In that dark post-Katrina era, I was doing the long-distance thing with my, then girlfriends, now wife. She went to Virginia for school, and I was still in New Orleans.
The way we maintained it was finding a way to see each other as often as we could. This ended up being every other month. We managed to do through a combination of severe frugality and determination.
Here’s an example of what that looked like.
One fall semester, I managed to get a giant chunk of time right around Christmas. I ended up having exams scheduled the first week or two right after thanksgiving, so I had almost the entire month of December that I could spend in Virginia.
The issue was how to get there. Being the holidays, there was already alot of movement by car I had to do. I suppose in hindsight I could have just driven the entire way up, but for some reason, I never ended up doing that.
After two days of research, I managed to find a dirt cheap deal. A $100 roundtrip flight out of Atlanta to Virginia and a $25 round-trip Greyhound bus ride to take me to my wife’s college, which was kind of in the middle of nowhere.
Never did I think in terms of simplest logistics. It was all about being cheap.
So, I would drive to Atlanta, stash the car at a friends. Take the train to the airport, flight, and then bus. Easy as pie.
And it was on the way going… kind of…
I got busted for speeding in Pearl River County Mississippi. Which, I didn’t know my 20 year old car could get busted for speeding. Must have been how good the soundsystem was in there. Stashed my car in Atlanta and made my flight on time.
The bus station in Richmond, Virginia was interesting. Clearly built (or remodeled) in the early 70s. Wood paneling. No food, save for a restaurant that closed at 7pm promptly, and it was well past 8pm by the time I got there. Alot of people just scattered around.
The bus itself was about 3 hours late (I should have seen this as a sign, but more on that later), so I walked the entire length of the station several times over. I remember Tom Waits had, what was then, a new album out, so it went well with the ambiance of the place.
Tons of people just sitting on their bags. Every bus was late, and there was not a ton of chairs. The one successful thing I did was get my ticket printed. See in those days, you couldn’t just print your tickets on the internet. You had to go to the bus station with your receipt from the website, and then THEY would print your ticket. Very old school.
I remember there was a ton of people making their way across the country for the holidays. Alot of people headed for the depot in Knoxville, where you could apparently get anywhere Greyhound would take you.
When the bus finally got there, I sat near a cluster of people all headed to somewhere out west for Christmas. One of them was exceptionally loud. I will never forget how proud she was about all the DVDs she brought for the trip. A few of them had portable DVD players (which were popular enough at the time).
She loudly pronounced, “I am going to watch this one movie first. Christmas with the Kranks. Have you seen it? It’s great. See Tim Allen doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas, but Dan Aykroyd and the neighbors do.” She then went on to give the entire plot of Christmas with the Kranks.
The actual ride itself was quiet, and no real delays. It was a one stop quick jaunt for me.
The actual time I spent with my now wife was lovely. She was cramming for finals, so I was able to take care of some stuff. Cook. And spend my holidays chilling. Enjoying the occasional snow flurry and the Virginia mountains.
The day I left was the morning after my wife’s last final. She was exhausted and out of it. I even took a cab to the bus station the next morning.
And this starts the fun part. The bus was supposed to arrive at 4am. My flight was at 7:45am, so I figured, plenty of time even if its late.
I didn’t think of how late.
By the scheduled arrival time, I was one of three waiting. As it got later, that turned into 10+. Once the bus was an hour and half late I started to get nervous. I figured I may miss my flight. And it was close enough to Christmas that I thought for sure I wasn’t going to get another one if I missed it (or I would end up spending dough on fees and stuff).
I called my now wife who was delirious and still exhausted. Told me to pay for a cab all the way to Richmond, which would have been like $200. Easily defeating the whole purpose of the trip. Around the time I was seriously considering it, the bus pulled in.
Bus driver comes out and pronounces, “Ticketed passengers only.” Apparently, I was the only one in the group who got the memo about Greyhound being behind the mid-2000s times. I was the only one with a ticket. They let me on the bus (and no one else).
While the bus driver tried to avoid a fracas outside, I walked up and down to find a seat. Couldn’t even find one seat. I had to make this flight so I figured I would make myself inconspicuous. Find a spot toward the back where I could sit on my backpack, and ride out that way.
One of the passengers saw me and said, “Honey, you can’t find a seat….what about that bench back there?”
The bench had a couple sitting together. It was clearly made for three but the girl was asleep across the bench.
I looked at it and said, “Oh….I am not going to disturb them.” She immediately cuts me off and gets up, “Nah nah nah honey, I will take care of it. HEY. GET YOUR ASS UP. THIS BOY NEEDS A PLACE TO SIT.”
I thanked everyone profusely, but I quickly realized that the girl was in some kind of fight with the boy. The girl sat as close to the bathroom as possible, and the guy sat as close to the window as he could.
And there was me in the middle. Blasting Tom Waits in my headphones. Considering how little time I had to make it across town to the airport once I got there. Was looking like it would be slightly after 7:00am by the time I got in, and I wasn’t sure how I would make the flight. Neither the girl nor the guy spoke a word to interrupt my thinking.
The second the bus stopped I ran like hell to the front. First out the door. I ran straight across the depot to the cab pit. I jumped in…what I later learned was called a gypsy cab. Had a like sticker sign on the side of his minivan. But, I was definitely not picky. I remember saying “I got $30 tip if you can get me across town in 10 min.”
He said, “Buckle in we gone.” SLAMMED the accelerator.
Look, how we didnt get pulled over. How we didn’t SEE anyone. I dont know. He didn’t get back on the interstate, which I think would be the fastest way if you were following the rules.
Oh no. He drove STRAIGHT THROUGH. Middle of downtown. Ran every red light. As the crow flies, by far the fastest way to the airport. I gave him his well earned tip and the fare, and ran like hell through the airport. I remember I ran past a guy in a wheelchair just to beat him in the security line.
Got through, got to my gate….
No one. The plane was still out there. No one around. I panicked. Ran up and down the concourse looking for anyone who could help me.
In fact, the concourse itself was empty. I ran up and down it looking for anyone. As I ran back to my gate, the agent was just coming back from behind the door. I explained who I was, and that this (pointing at the plane) is my flight.
She said I was too late, and I would have to reschedule. And they couldn’t get me on another flight for days…
I was defeated. As the gate agent went back behind the jetbridge door, I called my wife and explained what was going on. We were talking through the possibility of finding money to rent a car when she poked her head out and waved me on.
She berated me for being late and made me swear that I would never be late for a flight again. I sat down in the only empty seat and blacked out. Don’t remember a thing till the wheels touched down in Atlanta.
From then on out, I swore off trying to find the cheap path. I mean I would always look for deals, but frankensteining up a trip was for the birds.
Still though, I am glad I did it. Cause, I got to experience a thing. If we couldn’t get there by car, we didn’t do it, so I never did the bus thing.
This time of year, when the leaves turn and the weather gets cold, I always think of those holiday travelers on the bus. I hope you all get to your destinations safely to be with your family. And, hopefully…. on time.