San Francisco, CA-- September 6, 2007-complete post

Finishing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my literary tour of the lower 48 in 52 days all on, as some of the drivers put it, the Big Dog--Greyhound.

As a tourist, I saw embarrassingly little, enjoying the sites mostly when they were blocking my way between one reader and the next, but when I would ask, what makes your town great?, the answer was unanimously, the people.

With the goal complete, I had intended on taking the bus the remaining 25 hours back to San Francisco, arriving in time to celebrate my birthday on the evening of the 6th.

I was due to pull out of Albuquerque at 5:15pm on the 5th. I did everything right. I arrived at the terminal forty-five minutes early, regrettably passing up four readers along the way, in order to have a prime seat near the boarding area. The woman at the ticket desk that morning had insinuated that Albuquerque is a no-line station--when the boarding call is made everyone pushes like, in her words, the "midget wrestling on TV. " She really said this.

When the call was made, I managed to hold my ground by making a greyhound veteran judgment call--if the re-boarders were asked to line up on the left of the security table (where our pockets and bags would be searched for alcohol and weapons), those of us who were not re-boarders, originating in Albuquerque, would line up on the right. I was first in line and I pulled out no hair, knocked out no dentures, stepped on no feet to get there. I was standing there before the station agent finished her sentence.

Security patted pockets, dug through purses, and waived both re-boarders and boarders through into a bathroomless room. The re-boarder line was so long they had to double up so they wouldn't spill into the non-secure area. I counted and recounted, knowing that not all of us would make it on the bus, but very happy I'd had the veteran-savvy to be first in line.

But, for the first time on my trip, veteran-savvy wasn't good enough. After they loaded re-boarders and an old man who had just had a heart attack and was wheeling an oxygen canister, the rest of us continued to wait, and wait, with no announcements for four hours. Though we weren't told, it was obvious--the bus had left without us. Why had they walked a couple dozen of us originators through security if there was room for only one new passenger? This a question only the big dog knows.

Among us were parents with toddlers. Did I mention there is no bathroom in the room? We waited for four hours. People got on the phone to ask their loved ones to meet the bus anyway, just to pick up their baggage. Even though I never checked a bag I knew this--in a bus station you never leave your bags unattended. One man's bag was packed full of everything valuable from his ex's house.

Some of the parents with toddlers had been traveling for three days. I told no one I had been traveling for fifty-two--you can't expect a strung-out mother of four to pat you on the back while she decides where to throw the dirty diaper.

One of Greyhound's most serene facades.

The only word was from the 800 customer service number, as security told us not to ask the station agent because it would stress her out--the next schedule wasn't due to run through until 2:30am, which would put me in San Francisco, at the very earliest, if everything went according to plan, the morning after my birthday.

At 9:15pm I got a second call from my twin sister (whose birthday--I state the obvious--was the following day, too). She asked if I'd made it on the bus and, with the new update, took the initiative, got online, and booked me an airline ticket. As far as I'm concerned, she said, you should be leaving the station.

I was more than ready to get home--I had even asked if, possibly, when she'd said I'd have a stop-over in Denver, if there was a direct flight, but I felt an enormous amount of guilt leaving the station. I went to the gift shop looking for gifts for the little children--there were little twin boys that reminded me of how my sister and I had been at their age, racing around the room singing "hop-like-a-bunny" and "giddyup"-- but all there was were coloring books that weren't age appropriate. They didn't need age-inappropriate coloring books from someone who was jumping ship.

Before I left, they did begin filing onto a bus, with no prior warning. The bus still would've put me there late--I would have missed my connections, but I wished I could have been on it.
I cried when I left the station, maybe more out of relief than anything. Even though I had planned on bussing it the final 25 hours, it was going to be hard, but yet, these battered and weary, these were my people. It didn't seem fair that I got to sleep in a hotel room that night and they had to sleep on the bus.

The next morning I boarded my flight home. The airline--Frontier. Their slogan, ironic as I was transitioning from The Big Dog--"A Whole Different Animal."

The trip was comfortable, but an adaptation. They took away my water and wouldn't let me use my cell phone en route and the stewardesses blocked the route to the bathroom with their beverage carts. There was no view out the windows and, in Denver, while I was flossing my teeth during my layover, I almost cut my gums when they made a final call for Las Vegas, it took a moment to register that the Las Vegas flight was not mine, not an all-points-going west. When we landed in San Francisco, there was no benediction delivered with a charming southern accent, no request to "tap 'em, don't 'slap 'em" to wake up your seat partner so they wouldn't miss the announcement.

But, I made it back to the wind and fog of the San Francisco summer, in time to celebrate with my sister and, our birthday sharing friend, Sasha, our birthday triplet. Taking the flight was the right choice.

(That's me on the left, on our way home from the airport, walking through Glenn Park Canyon. I'm taking the picture with my right hand and accidentally cut myself off....after taking thousands of pictures on this trip, I'm still an amature! When Liz took the photo she managed to capture two full faces, but I like this one better.)

Thank you to everyone I met along the way--it would have been impossible to successfully complete my journey, and have a good time without wonderful, wonderful people who took care of me, gave me advice and, this was up there with Niagara Falls and The Grand Canyon--let me give them advice.

Thanks again!

Tabletop at the Guerilla Cafe in North Berkeley

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