Greyhound at Ontario, Oregon/Randy Stapilus
There's this, to begin with: The Greyhound bus run scheduled to depart Portland at 11:50 p.m. left at 11:50. That is exactly what the big clock on Union Station north of downtown, and next door to the Greyhound station in PDX, said as the bus cleared the building.
The bus was scheduled to arrived at the bus station just west of downtown Boise, more than 400 miles away and after eight intermediate stops, at 10:05 the next morning. It pulled it at 10:04, and I stepped off the bus at 10:05. The precision was impressive.
I hadn't been at all sure what to expect. But what emerged over the course of the ride is an argument that "riding the bus" ought not to be considered a second-class (or worse) option.
I've not taken a long-distance commercial bus ride for a long time, 25 years at least, maybe more. For a long time, I suspected I never would again: The trend lines seem to be running against commercial bus lines. When you see a business, even one as big as Greyhound, scaling back on lines (the closest GH stop to our residence, a long-time stop at McMinnville, Oregon, was dropped a few years ago), expectations aren't necessarily of the highest. And there's something about the bus in the culture, as something people wouldn't take if driving or flying were available options. A mode of last resort. With, maybe, a clientele reflecting that.
The reality turned out to be a little different, and even intriguing.
The bus was neat, clean and comfortable - the seats more comfortable than most airline seats (not to damn with faint praise). Air circulated well through the coach. The driving was smooth and not especially noticeable (which is a compliment). Some Greyhound buses on the east coast have wifi and other services installed, which would be a nice feature. They're not on the Pacific-side buses yet, but the people at the Portland station seemed to think that may be coming in the near term; more enhanced buses apparently are rolling off the lines this summer.
How much traffic do these graveyard, long-run routes get? Enough apparently. A bus departing Portland station for points south (to California) at 11:25 was sold out at least a half-hour before boarding. A crowd assembled quickly into line for it at gate 8, and everyone there seemed to get a seat.
My bus was about half-full initially, but at a midway stop at a Pilot truck stop at Stanfield about 3:30 picked up a dozen or so more people, apparently on a run originating from the Seattle area but headed southeast. At peak, it was nearly full. I got the impression that's more or less average.
Who were all these people traveling hundreds of miles in the middle of the night? (more…)