I just read a piece on yesterday’s NPR Morning Edition website about John Waters’ new book, Carsick, which chronicles his experiences hitchhiking from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco.  That is the sort of experience I’d like to have, but one which this fear-factory is unlikely to try.  Reading the piece reminded me, though, of something I’ve long wanted to do: ride an intercity bus for a while, just for the experience.

The last time I recall riding a long distance bus was when I was a kid, probably 13 years old, maybe even younger.  Two friends of mine and I took the bus from Corpus Christi, Texas to Dallas, Texas so we could go to Six Flags over Texas. I had an aunt who lived in Dallas at the time, and she was happy to have us visit and gladly took us to Six Flags in the morning and picked us up after a full day of fun in the theme park.

Bus travel has, no doubt, changed since the last time I rode a bus a long distance.  But recalling one experience from that trip reminds me that the world is not so very different today than it was then.  And it was that sort of experience that colors common perceptions about bus travel today.

My memories of the experience are a bit fuzzy, but here’s what I recall of what happened.

We were probably half way or more on the trip north when a man sitting behind us started reaching his arm between the seats in which one of my friends and I were sitting; my other friend was across the aisle from us.  The man’s hand searched for an arm or a crotch to grab and started stroking it.  We told him to stop, but he just kept it up.  We were scared, but not too scared to tell the driver.  The driver pulled the bus over to the side of the road and told the man to get off.  The man claimed not to have done anything, but the driver wasn’t having it.  He insisted the guy get off the bus, right there in the middle of nowhere.  He got off and off we went.

Bus travel today is painted as a dangerous way to move about the country.  Buses are pictured as sinister vehicles in which only deviant sexual predators the ultra-poor ride.  Despite the my experience with the guy who tried to fondle us, I don’t think of that bus trip, nor that guy, as typical of that mode of travel.  I still want to get on a bus and hit the road for a while.  Riding a bus in this country probably does expose a person to a seedy side of life…at least not as pristine as I’m used to…but it’s not likely to be any more dangerous than going to a grocery store in a run-down neighborhood.

Why is it, by the way, that poverty is equated with crime?  I guess it makes sense; if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, you might well decide your only option is to steal food or something you can convert to money for food.  And maybe once that behavior produces results, the distaste of stealing becomes more tolerable.  And maybe the belief that characterizes stealing as wrong begins to erode.  That makes sense, I suppose.  But it’s a shame that society tends to lump the poor into the same category as it lumps criminals: potentially dangerous and definitely unsavory people to avoid.

But I like the real world.  I like gritty…to a point.  I like to experience the world from ground level, instead of from the perspective of the privileged few.

I guess I’ll have to start checking the Greyhound schedules again.  I need to do it soon or risk having to decide between taking a bus trip or attending my drawing class, my pottery class, or the “citizens’ police academy” I signed up for in August.  Somehow, the experience of riding a bus seems so much more desirable when I put it in that context.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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