minutes early and was more than fine. This time we opted to arrive 15 minutes before departure and had no problem securing seats next to one another. Though do give yourself a few extra minutes to get a tag if you want to check your luggage underneath the bus.
Cleveland’s Greyhound station sits just outside of the heart of downtown, but still in an easily walkable location. The exterior showcases a pleasant enough design clearly constructed before the horrific era of urban renewal when developers stopped caring about what buildings look like. Ours is definitely the nicest Greyhound station I’ve come across and much cleanlier than many American train stations.
Though it’s likely unremarkable to many, it’s worth repeating that Greyhound’s interior is perfectly satisfactory. In other words, a far cry from the Night of the Living Dead scenario painted by many motorists.
As I already hinted at, we did not leave on time. This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Greyhound traveling. Despite passengers and luggage being loaded on time, the bus never follows suit — at least in all my experiences with Greyhound. It’s inexplicable to an average passenger. There’s the bus driver, standing and chatting as we hit 15 minutes past our scheduled departure.
The same happened during our layover (again, note Greyhound’s airline mentality) in Columbus. We were asked to get off the bus, which I was fine with to stretch my legs, and we re-boarded 10 to 20 minutes later. I’m not sure how much time passed, but I was able to shut my eyes and wake up while still in Columbus. Their Twitter account said it was traffic, but our firsthand account told a different story.
These inconveniences aside, the onboard Wi-Fi worked well enough that I was able to write an article, save it, and send it to my editor. And outlets kept my computer charged throughout.
In other words, I was able to maintain my status as a productive member of society while drivers on business between cities waste away in their mobile cubicles prone to reeking death and destruction.
Anyway, onward to Cincinnati.
Sleep and Satisfaction
Because of unexplained and unbelievable delays, we were indeed late. However, Melanie and I both agreed that this was still preferable to driving. Travel wasn’t enjoyable by any means, as it is in transport-king Switzerland, but anything beats huddling up in a metal death-box. And as far as statistics are concerned, travel by bus is safer.
Cincinnati’s (as we all as Columbus’ while we’re at it) is rather mundane when compared to Cleveland’s. But it serves its purpose just fine of collecting passengers and sending them on their way. And the walk from the station to the city’s hotels either downtown or in Over-The-Rhine is fine enough if you can stomach passing by their incredibly gaudy casino.
Flash-forward a couple of days, and we’re back at the Cincinnati Greyhound station. Unfortunately, it became clear early on that we would once again miss our scheduled departure. Why? Again, there’s no evident reason for passengers. Certainly no traffic on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it was the clocks in the station that were 10 minutes behind reality or the fact that we didn’t even start boarding until our scheduled departure. Whatever the reason, it just seems to be how Greyhound rolls.
But again, hardly the stories concocted by motorists that belong on an episode of Tales of the Crypt.
Our return trip seemed to go much faster. This might be because both Melanie and myself conked out for the entire leg to Columbus and watched Costa Rica dispatch Greece from the World Cup. The former might just be a testament to the comfort of Greyhound’s seats, especially on their newer buses. Not quite as spacious or luxurious as a modern train, but better than a domestic flight.
Once again, we arrived back into downtown Cleveland past our scheduled arrival. But it was hardly a major inconvenience. More of a slight annoyance, like spending five minutes searching for your phone only to hear it ringing in your pocket.
Gives Us Trains
In the end, riding Greyhound proves we are in dire need of rail transportation. The buses certainly beat cars, but they’re just as susceptible to hairy traffic conditions as everyone else. To me, one of the rewards of taking mass transit should be efficiency. Yet we don’t even have high occupancy vehicle lanes on Ohio highways. I’m sure the Buckeye state is hardly alone in that sad fact.
This, however, is an easy short-term fix. But train travel is the long-term solution across the United States for business and tourism.
Give us Swiss trains and I guarantee you’ll find less cursing, middle fingers, wrecks, or good-ole-fashioned highway manslaughter in American travel. Better yet, you might even enjoy the actual act of travel.
Featured photo by Eli Pousson, Flickr