Bus Ride to California

After fighting the post-eclipse traffic on April 8, leading me to find an alternative route from my eclipse site near Atkins, AR to my home in Norman, OK, I finally pulled into my driveway before 11 PM, which meant I needed to get my packing finished and be off to bed for a 7 AM rise.

Wednesday morning April 9 was the start of my PCT adventure. As I wrote before, an airplane flight to Bakersfield would have cost over $500, whereas my Greyhound bus ride only cost about $100 when bought a month in advance. I have ridden Greyhound many times – to and from hikes in Arkansas as well as two times returning from the Appalachian Trail.  A Greyhound bus ride half way across the country is always an adventure in itself and will tell you a lot about America too.

Since my cars were staying at home, I started my hike right out the front door, on city streets two and a half miles to the regional Embark bus stop next to the Homeland grocery store.  I have ridden the 024 bus outbound from Oklahoma City to Norman but never in the inbound direction.  I noticed that the pick up/drop off point has changed, but nevertheless the bus showed up at the scheduled time.

I told the driver I was heading to the Greyhound bus station, lugged in my big backpack and my little front pack, and put in my $3.  He said I would need to transfer to the 022 bus in Oklahoma City, and we were off.  There were a few other riders, so there was plenty of room.

My stop was the first one in Oklahoma City, just after the exit from I-35 onto Lincoln Blvd.  The state Capitol was in view less than two miles ahead.  As the bus stopped, the driver said, “Well, there’s your 022 transfer.  Looks like you’ll have to wait for the next one in a half hour.”  I thanked him, but I wasn’t going to wait.  The 022 bus only gets within a half mile of the Greyhound station, so I just walked the entire two and a half miles to the station, a walk I have done many times.

When I arrived at the station, it looked deserted.  I was going to get something to eat, but I decided that I better check what is going on first.  I pulled on the front door of the Greyhound station, and it opened as usual.  I saw a few people sitting and the attendant at the counter.  It just so happened that this was a quiet time of day, so I went back out and headed to Waffle House where I had an All-Star breakfast, hot tea, and a bowl of grits – and it was good.  I headed back to the Greyhound station.

This time there were a couple of buses parked and people standing outside.  This was more normal, and I looked to see if one of the buses was mine.  It used to be that each bus would have its destination posted in lights, but hardly any of the drivers seem to do that anymore.  Passengers are reduced to having to ask.

More buses kept pulling into the station until all five bays were filled, and it became more of a zoo with passengers, drivers, and support staff everywhere.  Finally, one bus driver said, “This bus is going to LA,” but then he walked off and headed across the street.  An old guy next to me said that his shift must be over.

Soon our driver appeared, and he looked really unconfident – a white guy, maybe about 30.  He told us that this was the bus to LA.  Then he got into the driver’s seat, came back down, looked all around the bus, back into the driver’s seat again, back down – and he announced that something was wrong with the parking brake, so he was calling a mechanic who should arrive in about 20 minutes.

The old guy said that he used to drive a bus like this, and he explained some kind of trick in using the parking brake that his driver evidently didn’t know about.  I said, “Oh boy, when Greyhound says 20 minutes, we might be waiting one hour, two hours – who knows?”

Luckily, I was overly pessimistic, and the mechanic arrived in a half hour – a black guy probably about 40.  He got up in the driver’s seat, engaged and disengaged the parking brake a couple of times, then had our driver take the seat and stepped him through engaging and disengaging the brake a number of times.  So, we had a driver who needed to be taught how to operate the bus.  We wondered what else he didn’t know.

Anyway, we were finally allowed to load our baggage and step into the bus.  We left the station after 1 PM on a trip that was supposed to depart at 11:40 AM.  A woman with a care dog was assigned the seat across the aisle from me.  She wanted to take the front seat, which is normally kept empty, and she was cussing and moaning that this was animal abuse because her dog was confined under her legs.  Happily, at the first stop in El Reno the driver allowed her and her dog up front, so that fire was put out.

After that, the drive was amazingly normal until we got somewhere near the Texas state line.  During a personal bathroom break, I noticed that toward the back of the bus, a couple of guys were tipping beers and there was a bottle of booze being passed around.  I went back to my seat, but somewhere before Amarillo I smelled smoke – and I don’t mean tobacco either.  Of course all of this is strictly against federal law, and we were in Texas where everything is illegal except the attorney general’s fraudulent and lascivious activities.

Just before stopping at the Amarillo bus station, our driver announced that he knew that there was drinking going on, and if he found out who it was, he would kick them off the bus.  He also said that people should put some strong mints in their mouths because if bus station security smelled alcohol, they would turn all offenders over to the police.

Maybe that did the trick because I noticed no more imbibing on the way to Albuquerque. The driver reiterated his admonition again, and his shift was over.  By now it was past midnight, and our bus was two hours late.

We got a new driver, a black woman, nice looking, about 40 years old – but I thought, “Oh boy, I can’t remember being on a Greyhound bus with a woman driver where someone didn’t get kicked off the bus or left behind at some bus stop.”  This one wasted no time.  As soon as the bus was loaded up, she walked down the aisle looking left and right.  I heard a confrontation toward the back of the bus, and she hustled a white woman off the bus.  Someone said that there was something wrong with the woman’s ticket – or maybe she didn’t have a ticket at all. 

The new driver then took the microphone and announced to anyone who returns to the bus late following a scheduled stop – that if the bus door is closed and the parking brake is disengaged, then the bus is in transit and will accept no passengers.  I just sat straight in seat 3C, which was not my seat.  I was assigned seat 2C, but since another passenger was in 2D and seats 3C and 3D were empty, I just moved back a row.  I figure that the new driver didn’t want to get into a confrontation with a guy, so she didn’t make an issue of my placement.

Needless to say, no one drank or smoked in the bus with this driver, but we were into the wee hours by the time we pulled out of Albuquerque.  We made a couple of stops, but I dosed off.  I thought the next stop would be Holbrook or Winslow, but we were all the way to Flagstaff.  The driver warned us that even though the assigned seat system is new for Greyhound, no passengers should have to ask for their seats to be vacated. I guess this was a jab at me, but no one was in seat 3C when I arrived from break.

Dawn arrived somewhere around Sedona, and before long we were entering the Phoenix area and the end of this driver’s shift.  We were 3 hours late by this time, and I was already worrying that I might be stranded overnight in LA.  Also, it was obvious that in southern Arizona and southern California, the language of Greyhound is Spanish.

Our new driver was a chubby Latin late-middle-aged guy.  He could deal with English, but not in a real comfortable manner.  For instance, at one stop he went into all this detail in Spanish about how the stop was just a pick up and drop off point but that smokers could disembark and light up if they stayed right next to the bus.  In English, all he offered was, “No break!”

I was hoping that he would try to make up some of the time, but he just drove the route as he always did and took the same lengths of breaks as he always did.  No one did anything out of the ordinary.  It was the middle of the day and there were kids on the bus.

As we approached the mountains leading to the LA basin, I could see San Jacinto at 10800 feet with some snow on top, but it was San Gorgonio at 11500 feet that had by far the most snow of any of the mountains.  Luckily, the PCT makes a wide berth around San Gorgonio, but San Jacinto is a major PCT high point.

When we reached the LA bus station, I headed to customer service and was pleasantly surprised to get an assigned seat on a bus to Bakersfield leaving in a half hour.  I headed to the gate number that the attendant told me and asked a white guy if this was the bus north on I-5.  He said, “Don’t speak English.” I have heard this before I south Texas, and I never know whether the speaker is telling me that he doesn’t speak English or whether he does speak English, but only when he has to, such as at work. Otherwise, on his own time it’s a command, “Don’t speak English” around me, he may be saying.

Anyway, by this time the north-bound bus arrives, and the driver is a 30-ish black guy.  He lets us put our luggage in the hold while he checks the back of the bus.  Then he tells us, “Uh oh, the bus needs coolant.  I need to go to the garage.  It’ll only be 20 minutes.”

As he drove off, I saw a black guy who boarded in Oklahoma City like me.  He called me brother, which was interesting, but I guess there aren’t too many people in the station he can talk to.  I said that I’ve heard this 20 minutes business before, and it’s not a good sign.  There have been times when they come back with a different bus that invariably has fewer seats, so they have to leave people behind.  And my luggage was on the bus that just drove off.  He said his luggage was on that bus too.

Happily, our worries were unfounded this time because the driver returned with the same bus in 20 minutes.  I thanked him profusely.  Always acknowledge good things that your Greyhound bus driver does.

We arrived in Bakersfield at 10 PM, exactly 2 hours after the 8 PM on my ticket.  Two hours late on a 32-hour bus ride is actually on-time for Greyhound, and our driver actually made up an hour.  I thanked him again.

Now I needed a place to stay, which I knew was near the interstate.  So I walked two and a half miles to a Super 8.  On the way I noticed that gas prices were way more expensive than in central Oklahoma, as shown in my featured image at the top.  At the Super 8 the attendant said that the room cost $75, but when she saw my ID, she gave me a $5 senior discount.  I guess we oldsters are less likely to have wild and noisy  parties.  I just went to my room and went to bed.

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Comments 1

  • Tim Semones : Apr 26th

    Awesome travel log vibe Flip Flop! Look forward to surreptitiously watching your adventure.


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