Riding the highway to hell

Christina Alexander

“Don’t panic, but the bus is on fire. If you’re sitting in the back, then please move to the front. We’ll be pulling over shortly.”

Four fire trucks, an ambulance and a visit from the Cleveland fire chief later, the passengers on Greyhound’s Cleveland-to-Chicago stretch stand shivering at the side of the highway. The bus’s brakes locked up, but the driver didn’t notice until smoke poured past and the bus was in flames.

It’s 5 a.m. I’m one of the lucky ones now stranded on the highway.

This is not a column about something that I’ve never done at Northwestern. But it is about getting to NU and my first round trip (38 hours long) on a Greyhound bus.

I’m from Hubbardsville, N.Y. – an upstate town with a population of 692. I’ve never been home for Spring Break, but this year I found myself broke, so I trekked the 747 miles home – by bus.

It’s not a bad trip: 16 hours on a bus, a couple layovers and I’m small enough to curl up in a seat and get some sleep. It couldn’t be too bad, right?

I’ve discovered something: Weirdoes take the bus, and Murphy’s law fully applies.

Meet Jessica, my seatmate from Cleveland to Buffalo, N.Y. It’s 3:45 in the morning, and she’s screaming into her cell phone to make sure her boyfriend plans to pick her up. The twist: She slept with his brother and they’re having the world’s loudest break-up on our bus. Later she pulls the headphone out of my ear to explain the situation, because obviously, I’m dying to know why she couldn’t keep it in her pants.

Meet Eric. In Cleveland, Eric comes up to me and asks to use my cell phone to make a long distance call to France. Um, no. He starts giving me the third degree about my life. When I don’t answer fast enough, he switches to French and then what sounds like Spanish, convinced I don’t speak English. For the rest of the trip, he speaks to me in French only. And steals every single Amish magazine from the bus stop in Indiana.

Meet Ted. The ex-Marine truck driver who “adopts” me during the last leg of the trip to Chicago. The man uses “ain’t” more than anyone I’ve ever heard. He’s loud and enjoys making comments to the driver and other passengers about the driving quality. At one point, he tries to tickle me after telling me that college is a time of experimentation when you should learn all your likes and dislikes. He’s somehow surprised when I switch seats.

But at least he’s legal, which is more than can be said for the four people escorted off the bus in Rochester, N.Y., by U.S. Customs officials.

And at least the customs officials were friendly and polite – unlike the bus agent, who just told me that although my bus caught fire, Greyhound safely delivered me to my final destination and bears no responsibility for refunding my ticket, even if they already promised to do so.

Maybe Greyhound should change its motto from “Leave the driving to us.” to “Ride at your own risk.”

Next time, I’ll take the Fung Wah.

Medill senior Christina Alexander can be reached at [email protected]