Thursday, 19 May 2016

On meeting a Greyhound bus driver...

Today I met a Greyhound bus driver. How fantastic. The Greyhound bus embodies the romanticism of travelling in the USA, along with Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Sean Cassidy and Ken Kesey's old school bus, destination 'Further'. The Greyhound bus, now there's something else I'd like to experience, preferably a long ride down to the Mexican border, something hardcore.

I went past the Greyhound bus station yesterday on my stroll through the city and I just love the whole idea of it, the distances that can be covered at a relatively low cost and the sort of people you're likely to meet en route. That's the great thing about America, that capacity for drifting, moving from state-to-state, working your way around, living in rented rooms and basically acting out that whole Kerouac thing.

One of many bridges spanning Pittsburgh's three rivers...
In the UK you simply can't live that life. In the US you can up sticks and move states, move miles away, and work anywhere too, jump on a Greyhound bus or roar off on a Harley Davidson - without wearing a crash helmet even - and that's what I like about the place.Yeah, you could say, "well, you can do that in the UK" and I'm sure you can, but it doesn't have that ring about it, does it? "Hey, man. I was working in Swindon and I got a little fed up, so I headed east to Norwich on the M11." I'm sorry, it's not exactly the Interstate, is it?

Some people say that America's just like the UK or anywhere else in the world; and, of course, on one level it is: there are restaurants and hotels and bars and cars and people work in office blocks and commute on trains, but the weird thing about being here, feet on the ground, so to speak, is that feeling that there's so much more space. Sitting here in Pittsburgh I'm aware of the fact that I'm up in the North East of the country, but I'm also aware of the vast expanse of land heading both south and west and north. Alright, go east and you hit the sea, the North Atlantic, but sticking on dry land, I could ride a Harley to the Mexican border and beyond, spending the night in motels, perhaps, or God knows where, but it goes on for miles.

You know what I love about American airports? I love wandering from gate-to-gate while waiting for my flight and seeing all the different destinations open to me: Grand Rapids, Baton Rouge, Knoxville, all places that are around two hours flying time from wherever I find myself and yet they're all big cities hundreds of miles away from wherever I happen to be. And then there's the people. Some of them have a kind of wildness about them that you don't get in the UK. They sport long hair and straggly beards and have a kind of weathered, sun blushed appearance that speaks of wide open spaces and living in the wilds. Not that all Americans live under canvas or in trailer parks. I know that, but this really is another country, full of great people, positive people, friendly people, and it's unrivalled in Europe where that same openness is simply not there. People won't stop to say hello or wish you 'have a nice day'. Over here people give you the time of day, they're interested in what you're doing. Not in Europe. In Europe people are a little miserable and unsociable and in England it's even worse.

But there are bad things about the USA too. There's the gun laws for a start and the fact that some people don't feel safe without packing a piece. And it's one of those places where, if you're down on your luck you can lose everything and the state won't bail you out.

I've heard people talk, quite nonchalantly, about driving for 18 hours non-stop to get somewhere or other and today, hearing from the Greyhound bus driver, well, I was chuffed to say the least. We were both over by the tea station in the hotel. I was making myself a Bigelow's black tea with orange rind and spices and he was brewing up his own kind of drink, I'm not sure what. He had driven all the way from New York via Philadelphia to here, Pittsburgh, and said the key to driving long distances was getting your rest. If you don't get your rest, well, you'd better watch out.

We bade each other farewell. I assumed he was going back to his room to get some rest as tomorrow morning he's driving right back to New York City and probably won't get there until early evening. He told me how today's Greyhound buses offer WiFi and rest rooms, making the journey that little bit more pleasant than it might have been in the past. It was great chatting to the guy, but when he went back to his room I went back to the television in the communal part of the hotel (on the ground floor close to the front desk) to catch up on the EgyptAir flight that might have been downed by a terrorist bomb. The big question is whether the bomb got on board when the plane was in Paris (these days Paris is a kind of European Islamabad, so it's not out of the question). I can't say I like Paris. It's a dirty city and now we know it's full of Islamist terrorists too. Still, it's too early to say what actually happened. The black box has yet to be recovered.

But it's all rather worrying. I've got to fly back home tomorrow afternoon and things like the EgyptAir catastrophe make the whole experience a little bit edgy. Ultimately, it's the luck of the draw and it goes without saying that I hope things are going to be alright.

You know what? I'd like to embark upon a road trip across the USA. I think I'd fly to New York or Chicago and then head west to Seattle and then down to Portland, Oregon, and west towards Los Angeles. I'd like to then drive back east, possibly towards Charlotte, North Carolina, before getting a plane home. If I was going to be more ambitious, I'd leave the UK from Southampton on a steamer to New York, right across the Atlantic, then I'd drive westwards to LA, try and take a boat to Hawaii and from there see if it was possible to get to Japan. I'd chill a bit in Japan, visit Tokyo and then search out a boat to take me to Vladivostok from where I'd board the Trans Siberia Express to Moscow and from there make my way through Europe to Calais where I'd board a ferry to Dover. I'd then get a train to London Victoria and then a suburban service back out to the burbs where I live; but I wouldn't want to be put any time limit on such a journey. I'd like to take my time and have my family with me all the way.

One day, when I've made loads of money, perhaps I'll buy the ticket. I have no intention of planning anything (apart from visas). The idea would simply be to pack a suitcase, walk to my local railway station and take it from there. Planning it would somehow defeat the philosophy behind doing it in the first place.

It's 1821hrs here in Pittsburgh and today the sun has been shining brightly. It makes a big difference. On Sunday the weather was appalling. Rain, cloud and a cold wind. Today it's wonderful, like a summer day, even now at almost half past six.

It's going to be a busy day tomorrow. I've got a meeting at noon, but before that I've got to tidy up my room, pack my suitcase and generally get things organised for the flight home, like booking a taxi to the airport. Yes, tomorrow sees the beginning of 'travel hassles' and all that phrase entails: going through security, getting the lap top out of the case, making sure that I don't have any toothpaste or shaving gel on me (unless I check in my suitcase) and so on and so forth. But hopefully, at the end of the process, I'll arrive safely in London and I can head home to my garden and enjoy a peaceful weekend with the family, listening to the tinkling of the wind chime and enjoying the decent weather - that's assuming there is decent weather.

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