I’ve never woken up in jail after being picked up in the middle of the night during a particularly unruly drinking excursion, but I imagine the experience would have been as strange as the time I recently spent sitting in a Greyhound bus station at 7am.
I had taken an overnight Megabus from New Orleans to Atlanta, where I then had a two hour layover before catching my Greyhound bus on to Savannah. The Megabus arrived at 6:55am and I looked eagerly out the window for my first view of Atlanta, Georgia. The sky was pitch black.
I followed a hoard of travelers to the metro and made it to the Greyhound station in about 15 minutes, which was unfortunate — I’d been hoping that I would get lost and therefore use up some of my layover time by running around the city a little.
With no such luck, I was left to spend one hour and forty five minutes in a metal seat, surrounded by several individuals who almost seemed like caricatures of people that you would actually find in a bus station at seven in the morning. There was the screaming child running around in pajamas, leash firmly attached to her exhausted mother’s wrist; the homeless woman taking a shower in the bathroom sink as I washed my face; the police officers eating donuts, no joke, in a corner; a group of teenagers with piercings and jeans that were at least three sizes too big, all huddled together whispering something; the woman sitting three seats away from me who kept yelling, “Hey you! Whatcha readin’?” despite the fact that I’d held up Cloud Atlas to show her three times already.
There was a small counter offering microwaves for the Cup o’Noodles that you could buy in the vending machine around the corner, along with soda, candy, and chips. Several people were eating said candy and chips despite its being so early, but then again, I was craving a Diet Coke, so I couldn’t really talk. I opted for an iced tea instead and ate one of the oranges that had gotten slightly flattened in my carry-on bag.
I considered, for about five seconds, the benefits of trying to take a nap across a few of the metal seats, but ultimately I could think of none. The lights would have kept me awake anyway; I suspected I might get a tan line if I sat still for too long. A young guy wearing massive sunglasses sat down next to me, despite the fact that there were dozens of open seats much further away. He plugged in his earphones and began to listen to Rihanna at a volume that made my seat vibrate. Luckily, I had the noise of the video games behind us to distract me — the intro kept playing over and over again, a few seconds of music followed by a robotic, obnoxious voice, followed by several seconds of laser guns shooting off while aliens died in the background. I think it’s the only instance in which I have preferred Rihanna’s voice to other sounds.
I moved seats.
The police officers, finished with their donuts, began a “routine check” of random travelers’ bags. One woman went off on a rampage about privacy and rights and the government as the police officers awkwardly fingered through her wrinkled clothing and toiletry bags. Another woman tried to play mediator, flirting a bit with the officers while patting the angry woman on the back. Another guy wasn’t so easily pacified — he and one of the cops had begun a yelling match, and I saw that the cop had one of those batons attached to his belt.
One of the Greyhound officials escorted the police officer outside, leaving the rest of us to deal with the still-yelling man. None of us made eye contact. He decided to move the fight to a different arena, the vending machines, and he proceeded to kick a few of them until he, too, was escorted outside.
I moved seats again.
At this point, the tourists arrived — a middle-aged couple from somewhere in the southern US (their accents were very thick) wearing matching visors, matching sandals, and matching truck stop t-shirts that said, “I Love America.” They were both extremely overweight. They were going around telling anyone who would listen about the ordeal they’d just endured: the 20 plus hours of Greyhound buses they’d ridden because of something that had gone wrong with their original Amtrak reservations. They didn’t seem angry at either Amtrak or Greyhound for this experience — as far as I could tell, they just really wanted to talk about it. The Rihanna guy stared blankly at them for a few seconds before he, too, moved seats.
I boarded the bus on time and settled in with my computer, eager to make use of the free wifi. It didn’t work. I spent the rest of the bus ride sleeping on my backpack, or at least trying to, though it was difficult whenever the tourists would reach that point in their story when the woman would shriek with laughter and throw up her hands and go, “But I said ‘Well, what can ya do? That’s life, y’all.’ ”
And so it is, I thought.