Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Greyhound Bus From Hell

I really don't mind taking the Greyhound. I'm always stressed about arriving on time, and I'll never understand their "don't board the bus until five minutes before departure" policy, but the trip is relatively comfortable and cheap.

Last week I wrote about the gashed-up razor-eater who skulked around the Toronto terminal until he was ejected. This week...

I took the bus on Saturday morning so I could vote in the TICOT elections. After only fifteen minutes in Toronto I returned to the bus terminal and waited to catch the return trip home.

There was only one other person waiting when I got there. Let's call him "Chatty O'Stink." He was borderline homeless and exuded an amazing stench, which he occasionally made worse by splashing perfume on himself. Mr. O'Stink REALLY wanted to talk to me, asking me all sorts of things about where I lived and why I was in Toronto. When I retreated into my book, he started touching the pages and asking me what I was reading.

"The Diary of Samuel Pepys," I said, knowing I'd never be able to explain this to him.

"I don't have any book-learning," he told me. "Can't even read and write. Didn't realize it until I was forty! Hey, did you know that Alice Cooper is coming to Kitchener?"

Chatty O'Stink wasn't a bad person, I just didn't want to get saddled with him, let alone sit next to his horrible body on the bus. So I stopped answering his questions and he eventually left me alone.

Lucky for me, though, the next arrival was a pre-teen boy with a skateboard who was either mentally handicapped or had just smoked a joint. He was frightened by Chatty O'Stink -- who was now walking around in circles and singing -- so I guess he thought I'd be a good ally against the Big Scary World. He kept turning his huge dilated pupils at me and making truncated observations like "Cold out here" and "That bus is big." He edged closer and closer. So I had to ignore him as well.

There I was, trapped between a guy who stank like the world's dirtiest armpit and a kid on drugs.

Then The Farmer arrived.

The Farmer was a short, stocky guy wearing a straw hat, except that the center portion of the hat was gone, leaving only the brim. He began to talk to Chatty O'Stink, but soon he was yelling in a way that reminded me of a big dog barking. "I DON'T CARE IF THEY DO IT, BUT DO THEY GOTTA BRAG ABOUT IT?" he screamed. "ASSF*CKERS!"

Soon The Farmer was walking up and down the growing line of passengers, by turns calm and agitated ("I HAD A BAD F*CKING DAAAAAAY!!!"). Even Chatty O'Stink became frightened, and he went to find the security guards. "That guy's crazy," said the wide-eyed pre-teen, holding his skateboard like a stuffed toy. "This line is big."

By the time the security guards arrived, The Farmer had disappeared and we'd begun boarding the bus. Chatty O'Stink chose the front seat and I sat far enough back to avoid his smell.

Suddenly, Chatty jumped up and started whispering to the bus driver. "That's him!" he was saying, pointing out the door. "That's the guy in the hat!"

"A seat's a seat," said the bus driver. The next thing we knew The Farmer had boarded the bus...and sat down next to Chatty. Things were tense.

All good things come in threes, of course. Our next wonderful passenger was a drunken red-faced guy wearing sunglasses who sat directly behind The Farmer. This was like an intricate chess problem being constructed, the kind where everybody ends up dying.

The drunk noticed that none of the seats in the bus had headrests. "This is a liability!" he kept saying. "There isn't a single seat in this bus with a head rest!"

"You're talking to the wrong guy," said the bus driver simply.

"Just don't drive like a maniac! I don't wanna get whiplash, man."

"You can get out now if you like."

"Oh, no no no." He kept looking for confirmation from the other passengers that he was making a valid point, turning around and staring and shaking his head. Then he'd get up and wander halfway down the aisle, make a sound of disgust, then come back to his seat again.

He had to make a big show of how much neck support he required, so he clumsily opened the overhead compartment to get his jacket out and make a pillow out of it...

...and he knocked The Farmer's straw hat off.

We froze. All of us were staring. We'd seen The Farmer's level of emotional stability in the terminal and we'd found it lacking. The Farmer picked up his hat, sat back down, and began to flip his head forward and backward, apparently to straighten out his hair. Then his head began to oscillate slowly from side to side as Chatty O'Stinky leaned as far away as possible. I felt very sorry for him.

The bus driver started the bus, and he announced that we'd be making the usual stop in Cambridge on the way to Kitchener. "WHAT?!?" yelled the drunk. "What's this about CAMBRIDGE?!?"

"It's on the schedule" said the bus driver.

"How long's that gonna take?"

"Fifteen minutes or so."

"That's bullsh*t" said the drunk, turning his red face to his fellow passengers to bask in their adulation.

The Farmer turned around and said "You could always walk."

Ooooo. Total silence now. I'm sure I wasn't the only one considering exiting the bus. This could NOT be a happy ending...

...but somehow it WAS. You know how some tough guys sort of half-wilt when their bluff is called, and their derision turns to respect? The driver had been polite and unyielding, and now The Farmer had dealt with him. Somehow this defused all of the drunk's anger. Within fifteen minutes the four of them -- the drunk, the driver, The Farmer, AND Chatty O'Stink -- were deep in a discussion about hockey, though The Farmer kept getting distracted by the voices in his head. He wanted to talk about all the bus rides he'd ever taken. Occasionally the drunk would retreat to the bathroom and come out stinking of booze, rubbing his little red eyes and massaging his unsupported neck.

What's going on? After fifteen years of trouble-free bus rides, suddenly I'm stuck dealing with crazy people, with the added bonus of a few recent stabbings to keep us on edge. Are they giving bus passes to these people just to get them out of town?

I leave you with The Farmer's favourite joke, which he made up on the spot and seemed to find delightful. While we were stopped in Cambridge, The Farmer wanted to stand up and go for a walk. Chatty O'Stinky told him not to. "They won't let you off, they won't let you off." He said.

"UNLESS YOU COUGH!" yelled The Farmer, and he laughed and laughed and laughed.


Anonymous said...

I think I owe you big time.

I hope your next trip isn't as eventful :)

Why do you get all the crazies??


Adam Thornton said...

You don't owe me anything! But if you ever DO feel indebted, I'd like a helicoptor, with wet bar.

As for the crazies, that's what I'M wondering.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the only thing missing is, "It was a dark and stormy night..."

The characters are like some of the denizens who used to haunt the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC (and may still be there, even if only in spirit!).

Are you sure that you didn't stumble onto a movie set? The vagrant's funk was just to lend realism (and make the filming go faster!).

Now, if you had been around Time Square before the clean up some years back, and observed the dramatis personae, you'd have felt right at home with your traveling "companions."

(You would not have felt safer, but might have been nostalgic for the era when Eighth Avenue was the "Minnesota Strip," pimps greeted buses like yours to recruit runaways, sportin' gals of one or more gender displayed their wares, and Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickel drove his taxi.)

If the economy turns south and Times Square can’t keep up its scrubbed fa├žade, we may see it return to its old ways. If that happens, send your bus mates down here – they’ll feel right at home!

Kimber said...

Muffy, I think you must have some sort of built-in freak magnet in your body. That story was just too weird. Maybe if you acted like a freak they'd leave you alone?

Adam Thornton said...

Gary, the real question is: did those people actually get on the out-of-town busses and travel?

Toronto (and even Kitchener) has no shortage of its unstable vagabonds, but I'm not accustomed to them using the buses to go from city to city!

And how did the Times Square cleanup actually work? Just beefed up security and closing down the suspicious stores?

Adam Thornton said...

If crazy people aren't trying to talk to me, my car is exploding.

This is why I stay at home.

Anonymous said...

Noooo...unfortunately, they were mostly vagrants, bums, panhandlers, ne'er-do-wells, mendicants, and people without any fixed place, purpose or destination. (My attempt to approximate the language of the Elizabethan Poor Laws.)

At some point in the Giuliani administration, street-level police enforcement drove these people elsewhere, along with the drugs and porn. In some cases it was to other, more industrial neighborhoods; in other cases it was to residential or emerging-residential areas. Then Disney came in and helped turn some of the theaters legit again.

Now one could walk from 7th to 8th Avenue without fearing for their life. No people muttering "Smoke, dope, crack"; no one shouting "Girls, girls, girls." No streetwalkers. The atmosphere was no longer fraught with danger.

Alternate explanations of the clean-up include more detention of the mentally ill; tougher street patrols; an economy that would support the upscale stores & venues that came into the area; or roundups of the underclasses for the Soylent Green project (!).

Well, whatever happened then, those times are over and a new breed of street life is starting to emerge. We'll see how far down this economic slide takes us. A bad blow to the discretionary entertainment dollar could spell down 'n dirty times for the Square.

Adam Thornton said...

What's the new breed of streetlife? The same as before, or something entirely new?

Anonymous said...

I could rival your story, and yes, being blonde and tall and gorgeous made every weirdo male on the planet talk to me! Including while I had head in a book. They come up 'I saw a beautiful girl standing here and had to talk to you' on and on. The guy who got thrown off MY greyhnd bus outside Worcester MA, yeah, they thought he was drunk. I thought he had mental problem. Kept putting his feet up ON the person's head and headrest in front of him. And no, don't blame the 'mentally ill'. It isn'tnormal' to shout profanity and loud laughter and tell your terrible gutter life story at very high volume, and they never shut up! They talk day and night on these buses! as so many of these 'passengers' do. And blasting your private cellular phone conversations on an enclosed space is also nuts, as is taking 1 month old screaming babies on 2 day bus tours, with no consideration for fellow passengers. Now, THAT is insane.