Along for the Ride

13 Dec 2012, Posted by admin in Packages,Top Slider, No Comments. Tagged , , , , , ,

Along for the Ride

A UC student from Sweden takes a trip on a Greyhound bus and finds the experience to be very different from traveling at home.

Story, photos and video by Maria Roos

I am the last person boarding the bus. As I walk down the aisle, I can see that passengers don’t want me to sit next to them; no one gives me eye contact. So I end up in a chair by the bathroom at the back of the bus. The smell isn’t too bad, I guess; lemon mixed with a lot of cleaning supplies. Next to me is a young guy with a white hat embroidered with the letters SWAT.

Grandma is making sure that she has all her bags with her.

Passengers are from all walks of life. There is the old couple who have already fallen asleep, their heads leaning toward each other; a mother who is traveling with her small children; ranch workers with cowboy boots and straw hats; college students; Latino construction workers; a man with a long white beard who looks like Santa; a grandma with two plastic bags with yarn; a family from India; and me, a University of Cincinnati athlete from Sweden.

Before boarding, my mom told me that traveling on a Greyhound would be an experience like no other – that I would experience the real America. She is excited for me, because she remembers her Greyhound trips from backpacking from New York through Canada and the West Coast down to San Francisco in 1978. She and her friend shared many laughs on those rides.

As a native of Sweden – a reserved culture where people mind their own business, respect their personal space and rarely speak with strangers – I know I will be out of my comfort zone on this trip. But I’m OK with it. After living in the U.S. for almost four years, I will be able to add it to my suitcase of memories when I return home after graduation.

A new friendship

The trip doesn’t get off to a good start. For some reason, we travel down the same road twice. The guy in the seat in front of me says he wishes he had taken his bike instead – it would be faster. This confuses me a little bit until I figure out that by “bike” he meant his motorcycle. He is not the only one who is eager to get to Nashville. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and I’m looking forward to a good weekend with my dear friend Morgan and her family. I don’t have a car, so the cheapest transportation to Nashville from Cincinnati is a Greyhound bus.

I learned a lot about Chris in a very short time.

I barely have time to make myself comfortable when the young guy besides me, Chris, starts talking. Even though he is friendly, he comes across as little odd. I think our conversation will be on a courtesy level because we will spend the next six hours beside each other, but I quickly learn he is willing to share far more than just his name. As we cross the bridge over the Ohio River, I already know he is a soccer player, he smokes about a pack of cigarettes a day, he was robbed a few days ago, and if someone messes with him, he will make that person pay. The adrenaline of being in a fight, he says, gives him the same buzz as being drunk.

I tell him that I speak Swedish, and he tries to impress me with his knowledge of Latin. He gives me a note with his name, phone number and the words “parum pudici domina.” He says it means sexy lady, and he asks if I will call him and keep in touch. With an awkward laugh, I try to change the subject. Sometimes I wonder if people feel as awkward as they make others feel.

I may be used to the Swedish culture, which is reserved, but I don’t think this would count as a normal bus conversation in the U.S. Even though it’s a bit weird, it doesn’t feel creepy, strangely enough; it’s just different from what I’m used to. Chris chats non-stop all the way to Louisville. He says he likes talking to me, but the conversation feels more like a monologue. When he finally says, “Tell me something about you,” the only thing I can think of is, “I have a cat.”

Chris’s 19th birthday is next week, I learn. He tells me this would have been his senior year in high school, but he got kicked out because he drank too much. He wants to go back home, especially for Christmas, but he doesn’t know if he will be allowed. It is sad to hear him talk about his life, because I see so much potential in him. He might act a little weird, but he has good intentions.

An unexpected stop

At Louisville, all passengers are told to leave the bus because it needs to be cleaned. Chris’s ticket only takes him to Louisville, and he has no money to buy another because he was robbed. He had planned to stay on the bus, but now it’s not possible. I can see how uncomfortable he is about asking for money. I can’t leave him stranded in Louisville, so I buy him a ticket.

I don’t know if I do it because I care or because I feel sorry for him. If I hadn’t made a connection with him or heard his life story, I might feel differently. I just know that if I were in the same situation I would want someone to help me.

The bus broke down outside of Louisville, but we were back on the road after a 45-minute delay.

The bus doesn’t go far after Louisville. Before entering the interstate, the driver pulls over to the side. He walks out, leaving us wondering, and then we hear him yell in frustration. I laugh; it almost feels as if I’m in a comedy. The driver comes back on and tells us the bus has broken down. Luckily, we are close to a city, so it doesn’t take too long for a mechanic to arrive and fix the problem.

Finally, after seven hours (with a 45-minute delay), I can see the Nashville AT&T building, the one that looks like Batman, and I know that my long wait is almost over. When I see Morgan at the station, I run toward her with open arms, and it feels like we haven’t been apart for that long.

As I leave Chris at the station, alone with his belongings gathered in a blanket, I realize how traveling on a Greyhound brings people together. The passengers are from different parts of the U.S., from different parts of the world, from different economic and social classes. For a few hours, we all shared the same experience but from different perspectives. The same way I analyze people and wonder what their life stories are, other passengers might analyze me. I cannot help but wonder where life might take Chris next. I do hope he gets home for Christmas.

The diversity I experienced and the different characters I met cannot be found on any means of transportation in Sweden. The real America is in the eye of the beholder, and from my perspective, it’s about diversity. I guess, as a native of Sweden, I fit in this equation somehow. I may never take another trip on a Greyhound bus, but I will remember this one.

Passengers wait in line to board the bus at the Cincinnati Greyhound station.

RoosMaria Roos will graduate in April 2013 with a major in journalism and a certificate in human rights. She plays on the UC golf team. After graduation, she hopes to become a professional golfer. She also wants to work with human rights issues and in the journalism field.

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