You may be wondering why, after my last experience with Greyhound Inc, I would ever consider patronizing their services again. Well it’s a long and a sad story, but basically I keep putting myself in positions where I believe they might be the most convenient option.
I went once again in Florida between Couchsurfing hosts with similar results not worth publishing, and now again to get to Mexico. I was given a referral that said the bus was direct, had WiFi, and went straight where it needed to for $60.
Turns out I got on a 9:30 bus at 11:30 and by 3 am I was packed into a red pickup truck in a border town being assured by someone in a Greyhound vest that this was a great idea in a language I do not understand. This had been the fourth vehicle I had been inside on my journey. Somewhere along the ride I developed Shingles, a viral infection that causes herpetic blisters.
This post really killed my momentum on the blog that I had just recovered. I feel like it needs to be written. I’m still not sure what it’s for. Whether it’s funny, or a moral lesson. It’s going to be one of my longer blogs, too long to read for many of you. Oh well. I have to get it out.
It started at the Austin Station, The Customer service reps were as disinterested as I expected, and by the time we got to the front of a long line which was incessantly cut by other patrons we were jostled back and fourth between attendants who couldn’t get the thing to scan. No problem, we left plenty of time. But as we were eventually nonchalantly informed that out ticket was “broken”, and instructed to write as much on a form we had no capacity to understand, I began to doubt that this trip would be what it was promised
We got new tickets, and held them as 9:30 came and went. No announcement was made that our bus was late, and most of the workers were concerned about another bus that had customers waiting since the early afternoon and had not yet arrived. I tried to talk to someone at the desk again and they had No idea, I was told to ask outside and finally found someone who confirmed we hadn’t missed it, it was late, and there was no ETA.
The bus station looked typical, about what I expected. It was not tiny like some I’d seen, but it was one room, so reasonably small for a city like Austin. Typical airport style seating, mostly full, a counter of outlets in the corner that offered the opportunity to recharge your phone in exchange for the privilege of sitting (pick one) and some vending machines.
I chose to seat myself on the floor, and cracked pecans to eat until our bus came several hours late. by that time I already felt tired of traveling despite literally having not left home, but I was thrilled to see the Blue Bus, perhaps things were looking up. Blue Buses have wifi and power outlets. Except the wifi was out on this one, but still! Power meant I could watch movies until San Antonio. This was the only bus that would have it.
The San Antonio station was REALLY small considering San Antonio. It did not even have slots for bus parking, the buses simply double-parked in a oversized drive through. They had a little café where I bought some overpriced chicken, and we continued on the same bus to Laredo. That’s where things got interesting.
I didn’t get to see much of Laredo, but it had the feel to me of an old west town that never really left the early 1900s. It did not seem sure whether it wanted to be in Mexico or the States. We did not go inside the bus station, instead we just shuffled straight onto a crappier bus and headed for the border. that’s where things got interesting.
This bus was empty except for a couple of older Hispanic women and one man, none of whom spoke English. It took us about a half an hour to get to the border which we might have spit on from the bus station, and we got on a line of buses to cross over. Some time passed, and then the driver started speaking in Spanish for some length of time. I followed virtually none of it.
We returned to the bus station, and piled into a white windowless van with “Grehound Inc” sharpied onto the side. I’d gathered by this boint through broken conversations with other patrons that the line of buses over the border was going to take too long, and this alternate was supposed to be faster over the border.
Nope. We took the white bus TO the border, and then walked over manually carrying our luggage. Literally thee was a bridge over the Rio Grande that we walked over with the bus driver and all. The actual border checkpoint was nothing, just a handwave, and then we piled into a dirty Mexican truck. I didn’t know if it was headed to Monterrey, or to another bus, or what.
If I thought Laredo wasn’t sure if it wanted to be in Mexico, Nuevo Laredo On the Mexican side had no apprehensions. Elotes and Tacos for sale, farmacias, and plenty of signs of crime. Exactaly where I wanted to spend the rest of my night beginning around 4am.
We pulled into a bus station, not a greyhound station, another one, and the driver hit us up for tips as some other vultures played porter with our bags. I waited in a bus station in Nuevo Laredo (the Mexican Side) for several hours after the pickup before getting on a slow buss to my destination in Monterrey. If the other stations were poor, this was distinctly worse. a large circumference trashcan was a prominent feature in the room, the toilets didn’t flush and the chairs were mostly broken. I did not dare leave it’s sanctuary until morning however.
That last bus ride was long and slow. There is a toll road to Monterrey but we did not take it. We took a slow and often unpaved path through numerous tiny pueblos. At one point we stopped inexplicably in what looked like ruins of a town that once was. I saw a horse, I wondered if this was some old town and we had arrived. But no, the bus driver has a sweet tooth and simply stopped the travel to pick up some dulces on the roadside.
Once you got used to it it wasn’t so bad, they put on Downton Abbey in Spanish and I fought to get some sleep. All in all what should have been an overnight trip, 6 hours by car, had taken the better part of 24 hours. I arrived in the Monterrey Bus Station just in time for my back to start hurting with blisters that looked like I had fallen into a mosquito nest. It was big and cosmopolitan, much more what I Had expected, but with plenty of culture and color in the form of street salesmen. I was not there long, a friend picked me up, and to this day I do not know how he happened to arrive 4 hours late to meet us on time.
But my sores, and the concern they might be contagious, meant that upon arrival in Mexico I needed to navigate the maze of the Mexican medical practice. A good system to be honest, one I’m impressed with. It allowed me to see a doctor several times for about $4 and get the prescriptions I needed that day at similarly reasonable prices. Still it was not a system I was in any way familiar with, and it required me to learn Spanish words for phrases like “Herpes Zoster” and “less of a burn, and more of an ache really” I eventually got it though, and saw some great things in Mexico.
On the return trip we resolved not to get off our bus for any any any reason. The first leg was incident free, watching most of Man of Steel in Spanish until it was inexplicably turned off. Then we arrived in that same damn Nuevo Laredo bus stop. I did NOT want to be back in that damn Nuevo Laredo bus stop.
The longest leg of the trip was the 7.5 miles from that bus station to the one in Laredo on the American side. We boarded somewhere around 10 or 11pm. The sun rose about halfway across the bridge. Long line of busses proceeded one at a time over the border. The bus driver got to the point that he would stop the bus, get up and sleep in one of the passenger seats until the bus in front of us moved. Then return to his chair, pull forward one bus length, and go to sleep again. For Hours and hours while I tried to sleep with open sores on my back and the need to take large Mexican antiviral pills every four hours (I took several courses on that bus)
When we finally got to the border everyone got out and herded into an informal cattle line to show papers one at a time, we pulled our luggage, and the bus was inspected. I recalled youth trips back when the attendant would shine a flashlight and wave us through, not so here. Everyone shows a passport or a visa to the worker. That said, the quick look at my ID and the 1 or two questions I was asked hardly justified my 6 hour wait (are we really that sure that I’m that much safer for having done that) It felt like an authentic immigration experience. Coming from Monterrey, being treated poorly. Not the White-person border crossing that is imagined when white people talk about immigration.
After that there was the negotiation with the greyhound attendant in America to get him to speak English. We arrived in the not-so-early morning, but had obviously missed our bus from the previous night. He told us our next bus to Austin was at 1, and it took some convincing that leaving on the bus to San Antonio which left immediately would be a better choice.
The bus was literally shitty. the toilet in the back smelled pungently and water spilled out into the aisle. Several women approached it and decided against it before resigning that they couldn’t hold it any more in an hour or so. The driver did not speak a word of English, and a waited with baited breath for the San Antonio stop, the flushing bathrooms, and the overpriced chicken. When we arrived he said 10 minutes.
So I peed, I got back on, and watched the mostly empty shitty bus have every seat filled with Austinites. The patchouli mostly covered the smell, and very suddenly the same driver began to speak English. It felt like a whole new bus. I spent the vast majority of the ride however trying to make sure I could get picked up straight from the station and not have to wait in another bus station ever again!