TRAVELING CROSS COUNTRY ON A GREYHOUND BUS
(WITH TWO SMALL CHILDREN)
Our trip of a lifetime almost didn’t happen. You’ll understand after reading about its first two laps.
In 1974 my husband Monte received a grant to attend an energy conference in Berkeley, California. Our children, Sandy 4 and Nolan 2, stayed in Slippery Rock with me for the first five weeks. In the sixth week we traveled to California, from where the four of us would travel back to Slippery Rock.
Our good friend Shirl Murray drove us from our Slippery Rock home to the bus station , which was an hour away in Youngstown, Ohio. We made it with time to spare. The kids waited anxiously for “their” bus to arrive, then waited in line to board. A youngish man wearing the Greyhound uniform punched our ticket.
It was a cross country bus, so we settled in for our long journey. The passengers were a mix of humanity. A young couple and an elderly man seated themselves up front. Several teenagers seated themselves in the back of the bus. A frail woman sat in the middle. Most of the seats were filled with passengers boarding in towns the bus drove through en route from New York City to Youngstown.
The driver boarded, set his briefcase on the floor, situated himself in the driver’s seat, and shut the door. Suddenly the bus engine purred and he skillfully backed out of the parking place. All was well in the small community encased in what only can be described as an oversized tuna can.
The kids occupied themselves watching the Ohio country speed by while I arranged their things so they could entertain themselves when they tired of the scenery.
I sat back in my seat and pulled out a magazine, hoping I could finish an article before the kids needed me. The animated conversation interspersed with laughter coming from the young girls provided a pleasant backdrop.
At first I didn’t notice the frail woman, several rows down, but gradually her under-breath muttering pierced my consciousness. The kids and I glanced at her as the decibel level of her voice rose.
Sandy, and being the friendly child she was, climbed out of her seat, walked down the aisle, climbed into the seat next to the woman, and started to talk to her. I quickly retrieved Sandy and returned her to her own seat.
“She has a McDonald’s cup,” Sandy told me.
“I don’t want you talking to her,” I responded firmly. “Stay in your seat.”
The cows and horses along the roadside entertained Sandy and Nolan while I finished the article and flipped through the magazine in search of something else interesting. While doing so my good side vision saw the woman unsteadily rising from her seat. I watched her shakily walk toward us, holding onto the back of the seats for support. I assumed she was headed to the necessary room.
Her brightly dyed red hair escaped from the tattered head scarf she wore. Over her thin body she wore a ratty gray sweater, which covered what must have once been a brightly colored floral dress, but was now stained and faded. Her slip hung several inches below the dress hem. Her black stockings were rife with runs, and her shoes were coming apart at their soles.
She paused at the kids seats and leaned in toward them. Her garbled words asked said something about the cows as her wrinkled hands reached into her dress pocket. Her knarled fingers retrieved a candy bar wrapped in crumpled paper, which she offered to Sandy and Nolan.
The kids shrank back, not taking the offering. The woman then proceeded on toward the back of the bus before I could intervene.
The girl’s conversation paused as the woman approached them, skirting past the necessary room. She stopped in front of the girls. I couldn’t hear what she said to them but their expressions showed uncertainty and a hint of fear. I sensed they needed help. Putting my magazine down I walked back and asked the woman to return to her seat. She scowled at me but complied, continuing to mutter loudly as she staggered back to her seat.
A few minutes later the woman unsteadily rose from her seat again. She stumbled, almost falling, as she attempted to move towards the back of the bus. I stood in her way, directing her back to her seat, and made certain she was well seated, before reporting the incidents to the bus driver.
“We’re almost to Cleveland,” he said, leaving it up to me to protect my children and the girls.
Fortunately the woman slept (or passed out).
She aroused just as we pulled into the Cleveland bus station. I decided to wait until she disembarked before we did so. The kids moved over into my seat while I picked up the crayons and paper they had spread over their seat.
Finished, I turned to the kids, who were looking intently out the window. I, too, looked out, and saw the woman sitting on the cement, surrounded by glass and bleeding from her neck. I pulled the kids away and we sat on the opposite side of the bus while an ambulance came and took the woman away.
“Did you see what happened?” I asked them. They hadn’t—they’d only seen the woman on the ground and the ambulance coming.
When the activity died down a police officer entered the bus.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The woman fell into the glass doors, breaking it and cutting herself in the neck. What do you know about the incident?”
“Is she going to be OK?” I asked before telling him what I knew.
“There didn’t seem to be anything I could do except act as a barrier between the woman and my kids and the girls in the back of the bus.”
“If there’s a problem on the bus, the bus driver should pull off the road, call headquarters, and put a white flag on the outside of the bus. This driver is new, and may not have known that protocol.”
After our questioning it was time to grab something to eat.
“Will we have time to eat our meal?” I asked the bus driver, who was now finishing his dinner. “We weren’t able to get our food because I was being questioned.”
We ate a rushed meal and it was time to reboard the bus for the next lap of our journey…
in which I Lost My Son on a Greyhound Bus .
When you finish reading about the second lap of our travel on the Greyhound bus you will understand why we almost headed back home instead of continuing on to California.