Getting Ready to “Grab Me An Armful of Greyhound”

Bill Keeth buys a Greyhound Discovery Pass

‘But why are you doing it?’ she asked me: She Who Holds the Casting Vote at My Present Address, this is – my proposed bus trip east/west along Route 66 (as was) the object of her enquiry.

‘Because it’s there,’ I said, like George Mallory explaining his Everest-fixation, though in jest, of course. Because Mallory never returned, did he? And I certainly envisage myself returning to the Greater Manchester conurbation a fortnight hence. ‘Besides, it’s my Terracotta Army,’ I said, bringing the Emperor Qin Shi Huang and his men into the equation – and my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law, Darren, as it happens: a life-long yearning to see the Terracotta Army (which his wife failed to share) being Darren’s declared reason for leaving her and the children. Permanently, let it be said.

This gave her something to think about. (She Who Had Seen Fit to Query My Plan, that is.)

‘Besides, I’m not doing it,’ I quibbled, whilst she pondered her plight – or her deliverance, perhaps. ‘I’m still at the planning stage.’

So there we left it – Milady, clinging to her unshakeable, Hollywood-born conviction that the USA has nothing to offer the tourist save a towering inferno in every burg or barrio not subject to hurricane or tornado, and a chain-saw massacre in every shopping mall short of an FBI shoot-out; Monsieur, looking to investigate what the internet might reveal about conditions attendant upon a journey by Greyhound Bus from Chicago to the Pacific.

Nothing pleasant, it would at first appear!

Because upon googling ‘Greyhound Bus, USA: stories, tales’ I gained access to websites galore detailing all manner of discomfort, danger and disaster that lay in wait for me should I go ahead as planned.

Oh, yes, indeed!

Because the general consensus of opinion amongst travellers who condescend, or are otherwise constrained by an Unjust Providence to travel by Greyhound and live to tell about it would seem to be that (their fastidiously clean-living selves apart) it is only the dregs of society – jailbait, drug-pushers, hippies, drop-outs, illegal immigrants, lunatics, the down-at-heel and down-and-out – who travel by Greyhound nowadays. Moreover, amongst the multifarious misfortunes which will assuredly befall me (I was advised), I must needs gird up my loins against Greyhound Buses that . . .

Break down. (Pack a book) In the rain. (Pack a brolly.) Arrive late. (Pack two books.) Are freezing cold. (Pack a wrap.) Too hot. (Pack deodorant.) Smell terrible. (Pack a pomander?) Have hard seats. (Pack a cushion.) Are impossible to fall asleep upon. (Pack a pillow.) Lose passengers’ luggage. (Pack a personal tote bag only.)

Furthermore, I would be well-advised (’twas also said) to devise some sort of personal preparedness aimed at guarding myself against being shot to death at point blank range (an occasional occurrence, apparently), and/or (more recently, albeit singularly) decapitation by a madman with a hunting-knife!

But strangely enough, it was at this very nadir of the worrisome litany of Greyhound’s many alleged failings that I perceived a solitary glimmer of hope in the sudden realisation that at least homesickness wasn’t going to be a problem. Because, if the whingeing regiment of Greyhound returnees was to be believed, then Greyhound Bus personnel are uniformly grumpy, unhelpful, offensive, unsmiling and unutterably rude to a man and/or woman. That is to say, Greyhound Bus personnel are exact mirror images of their counterparts in the Greater Manchester conurbation, where it must be all of a dozen years and more since I last espied a cheerful bus driver, the guy in question being on strike duty outside Queen’s Road bus depot at the time.

And so, inordinately cheered by this comforting observation, I continued on my way. That is to say, I continued preparing to be on my way . . . whither pioneers braver than I once trekked . . . whither John Steinbeck bade Tom Joad travel (in The Grapes of Wrath) . . . and later thought to betake himself and his pet pooch (in Travels With Charley) . . . in Jack Kerouac’s wake (On the Road) . . . through eight States of the Union (Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California) unto the environs of Sunset Boulevard and the Pacific beyond, in which ocean Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1475-1519) is said to have been the first man of European lineage to splash his boots, so to speak.

[More anon, Smith and Wesson, Wilkinson Sword and Hurricane Waldo permitting.]

* ‘Somebody Have Mercy’, Sam Cooke (1962)


Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.

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