Traveling or Learning to Appreciate the Similarity…

I’ve been told that the grass is always greener on the other side. Such a metaphor doesn’t really work when applied to a real-life, literal representation. In fact, the grass is much the same shade as the blades growing right under my feet. Let me explain…

I’ve recently returned from a trip to North Carolina where I visited a very dear friend of mine. She’s recently relocated and needed a familiar face to try and settle in. I spent 10 days in her new home and two days traveling there and two days traveling back. By Greyhound bus.

Now before you start to roll your eyes or groan in disgust, let me explain the method to my madness. As a child, my family never could afford yearly vacations. Not even a summer trip to Adventureland, a staple for any Iowa -raised child so it seems. We did, however, move around a lot and I’ve been to plenty of cool places: Hawaii and Wyoming to name two. And I was born in New Jersey; but I don’t remember any of these places. It wasn’t until college where I began to get a feel for and actually see places outside the Iowa state borders.

So, risking 5-hour layovers in dilapidated (and that’s being nice in most cases) bus terminals is worth the two days in a seat that isn’t the most comfortable and getting 3 hours of sleep sitting up when you get to see the world from a front-row seat, sitting behind a window rising 3 feet above your head.

Which takes me right back to my introduction. When I set out to travel, some deep-seated part of my mind hopes that the land 3, 000 or so miles from my house will be different. That I’ve completely missed something being forced to stay in Iowa all this time. Looking out that tinted, exorbitantly-sized window I experienced one thing viewing the terrain of the rural areas on the East Coast: surreal familiarity.

I spoke to a fellow Greyhound passenger about this feeling. Based on the sensation of familiarity in a place you know you’ve never been before. I looked out the window at the fields and pastures of the country-side between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and felt at home. Immediately remembering Iowa’s country vegetation and getting the feeling that I was closer to home than reality insisted. Then the mountains began to rise from the ground, triggering the rocky hills visible from the side of the road leading into Decorah or heading north coming home from Missouri. Pittsburgh emerged from these flat fields and stony mountains, alerting me – Finally! – to the grand differences I so anticipated.

Six years ago when I first viewed Chicago’s skyline, I was breathless. I imagined that nothing like it existed. Pittsburgh blew Chicago right out of the water for me. Not that Chicago isn’t still beautiful to me. It will always hold a special place in my heart, but any Pittsburghians out there I send my respect out to you. What a beautiful city you live in! I was absolutely taken by all the rows and rows of houses standing in the hills – rainbows of colors. All lined up, popping out of the green and sturdy landscape like abnormally tall and stiff flowers.

I really only wish that I could say the same about Maryland. The rural profile was truly the best part of this poor little state. It reminded me of the panoramas seen in a movie rendition of a Jane Austen novel. English countryside estates with a huge house made to look the postage stamp amid rolling acres of emerald-toned grass spotted with bunches of or individual trees. Baltimore did not hold my aesthetic attention as much as Pittsburgh unfortunately. I immediately held Maryland in my heart as a sort of forgotten, bastard cousin to the “rich kid” of Pennsylvania. The city was gritty, where the country was beautiful though left to its own devices.

While the East Coast’s natural and man-made forms held my rapt attention, my fellow passengers were quick to remind me why people hate taking the bus. My first annoying passenger was an older man, late 50s I surmised, dressed in a Zoot suit and bellowing into his cell phone about medications he needed when he got to South Carolina. I was too aggravated at the tone of his voice to really pay attention to his end of the conversation. He was sitting behind me, but I recalled seeing him talk to the driver before getting on the bus and I recognized his voice. My first thought was that he forgot the meds that triggered a sense of time. His suit was older than any one of the passengers; and who dresses up like that to ride a Greyhound bus??? It’s uncomfortable in sweats and tennis shoes, let alone all dressed for a funeral or wedding. Further, he was making the rest of us all the more uncomfortable yelling about his forgotten meds.

The second annoying passenger was also yelling into his cell phone, but it was at 11 o’clock at night between Washington D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. I was anticipating a 4-hour layover in Richmond and no chance of sleep once I got there.

On a side note, I envy all the lucky bastards who can sleep in never-ending fluorescent light with naught but a jacket over their eyes. I hate you!

He carried on about how he couldn’t reach anyone – apparently to the one person he could reach – to meet him in Richmond to give him a ride elsewhere. Obviously to some stop the bus wasn’t already headed toward. Of course, being dog tired I already wanted to throttle him, but I was further annoyed at the man’s lack of preparation! On the bus to a desired destination is NOT the time or place to be trying to get a ride from the place you’re headed. Especially when it’s 11 o’clock at night, when others might – MIGHT! – be trying to sleep; and then bitch when you can’t reach anyone! It’s not as though you will get what you want quicker in proportion to the volume of your voice into the phone. Does the concept of “indoor voices” disappear after middle school??? I want it to make a come-back if that’s the case. Especially when I’m trying to sleep on a bus headed to a land of eternal light, where I will have to be awake until I get on the next bus.

The last thing that annoyed me about the trip to North Carolina (surprisingly there wasn’t a whole lot that bugged me on the trip back – well, one thing but that is brain waste for another edition), were the posted hours for the Goldsboro, NC bus terminal. This is where my trip to the south came to an abrupt and blessed stop. I arrived at an un-Godly hour of the morning. Something like 5:30 AM. To see a terminal with interior lights on but the doors locked. It appeared that this terminal was the poster child for the metaphor of mental instability. This didn’t help me feel good about my choice of destination, considering my friend had to travel just under an hour to get there. It’s dark, in a city and state I am wholly unfamiliar with, and the lights are on but no one is home! Ahhhhh! I’m shaking a bit in my pink and green flip flops. I look at one half of the double doors that would have lead me into the shelter of the terminal and noticed the hours: 8:15 – 9:30 AM; 3:30 – 4:15 PM; and 8:00 – 8:30 PM. If it isn’t convenient for you to have 24/7 hours, it shouldn’t be convenient to have a terminal there. Duh! How safe can it be for a small group of people to linger outside in the wee hours of the morning? Wouldn’t that be a liability for the terminal and ultimately Greyhound? Or is it our own negligence for putting ourselves in a situation where we could get raped and pillaged IN FRONT OF A LOCKED BUS TERMINAL?

Even with the speed bumps, neither the sights seen or the ones to be anticipated can be wiped from my mind. Whether the grass is greener or just the same, I foresee more trips by bus to wherever it is I’m headed. I really enjoyed seeing my friend and the East Coast along the way.

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