On the Greyhound Bus

I think sometimes that the only ‘normal’ people are the ones you don’t know very well.

When I was at university in Ottawa, and in Toronto, I used to take the Greyhound to Sault Ste. Marie at Thanksgiving and Easter to visit my grandparents.  From Ottawa it was a twelve-hour ride, and from Toronto theoretically eleven.  Sometimes it was longer on the return; I remember one Canada Day weekend it took sixteen hours, the extra four due to a fifteen-kilometer-long stretch between Parry Sound and Barrie, where the road bottle-necked over a single-lane bridge.

I also occasionally took the bus between Toronto and Ottawa.  In that case there is a train, which takes four and a half hours to the bus’s five, but — unlike almost everyone — I prefer the bus.  The train goes through cuttings most of the time, for one thing, so your horizon is about twenty-feet, which makes me slightly queasy to look at; and as I deeply enjoy looking out the window, that is enough to put me off that particular train line.  The train station in Ottawa is also in a most inconvenient location, whereas the bus station is two blocks from where I am usually going.

The most interesting thing I ever saw on the Toronto – Ottawa route was a runaway emu.

You don’t usually talk to people on that route, because it’s too short, and nothing sparks it (I think I was the only one to notice the emu).  Even on the Toronto – Sudbury or Ottawa – Sudbury legs, which are (one hopes) express routes, you don’t tend to talk to anyone.  With the exception of the bottle necked four-hour delay, where the whole bus got into the speculations on what the people ahead of us were doing when they got out of their cars and disappeared — not always alone — into the bushes.

But on the stopping bus from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie, and, even more, the time I went all the way to Calgary (two and a half days straight, that was, through the Prairies), you talk.  That’s where you meet interesting people: the very pregnant graphic designer with her children from Elliot Lake (which isn’t on the route; you have to get a schoolbus the last leg), whom I stood beside to Spanish River because I wasn’t willing to wait six hours in Sudbury till the next one came.  The woman studying orthoptics, which is non-surgical or drug-related things to do with the eye (muscle exercises, measurements, that sort of thing).  The man who’d emigrated from Germany just after WWII and had been involved in the very first television stations in Canada, and then switched careers to timing traffic lights.

It had never occurred to me that someone timed traffic lights.

It almost never occurs to me that there are careers doing the things people on the Greyhound bus do.  Probably they thought the same thing when I said I studied medieval literature.


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