This Fourth of July, I am headed north to go sailing with my new best friend. I am truly blessed to have this opportunity to do something totally outside the realm of my ordinary world. I have never been a water person—I grew up on the rough plains of eastern Montana—so water is almost an anomaly. The sailboat is in Bayfield, Wisconsin, four hours from Minneapolis. My friend was going to drive down to the cities, pick me up, and then drive back. That would have been eight hours on the road. Crazy, in my book. I offered to drive up to save him the four hours, but that would have meant we’d have two cars to drive back to the cities—similarly crazy. But it seemed like the better alternative, in spite of the inconvenience. Then I had an epiphany that would solve the dilemma. But first let me tell the story that created the solution.
In 2001 on 9/11, we all watched in horror the assault on the Twin Towers. I had just dropped my kids off at daycare, and remember watching on the school office television as reruns of the plane crashing into the tower played on the news. I called my husband who was in Phoenix on business and told him to turn on the TV. I went from school to an appointment with a consulting client, Cargill’s Business Excellence team. No business was conducted. The world was in turmoil. We finally gave up all pretense of working and went next door where a trading group had a television. We watched in silent disbelief as the buildings collapsed.
Most of us know or remember that day. And how all airports closed. My husband Scot was stranded in Phoenix. We called each other, discussing his predicament. This was at the end of the day, the kids were with me, the TV on in the background playing news of the day non-stop.
I asked, almost rhetorically, “How will you get home?”
Scot said, “I don’t know. I could stay here for a few days and see what happens.”
“We don’t know how long that could be! I’d like you to be here,” I said. “What about driving the rental car back?”
Scot, always the practical one, replied, “The car’s due back tomorrow. It would cost hundreds. I’m not sure I want to do that.”
I said, “You can fly back. They have to open up the airports sooner or later.”
“I’m not sure I want to fly, either. It feels too risky. And we don’t know when that will be either,” he replied.
Our conversation paused. We had run out of ideas. We both felt a mental paralysis. My eyes went back to the TV, replaying the chaos that was happening in New York. They were talking about Phoenix being a potential center for terrorists. I didn’t want Scot to stay there, but I didn’t know how to get him out.
I said helplessly to Scot, “I don’t know what to do.” He didn’t answer. He didn’t know either.
Then our youngest, who had just turned ten, spoke up. “Greyhound. $99 anywhere in the USA.”
“WHAT?” I asked.
Lee repeated. “Greyhound. $99 anywhere in the USA. I heard it on TV. ‘Greyhound. $99 anywhere in the USA.’”
“Oh my God, Scot!” I shouted into the phone. “Lee just solved our problem. ‘Greyhound. $99 anywhere in the USA!’”
That day our little Leebo was the hero.
60 hours later, the three kids and I picked Scot up from the Greyhound bus station. He had ridden a full bus back to the Twin Cities.
Back to the future
I never thanked Greyhound for reuniting my family. Scot entertained us for hours describing his bus experiences, how they stopped along Route 66 at dismal, dimly lit stations along the southern route. He said there was a marked difference between the stations in the south and those as he rode north—the stations got cleaner, brighter, more up-scale. The bus ride took 48 hours. He went from Phoenix to Dallas where he changed buses, then north on I-35 to Minneapolis. He slept on the bus and when he got off he needed a bath, a shave, a clean change of clothes. He slept another eight hours.
But he made it home safely at a time of great uncertainty. By bus.
Tomorrow, I will embark on my own adventure riding the bus. I mulled over how to get to Lake Superior without hours of drive time or using twice as much gas as necessary. I thought about flying, but figured that would cost more and take as much time as driving. Then it dawned on me to check into the bus lines.
Aside from a city bus, I have never travelled by bus in America. I had the courage to send my two boys back to Montana by bus, and as they boarded, I wondered if they would ever make it. My mother and sister were at the bus station to meet them, and never saw the boys get off. They were panic stricken! Only after the bus left did they see the two boys standing on the curb across the street. They had been obscured by the bus.
I hate to sound like a snob, but taking the bus hasn’t been on my radar. But this time the bus turned out to be the most viable option. I half expected the price to be exorbitant, don’t ask me why. It turns out the one-way holiday fare is $11.99, including all taxes and fees. I figure if I drove my car and got 30 mpg, I would have to spend around $20 one way for gas, $40 for the round trip it would have required. A drive by car would take at least 2 hours and 30 minutes, not accounting for stopping at Toby’s, a landmark about halfway. By bus it is projected to be (not 48 hours), but three.
Taking the bus did require that my friend pick me up in Duluth, one hour from Bayfield. He was happy to oblige, since one hour is a fraction of what the entire drive would have entailed.
This time my son Lee told me, “May you live in interesting times.” I’m not sure this is a good thing, even though on the surface it sounds like a blessing. I Googled the phrase. It is often used ironically, and is referred to as the “Chinese curse.” (Dang, the Chinese can’t buy a break. And it has never been proven that the Chinese, or any other Asian group, coined the phrase originally.) The curse is that we don’t want to live in interesting times, but rather it is better to live in uninteresting times of peace and tranquility.
As part of this adventure, my friend (who, by the way, was greatly relieved that I found a more optimal solution to the driving issue) suggested I write about my preconceived notions of bus travel and how the trip actually transpires.
Stay tuned; next week, preconceived ideas vs. reality. Read about what happened.