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Close encounters with public transportation

Surrounded by screaming children and ringing cell phones while sitting in a seat that bent my spine in Tetris-like directions, I prepared myself for a long wait. No, it wasn’t the DMV, but it was vehicle-related. I’m talking about the multifaceted wonder that is a long distance trip on a Greyhound bus.

As a college student with a limited budget, spending $215 for a round-trip bus ticket to New York City sounded far more alluring than the $384 or more it could cost to fly there. And so I spent a good portion of my spring break on a Greyhound. The downside of my money-saving experience? The trip is approximately 26 hours one way – and I soon learned that on public transportation, each hour feels longer than the last.

Encounter 1: The obnoxious crying babyEvery time I tried to nod off, my face buried in a pillow I brought with me, a 4-year-old the next seat over started screaming. He cried, he wailed, he complained, he voiced every frustration I was experiencing; and while I shared his pain, I also wanted some shuteye.

Encounter 2: Those who cannot control the volume of their voices.Added to this noise were the two men in front of me. Both war veterans, which I discerned from their very loud conversation, they spent the entire ride going over conspiracy theories and war stories. While some of these anecdotes were amusing – one was in a Forrest Gump-like situation when his city’s mayor asked where he’d been shot and he decided to show instead of tell – most were just angry attacks directed at the government.How I envied those in the very front and very back, to whom these sounds were just background noise.

Encounter 3: The friendly passengerFaced with sleep deprivation, my row mate and I struck up a conversation. He was headed to North Carolina (stop No. 6) to go to graduate school. To pass time, he showed me sketches of buildings he’d drawn and I showed him stories I’d written. When his stop came, I was sad to see him go. I’d only known this young man a day and we were saying goodbye as though we were old friends.

The arrivalBy next afternoon, we reached Nirvana. The last stop was New York City and I scurried off the bus. We arrived early and my friend who was due to pick me up was not there. I bought a bag of Fritos and took a spot beside the magazine stand in the terminal to watch the subway entrance for her.Two hours, an untold number of attempted phone calls and one very confused venture into the subway system later, and I had to face facts: She wasn’t coming.

The news dismayed me because I’d never been to New York City. It seemed a dangerous labyrinth that I would soon get lost in. Choking back tears that melded my fear with latent frustrations, I realized I had only one choice: get back on the bus.

The returnI bought a ticket home and half an hour later, I was once again aboard the spine-bending contraption known as public transportation.

This time was no different from the first. A man sat in front of me and, deciding he didn’t have nearly enough room, pushed his seat back. I had my belongings on my lap and this pushed my bag into my body so much, I took very shallow breaths until Virginia, when he finally left.

Encounter 4: Attack of the personal space invaderTo add insult to injury, the man began to sing. I was not in the state of mind to determine whether or not he was a good singer. I just knew that he was loud enough to overcome my CD player’s pitiful attempts at cheer. I spent the entire way to Virginia listening to him sing – and later rap – incessantly. I literally began to bang my head against the window.

Once he left, I stretched out my legs and my knees cracked unhappily. I pretended to sleep with my bag on the next seat to dissuade anyone from sitting with me, a ploy that worked all the way home.

Despite the bad moments, some wonderful things happened. I made a new friend in Evan, the architect. The moment when I looked up and saw the New York City skyline through the haze of factory smog is an image that will stay with me forever. I had a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington silent squeal of joy when we passed through Washington D.C. and I saw all the famous monuments to America’s history.

But I don’t plan to take the bus again.