Cross-posted from Livejournal 5/3/2021, and edited slightly for current relevance
♫ For the easiest travel on earth,
Take a Trailways, take a Trailways,
For the easiest travel on earth,
Take a Continental Trailways bus. ♫
♫ Go Greyhound, and leave the driving to us! ♫
A post in Teresa Burritt’s Frog Blog (an earlier version, now defunct, but the current one is still full of interesting things) included the following picture:
Like many of her posts, this got the old gears grinding and brought back many memories of cross-country bus travel, some pleasant and others… well, “interesting.”
Back in the 50’s, you could truck around for $99.00 for 99 days, unlimited travel to unlimited destinations, and break your journey anywhere; I suspect this is what the poster above referred to. Naturally, it was the 50’s, and the buses were notorious for intolerance and segregation¹ (see here for some of the details of that shameful situation), but also became a focal point for the civil-rights movement. For comparison, you can read the Trailways Wikipedia entry.
Back in the 60’s I took several trips by bus from New York to California and back; there’s no denying that it was challenging. Even as a relative youngster, sleeping on a bus is less than luxury. The seats didn’t recline much if at all, much like the cattle-class seats on a modern airliner. Stopping at all hours of the night at lonely, sometimes seedy cafés in Broken Clavicle, Iowa or Whistling Rock, Wyoming is not luxurious… and I will forever associate such places with the smell of Postum™ ². As I drink neither coffee nor tea, it was all I could get if I wanted something hot besides cocoa; like Sanka™, it came with a metal pot of hot water and little envelopes.
Sleeping on the bus was so challenging for me I would often resort to sleeping pills, but those made the night-time stops fairly grueling – staggering to the restroom while under the influence of those soporifics is unpleasant at best. Eventually I stopped using them and just toughed it out.
One upside was being able to watch the countryside go by without worrying about the stresses of driving, and another was the interesting people one could meet on the way. Yes, there were the “other” kind of people as well, along with the fat ladies puking in the aisle if they couldn’t make it to the onboard lavatory, but the really unpleasant incidents that one hears about were thankfully quite rare, and I never encountered one. While I never lost a bag during an actual trip, one box I shipped from New York to Pennsylvania via Greyhound arrived opened, damaged, with much missing, and full of gravel. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall to see what happened to that one.
I’ve checked – you can still travel by bus today, if you are hardy. But the advantages seem few, given the cost of other alternatives.
A round-trip fare from SLC to JFK would cost $499.00 at senior, economy rates, and take about 48 hours each way. Allow a bit for what passes for food and such along the route.
That compares to the lowest airfare of $353.00 for the same dates.
It would cost around $381.00 for gas in a 40mpg Prius at an average cost of $3.50 per gallon (which would take at least 8 days, coming and going, meaning additional lodging and food costs.)
Amtrak would cost $492.00 and take 61 hours, if one can get through without service disruptions.
At this point, the biggest advantage, shared with Amtrak, seems to be seeing a lot of countryside without having to do the driving yourself. The fact that Greyhound is still in business speaks to the fact that many people are willing to take this option – and naturally, there are other routes which may make taking the bus more advantageous.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ John Howard Griffin’s experiences at a Greyhound Bus station in the South in 1960, as well as on the bus trip itself, recounted in Black Like Me, are chilling.
² Postum faded into history in 2007 but enough people clamored for it that it was successfully revived by Eliza’s Quest Food in 2013. There are recipes for home-made varieties, and one product, Ersatz™, claims to be a good Postum™ substitute. During the war, Ersatzkaffee was commonly given to Allied POW’s, and here we have an Ersatzersatzkaffee being marketed to those who crave it. The world is so full of a number of things. Now one can get things at the grocery store like Pero™, a European coffee substitute (known in Europe as Karo™) which is similar but much better-tasting, but rarely available in restaurants.