Viewpoint: The Post-Christmas Bus Ride

By Sue Pascoe

I once lived in a fifth-floor walkup apartment, with a bathtub in the kitchen, on the eastside of New York City. Rent was $180. I had dutifully saved a few dollars a week from my $90-a-week salary as a receptionist at the Manhattan Theater Club to send Christmas gifts home.

Then, I received a phone call. Unexpectedly, my brother was marrying his long-time girlfriend the beginning of January, and could I come home?

Maybe if I had been alerted earlier, I could have purchased an airplane ticket, but now, even if there was a seat still available, the price was too steep not only for me, but also for my parents, who were both teachers.

I said I didn’t think I could attend the wedding.

I went for a walk, past Bloomingdales and then over to Fifth Avenue and the wonderfully festive windows. On the way home, I saw a sign “Go Greyhound, anyway in the United States. Seven days for $99.”

The bus would take one day and 20 hours to reach Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and then I would have to take a four-hour car trip to the church. I calculated two days there and two days back, with three for a wedding. I decided to go.

I left at night, a few days after Christmas, from the Port Authority terminal. The bus was crowded because of the holidays and I felt lucky to have a window seat. My plan was to lean against it and sleep through the night. My seatmate was young man from a foreign country, who thought it would be a good opportunity to practice his English. I pretended to fall asleep somewhere in New Jersey and eventually he stopped talking. The window was icy and too cold to lean against. My seatmate was soon snoring lightly, head on my shoulder. At some point, I dozed off in Pennsylvania. When I awoke early the next morning, we were in Cleveland.

On the next bus, my seatmate was a grandma headed to see her son in Illinois. The lady had all sorts of valuable tips for me. “I always bring grapes to eat to quench my thirst. I don’t drink water because you don’t want to use the restroom.” She talked nonstop, rarely stopping to catch her breath.

Since it was the holidays, there was not a spare seat. You were where you were.

The woman didn’t approve of her daughter-in-law or the way she was raising the grandchildren and hoped to set her straight during the visit. She wasn’t divorced, but had no idea where her spouse was, and didn’t care.

When we arrived in Chicago around 5 p.m., it was already dark. By the time I boarded yet another bus, the only open seat was next to a 25-year-old man and his four-year-old son.

I sat down. The kid crawled on my lap. I sang songs to him, we played guessing games, and then somewhere in Iowa he fell asleep on my lap. I dozed off, too. I wished that I could just lay down, I was so tired of sitting.

About an hour later, everyone was wakened. The bus driver had pulled over to the side of the road and stormed to the back of the bus. “I already told you to put your clothes back on,” he shouted, and then pushed a guy to the front of the bus and tossed him outside with his clothes and bag.

As the bus pulled away, I looked at the frozen Iowa cornfields and the guy standing there. I hoped he wouldn’t freeze and wondered if the bus driver’s action was legal.

The man next to me started talking. He said the boy’s mother had left them. He said they were going to San Francisco to start over. They didn’t know a “single soul.” Then, he asked me if I would go with them. I realized he was serious.

I thanked him for the offer, but told him I was going to my brother’s wedding. A few hours later, I lifted the little boy into the man’s lap and got off the bus in Omaha, to wait for the bus to South Dakota.

Most New Year’s Eves, I think back to the angry woman and hoped she had made peace with her son and wife—and herself—so she didn’t end up alone. I think about the man left by the cornfield and hoped his life turned around. I wonder about the little boy and the man and hope they found love and a life with a home. Everything is possible with a New Year. Isn’t it?

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