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The Column

Fungi, Octopi, What’s the Plural of Bus? (Part I
9/29/02

There is only one thing worse than waking up next to someone you don't want to be with. And that's waking up next to someone you don't want to be with, then realizing that you're on a bus for the next three hours.

Some people try not to sleep the night before a long bus trip, or just wake up real early so that they'll be able to sleep straight through the ride. Some people also try drying their pants out the window of a car. It doesn't work. The most sleep you will ever get on a bus trip is two hours, even if you've been awake for the last 12 days. And those two hours will never be consecutive. They will be punctuated by large potholes and elbows attached to people on their way to the bathroom.

Everyone knows that the best sleeping seat on a plane is the window seat. Even without one of those pillows-that-looks-like-a-neck-brace, you can get comfortable just leaning your head against the window. This does not work on a bus, and there are three reasons why not. In order of ascending importance they are:

1) The bus window shakes constantly, making your head feel like it's in a paint mixer.

2) The bus window is three inches further away than it should be because of the air-conditioning vents on the windowsill. If you try to lean your head on the vent, your ear will freeze and fall off.

3) Buses hate you.

One good thing about waking up next to a fat sweaty guy on a bus instead of in your bed is that you probably didn't hook up with him. Especially if you were sleeping lightly, because then he didn't have a chance to hook up with you. Hopefully. The cunning bastard.

I told you last week that the televisions in buses are no longer used for movies, so staring at one to pass the time is fairly useless. Which is why buses have those gigantic picture windows. That way, the world can be my movie, right? A big, boring, crappy, predictable movie. Like anything with Freddie Price Jr.

While there are all sorts of terrains in America, most of them repeat for hours in a row. And it is not interesting to stare out the window for long periods of time when 3:30 looks exactly the same as 3:00.

When I'm on a bus without anything to do, I feel a lot like I do when I can't sleep. Except I don't have the option of getting up and doing the dishes, writing a column, or checking my email. There are no dishes to be done, I can't read or write on a bus without getting that "uhhhhhh" feeling in my stomach, and I have no new e-mail. I know because I used my phone to check it ten minutes ago.

The "uhhhhhh" feeling is one of the worst side-effects of taking a bus trip. It doesn't happen to everyone, and I used to be uhhhhh-free. But now if I try to pass the time by doing a crossword puzzle or reading People Magazine, the hour that I have left is much more uncomfortable than a few extra hours of boredom. (Note to readers: I don't like to read People Magazine, but I've found it's commonly left on the seats of buses. Probably because no one else likes to read it either.)

Occasionally, my bus will stop and let me out for ten minutes in order to let me stretch my legs, get something to eat, and leave me at a rest stop in the middle of Connecticut. I think Greyhound and Roy Rogers are in cahoots, because every time one of my Greyhound buses has stopped, there's been a Roy Rogers nearby. Or it could be just that dogs like chicken. You know, those trees still look the same.

Sometimes, the ride gets briefly interesting when I pass through a town. "Hmm," I say. "Jim's Lumber Company. I didn't know there was a Jim's Lumber Company here." That's probably because I've never been here before, and never will be again, aside from passing through on a bus. But I'm so excited not to have to look at the same trees that I make a mental note of whose lumber company is where. Driving through Connecticut is like watching an old cartoon where they use the same background for the whole episode.

Finally, I begin to notice the mileage markers. Boston 42. Boston 39. Boston 34. Boston 42. Ack!

Thankfully, that last one was just a hallucination. I finally get there, and I'm thrilled. Well, I'm not even there yet - I have twenty more minutes to the bus station and another half hour on the train til I'm actually home. I am still thrilled just to see city limits.

Despite what people say, there's a lot of room in cities. There's elbowroom. There's headroom. There's legroom. And in this one, there's the kind of room that's most important to me after a long bus trip - bedroom.

And if anyone tells you otherwise, I know a fat sweaty guy looking for a friend.

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