Last week I went to my high-school reunion, the first time I’ve attended such a reunion in thirty-five years.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I graduated from Johnson High School, a high school in Japan for U.S. Air Force dependents. A year after I graduated, the high school, as well as the military base that the school was a part of, were given back to Japan. Johnson Family Housing Annex became part of Iruma Air Self-Defense Force Base.
This created a challenge in holding high-school reunions. After all, traveling to Japan to attend a reunion was not affordable, and traveling into Iruma Air Self-Defense Force Base was not permitted. So how could we hold reunions? What we finally wound up doing was to hold a reunion every three years; if a reunion was held in city W, then at the end of the reunion, we’d vote on whether to hold the next reunion in cities X, Y, or Z.
This year, the reunion was in San Diego, California. I live in Texas. Thirty-five years ago, I was stationed in San Diego, so of course I wanted to attend the 2015 San Diego reunion! The only question was, How do I get there?
The no-brainer answer would have been to fly out there. But if I flew there, I couldn’t see the scenery. Folks, there is some beautiful scenery between El Paso and San Diego, and it would have been a shame not to see it (again).
Okay, fine, so why didn’t I drive to San Diego? The brutally honest answer is that I was not sure my car would hold up to a thousands-of-miles drive without repairs. But also, how much could I enjoy the scenery if my clear legal obligation was to keep my eyes on the road? My insurance company would have been unforgiving if I’d rear-ended a car in Arizona while I was staring at cactus.
So that left my choices being Greyhound or Amtrak. If I’d been traveling only to San Diego, the decision would have been a coin-flip. But after traveling to San Diego, I also planned to visit Vallejo, California—and Amtrak doesn’t go there.
So, long story short, at 2:55 a.m. on Wednesday, September 16th, I got on a Greyhound bus; a day later, I arrived in San Diego. After the high-school reunion ended, I got on a bus in San Diego, eventually arriving in Vallejo, California. Two days after I arrived in Vallejo, I left on another Greyhound bus. Yesterday I arrived home.
Greyhound seats are made for women and children. The seats are narrow, and there is only about nine inches of legroom between the front of one seat and the back of the next seat forward. If two men must sit next to each other, both are miserable.
That’s not as bad as it sounds. I discovered that if the bus were not completely full, so that nobody was sitting in the window seat when I was sitting in the aisle seat, then I could get comfortable enough to sleep if I sat with my legs spread wide. One bus driver insisted that we not put our feet in the aisle, but to me it was the only way to be even partway comfortable.
Alas, the Los Angeles-to-Oakland bus-ride and the Los Angeles-to-Dallas bus-ride were completely full, and so I got no sleep then.
Baggage-handling was done differently on Greyhound than on an airplane. When I transferred buses in El Paso, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Dallas, my one checked bag didn’t automatically get loaded onto the next bus. Instead, I had to claim my checked bag from the old bus, carry it into the bus station, and give it to the baggage-loader when I boarded my new bus.
Flying still has a little bit of glamor to it; but there was nothing glamorous about traveling by bus. The other bus-trip passengers were young people and poor people. On each trip, there were also two or three young foreign tourists, since the best way to see the USA if you don’t live in the USA, is by bus.
There are all kinds of choices you have if you want to pay someone to take you to or from the airport. But only taxis will take you to or from the bus station.
Greyhound likes to over-AC their buses. I’m glad I brought my windbreaker with me; those buses often were cold.
Greyhound windows: There are lots of them on the sides of the bus, and they’re huge. Traveling in a bus is almost like being in a traveling greenhouse. During the hours when the sun is up, viewing scenery is a pleasure, because of all the big windows. The windows are tinted, which means that the bus doesn’t get hot during the day, and looking at scenery in daylight doesn’t give you eyestrain. But at night, those same tinted windows mean you can see nothing out the side windows of the bus, unless the bus is traveling through a city with its bright lights. The thing is, a Greyhound bus doesn’t spend any more time in a city than it has to.
Say what you will about Greyhound travel, but their ticket prices are wonderful.
Memories of my triangular round trip—
• Looking out the window in El Paso, Texas and in Calexico, California, and realizing that my bus was only a few tens of yards from the Mexican border.
• I was late arriving in Vallejo because I missed my connection in Oakland. The reason our bus was late getting into Oakland was because, somewhere on I-5 north between San Diego and Oakland, the bus got caught in a traffic jam at four in the frigging morning. What the hell?
• The next time I was in the Oakland Greyhound station, the security guard was checking the carry-on bag of a soon-to-be passenger, and the security guard pulled out a black plastic cornet. Once Security finished with the cornetist, he played several songs in the bus-station waiting room.
• Traveling on I-10 eastbound in west Texas, ten or twenty miles west of Van Horn, we hit a hailstorm. This hailstorm was nasty, with hailstones the size of half-dollars. The noise of hailstones hitting the roof was deafening. I thought we passengers were going to die, or at least would be cut up by hail-broken glass. But the glass didn’t break, the bus didn’t slide into anybody, nobody slid into us, and the bus didn’t lose traction. I haven’t been this scared since 1964 (when I watched a tornado head straight toward my mother, sister, and me)—but nothing bad happened as our bus inched its way through the hailstorm. Bus driver Felipe Garcia was a champion.