A long bus ride bears some resemblance to being in jail. You can’t really do what you want and the food isn’t very good.
The bus I was on, a series of which would eventually land me in Tucson, Arizona, would periodically stop so that the smokers could smoke and so that they and everyone else could stretch their legs. The stops were brief, though, and I didn’t dare venture very far away. The idea of being stranded in, say, rural Oklahoma was a fearsome thought. Thus the comparison with prisoners.
There were about fifty people on the bus. There are interesting social dynamics to be observed on a long-distance bus. People, especially single travelers (the norm), would always seem to find a like-minded person to talk with. Somehow I always found someone interesting to talk with, or they found me.
It was after dark and the bus was approaching Tulsa, Oklahoma. We passed another bus parked on the shoulder with some people milling around it. Perhaps a breakdown or a flat tire?
After another twenty or so miles the “captain”, as Greyhound likes to call its drivers, announced, “My boss says that we have to go back to that bus we passed and pick up 19 stranded passengers.”
Some people on the bus groaned. One of them spoke up and said, “Where are we gonna put them? The bus is about full!”
The driver said, “We’ll figure somethin’ out. Some of ’em can stand. I gotta do it — my boss told me to, and I want to keep this job.”
So, backing and filling, the bus turned around and went back eastwards. I tried to stifle my impatience at this delay. I was hungry and had neglected to bring along any food.
As a passenger in a bus I force myself to ignore the inscrutable path followed by a bus in the city. After a while, though, I noticed that we were passing the same buildings more than once as we looped around the highway entrances and exits.
The bus driver couldn’t find the stranded bus. He was frantically calling the stranded bus’s driver and his own dispatcher. The whole process took an hour, and by the time the driver located the other bus there were only seven passengers left for us to take onboard — the others had evidently found other means of rescue.
“Okay!”, I thought. “We can be on our way!” The next stop was to be the Tulsa bus terminal, where I might be able to find something (anything!) to eat.
We passed downtown Tulsa, which has some interesting buildings, and drove about five miles. A strident male voice piped up, coming from a seat behind me:
“Sir! Driver! Aren’t we stopping in Tulsa? We passed the downtown area some miles back!”
With irritation and anxiety evident in his voice, the driver said:
“Yeah, we’re stopping in Tulsa! Just be patient!”
Once again there was an hour of looping around and passing the same buildings multiple times. The driver couldn’t find the depot!
The entire bus seemed to be seething with impatience and hunger. I could hear several conversations going on around me, with statements such as:
“What the fuck is wrong with this guy? I have an appointment I have to get to!”
“I can’t believe he’s lost! I am so darned hungry right now!”
After the driver talked briefly with his dispatcher on the radio he finally pulled into the terminal parking lot. There was scattered ironic applause from several of the passengers. The driver’s neck reddened and he said in an aggrieved tone:
“I’ve only been doing this for three months!”
That driver bailed out there at the terminal and went home to sulk. We got a more experienced driver and I tried to sleep, which is not easy on a bus. I tend to awaken after about an hour, fuzzily thinking, “What is all of this bumping and noise?”