Saturday, July 3, 2010


Bus and passenger train service is terrible in our part of the country. Rumor has it that on the east coast and in California, where driving is more expensive and more irritating than it is here, the bus is making a comeback with a trendy new company, the GoTo bus. Alas, where we live, if you don't have access to a car, Greyhound is pretty much the only alternative, unless you want to try Amtrak, which shares a track with freight trains, and is rarely, in my experience, on time. Last time we took the train, a two hour drive took seven hours on the train.

When one of our children, age 18, planned to volunteer for a week at a camp in a small town with no train service, farther than we were willing to drive or let her drive, it appeared the only option for getting there was the Greyhound bus (let's just say up front that hitch hiking wasn't on the table).

Every kid should take the Greyhound bus at some point, right? It's a rite of passage. OK, so it was for my family, in my generation, but still.

It turns out the one-way fare was $75, and round-trip $126. We made a deal: if she got herself down to her job, we'd pick her up. I further volunteered to make things easy and loan her the use of my credit card, so we could buy online (she doesn't have one). Surprise! There is a $20 "guest" fee when the ticket buyer isn't the passenger. The ticket is not refundable, unless you purchase insurance, which, surprise! Is another $20. Now we were up to $115. This is a hefty price tag for a person whose summer job pays close to minimum wage. In a Prius, incidentally, gas would cost about $18. She got online and checked the schedule. Hmm. A 4.5 hour drive would take ... 9 1/2 hours, involving 12 stops, a 1 1/2 hour wait for a transfer bus, and would drop her a half hour drive from her destination. Sound like fun?

The weeks dribbled by and nothing else turned up, so she arranged for a ride at the other end, and took hard-earned cash to the bus station, a character-filled site if there ever was one, and bought a one-way ticket, deciding against the $20 "insurance" fee.

As the day grew closer, friends regaled her with horror stories about taking the bus, warning NOT to get off at any of the stops on this milk run, for fear of having to deal with shady characters, or getting her stuff stolen, or the bus leaving without her. Whether or not any of those scenarios were to play out she'll never know, because by the time the day came, she'd lined up friends with a car and they took a road trip, camping on the way, with nary a backwards glance at the $75. Our trip to pick her up at the end of the week, a leisurely drive on a perfect day through the redwoods to the coast, was, OK, really fun.

Is there any room for complaint? Most airlines don't offer refunds, after all, and there must be some logical reason for the "guest fee," although from this end it looks like a tax on people for not having credit cards.

And who wouldn't choose a camping trip with buddies over a 9 1/2 hour and 12 stop bus ride? Well worth the $75 plus gas and food, I guess. We came away wondering why anyone, unless they absolutely had to, would take the bus? Cars are just too wonderful, and driving too affordable.

Greyhound does, incidentally, offer the option of using the ticket within a year. We're not taking any bets.

5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, an oil well spews its poisons. It is one of 4,000 deep water wells in the Gulf, products of our struggle to reach the bowels of the earth, since all the easy stuff is gone. People die every day in the Middle East in wars that are, at bottom, about oil.

Nobody is going to get out of their cars if the alternatives are inconvenient, expensive and unpleasant, but we have to start somewhere. Sometimes, though, it feels like a fool's errand.


  1. From Steve: Rebecca used to take the Greyhound between Eugene and Seattle. One frozen winter night in Portland, she was stranded, waiting for a bus that was hours late, trying to decide if she should have us try to come up and get her. She asked the station people how far away the bus was and was told that they didn't know since they had no way of contacting their drivers.

    How can it be that in the 21st century, when most 12 year-olds can figure out exactly which aisle in which store at the mall their friends are in, that Greyhound doesn't know where their buses are?

  2. From Alice:

    Another point is that people who don’t have a car have very limited options.

    Riding the rails can become an attractive option to some!
    I’ve had the best luck taking the Cascades from Eugene to PDX or Seattle, the 5:45 am train.

    The delays are all in Oregon. It’s because freights bump passenger trains on the Union Pacific tracks. Once you get to Washington it’s Burlington Northern.

    As for the train to and from CA—unspeakable. For the leisured only.


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