I have a confession – flying sucketh. That was my exact thought as I slip from my brother’s loving hug and enter the Calgary Greyhound station at 11 pm. New flying regulations took the pleasure out of boarding an advanced technological bird that brings me to Toyko in 11 hours instead of none, which use to be travel. Nothing. Flying had cataclysmically altered all that. There remains a dose of glamor to flight, but I made a choice, went in reverse.
Nowadays, I loathe the long security lines, sour agents, ridiculous procedures, and the stress inducer of sprinting to a connecting flight because after security and airlines are done with you about 7 minutes remain to make it to the gate or no Greece for you.
The greyish lighting in the station casts a sallow pall on everyone’s skin who dared enter at 11pm. My brother warned, “Don’t sit next to an Asian guy, haha.” Wait, aren’t we partly Asian? And where do people hide machetes these days?
My sad, preconceived notions of unscrubbed Greyhound stations prove true. A ragtag of travelers gather to catch the Calgary to Moosejaw bus, a lovely Ethiopian family burdened with 7 suitcases, various plastic bags full of, I don’t know what, and the father toting a retro briefcase from 1975. In the far corner of the station some cute Japanese girls decked out in I Love Canada sweatshirts and tattoos pressed to their unblemished skin chatter gently together. The only anomaly of the group is a Hispanic fella coughing is lungs out. No I Love Canada identifier is evident on him.
I scan the crowd further, the corner of my eye catching a blurry, black figure jiggling in excited motions. Ah, there it is. Well known as prairie misfits or in this case a lacklustre version of Brett Michaels talks loudly in the gate line up. His faded tattoos are the opposite of trendy and fab, a black scarf tied snugly at the back of his head suggests he just dismounted a shiny, rumbling Harley. Reality bites, rock star. You are at the bus station with a scuffed hockey bag as luggage and an annoying voice to match.
It’s too easy to label him an ex-con. But then I see another, and another. A whole group of grungy. Others look like they stepped out of a trailer trash epic. I suddenly feel awkward with my designer backpack and Macbook Air.
This certainly is something.
Still, I congratulate myself for escaping flying politics.
I drop my 35 lbs. pack, and day pack full of electronic goodies on the floor next to me, placing my soft bottom onto a stiff, plastic chair. They said to be here at 1 hour before departure, why I wonder irritably.
Any first night of transport is a hopeless sleep for me. I rarely do, out of excitement and the ritual of arriving at the correct location and time. I convince myself to chill on the no sleep irritation and settle in.
I pull out the Air to try and get some work done, but can’t tap into a wifi signal. Plan B is reading a book I brought. By 11:30 pm Gate 12 starts to fly with action. Two Greyhound workers emerge from a teal painted door, one is carrying a handheld security detector, the other is jangling plastic containers and wearing silicone gloves. Whoah, shouldn’t we exchange names before going there? I sense violation in the works.
A loudspeaker crackles above my head, “All passengers taking the Calgary to Moosejaw bus at 12 am, please line up by the security agents.”
Far in the back, I see what I hoped to avoid, Mr. silicone is rifling through the first victim’s bag, while the wand holder asks the passenger to spread her arms, somehow this image invokes reality cop shows. She is scanned, told to take her bags and move into yet another line. Great.
Slowly everyone shuffles forward, undergoing the same ritual. I steel myself for the scrutiny as my turn comes. I toss jewelry into a plastic container.
“Which bag is being checked?”
“The red backpack.”
He slides my grey MEC day pack towards him and begins to zip open compartments. I brace.
“This is a great pack. I got the same one.” Silicone grins.
“Yeah… It’s pretty good. but the top handle is fraying a bit., ” I say cautiously. What? No stern tone? Accusing me of transporting drugs in all my body cavities?
“That’s the good thing about MEC, you can take it back.”
“True.” This time I do smile back.
I notice he barely skims through the day pack and his pants are scrunched in rolls at the ankles. Any sense of threat or authority is removed when your pants are too long.
I’m asked to place Miz Chanel amongst the piles of other checked luggage observing no cordoned gate to prevent going to the washroom or placing machetes into bags.
So, this is Greyhound. Implied barriers, but no real ones.
And finally I get excited, the scuzzy, fascinating passengers, the reality of being trapped with these people on a bus for 8 hours, the disorder, chaos.
I wait in the boarding line anticipating travel masochism. Forget glamor, Greyhound will give and give. Untold stories, conversations with strangers in the future, and unforgettable anecdotes. At 12:10 am, the gate opens, a massive bus with a blue streak across the side waits. Come on, Brett. it’s time to go.