By Andy Christian Castillo
“Is this the bus for Springfield?” a middle-aged man with long yellow hair, a wide face and mouth curled up into a permanent grin, asked the woman in front of me.
“Yes, it is,” she replied.
He lined up behind me, placing the guitar he was carrying down next to an extendable elastic fence inside the Boston Greyhound station. The man brushed a long strand of hair off his face back onto the leather jacket he wore, and placed a large stuffed teddy bear wearing a santa claus hat down on top of the guitar.
“Stayyyyy,” he said, before settling in for the wait.
On my right, an Amish family stood in line on their way to Albany beside a few dozen 1980’s-era brightly colored suitcases. They were dressed in all black, the two men wearing large hats. Mother and daughter wore black shawls wrapped around their heads like hijabs, topped with black bonnets.
The older woman crossed in front of me and sat on a bench to my left, beside a young man who was face-timing in Chinese. Over time, she gradually craned her head back till she could see the screen. The two sat like this for a little while, the young man occasionally noticing the woman, laughing, and jabbering on in his foreign tongue. I could only guess what he was saying.
Soon, the yellow haired man got tired of standing in line, picked up his guitar and teddy bear, and sat down on the other side of the young man.
There they sat, interacting on the same bench, breathing the same air. Three, entirely unique worlds united by time and space, brought together on a common ground: bus travel.
Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate that interaction, which happened last year, because I didn’t understand the beauty of bus travel. That process took a long time, and required a bit of discomfort.
The seeds of my appreciation were sown more than a decade ago in 2006, when I was 15, on a dirty tile floor in the heart of Pittsburgh, Pa. While on a cross country trip to Mo. with my Dad to see the oldest of my seven brothers, Peter, graduate Army Basic Training, we were snowed-in at the city’s Greyhound station for 28-hours. After the first day, the local Red Cross brought cots and distributed food vouchers. There weren’t enough cots, though, and I ended up sleeping on the floor instead, coat balled-up under my head, sweatshirt covering my face.
Most vividly, I remember the cold, hard floor, and the smell of sticky soda and unwashed clothing. My sleep-attempt didn’t work, however.
After tossing about for a few hours, I ventured outside into the snow to the bus. My Dad was on board, sleeping. The driver had left it running with the heat on. Eventually, I fell asleep on a cramped seat next to my Dad. We left the next morning.
Immediately thereafter and upon returning home to Northampton, Mass., I perceived the trip to be rather miserable. However, my perspective has since shifted. Now, I understand that experience to be life-changing in many ways.
First, though, I had to learn to embrace the experience of travel in and of itself. That understanding came in Germany during a particularly long wait for a train. Then, I was able to embrace that Pittsburgh experience and reconfigure my perspective on travel.
Today, I imagine buses to be beautiful time capsules, hurtling through the night as the world turns onward and passengers sleep. They’re neither here in the present, nor there in the future; rather, somewhere in-between, existing in the margins of everyday life. Thus, those that climb the kneeling steps, no matter how different, are united in this in-between space.
Through tinted windows, it’s possible to observe life undetected and also undetached. Stations are portals, wherein travelers disconnect from their realities for a period of time, reconnecting hours or days later somewhere else entirely.
Many times since Pittsburgh, I’ve excitedly pushed through the smudged doors of the Springfield, Mass. terminal, stepping into that space between. From that portal, I’ve crisscrossed the United States, falling asleep next to strangers and waking up in different time-zones to beautiful sunrises and empty dark cabins.
Perhaps more importantly, I’ve come to appreciate the diversity and uniqueness of humanity through the lens of bus travel. During long layovers, bus travelers often let down their barriers and sometimes lay down their prejudices, for better or worse. And that’s when humanity brightly shines through.