Sifting through random events of the last 10 years, I recall the night of April 4, 2007 when I ended up in a Greyhound station in Minneapolis en route to South Bend, Indiana

I had stalked over early in the evening from my office in the IDS to the station with some measure of desperation.  My family (wife, 3 daughters) had driven to South Bend to see my brother-in-law and his family for spring break - leaving me for a few extra days of quiet work. But now I needed to meet them in South Bend for the drive back.  I had no perfect solution.  The plane to South Bend was $420; the infrequent and expensive Amtrak was sold out; and a one-way rental car was more than $200 with taxes/fees and drop-off charges.  So I thought about the bus.

The last time I had taken the bus was 
five years previous to join my wife and in-laws up north near Detroit Lakes.  I sat in the back of a dark bus trying to read while one young guy cursed and trash-talked to another young guy for 2 hours about how lame he was even while he was heading to a lame party in the country via the bus.  Five and a half hours later I ended up in Frazee, MN (which according to the driver rhymed with "crazy"). While a somewhat odd trip, it was still in Minnesota.  An overnight bus to South Bend was another endeavor.  The bus to South Bend (via Chicago transfer) did have space.  So for $80 I reserved a spot on a bus leaving at 8 p.m. 

Around 7 p.m., I made the five-block walk over from the IDS to the Minneapolis Greyhound station.  The contrast with plane travel was stark.  I had simply walked at street level into the station, paid a modest amount (by cash if you want), got a ticket and moved 20 feet to get in line for the bus.  The station was right in the city center instead of some odd exurban location.  And despite catering to a very economically-diverse group, the bus system required no “threat level” gauntlet of security for travelers.  For better or worse, you could enter the building with your shoes on, and they would stay on until you were comfortably seated on the bus. The rarity of this non-hysterical experience of travel is testament to the paranoia of our times, the pathetic state of train travel in non-coastal America and the marginalization of what should be a clean and robust bus system like in Mexico.   

The station itself was a picture of modern Minnesota.  In a quick eye-view of the crowd, I saw: a Hmong family of 4, including a baby; several college students with backpacks; what appeared to be an Amish father and son in straw hats, black suits and beards speaking a lost German dialect; and, generally, persons of all ethnic and economic backgrounds.  At one point, I saw the Amish duo break from their German conversation and engage in a lengthy and animated conversation with an African-American gentleman in line behind them.  That I found this noteworthy was a testament to my own stale conceptions about who would talk to whom and in what manner - and how far I was from my pre-lawyer teaching days in inner-city New York City.  As a result of my staid stucco lawyer lifestyle, I was now isolated amidst the crowd, only observing. 

The trip itself was simply long.  We rolled out of Minneapolis around 8:30 p.m., hit Eau Claire, then Tomah (for a midnight meal at McDonald’s), Milwaukee and finally into Chicago around 7 a.m. for the South Bend connection.  Things were quiet on the bus, and my reading light was the only one on for most of the ride.  The
Chicago station at

630 West Harrison St.
was another pile of bodies, people walking around half-awake. 

I had to dash out for some fresh air and, using my Blackberry, located a Starbuck’s ten blocks away.  Entering the Starbuck’s was like walking through a space warp.  All of a sudden I was back in the world of lattes, and it seemed unreal.  I actually felt a tiny bit cheesy hoofing it that far from the station for fancy coffee.  The caffeine cleared my head, and any doubt, and I was back a little while later at the terminal for the trip to South Bend (only to turn around in a day and drive back to Minnesota).

Make no mistake – being on the bus was likely not a moral choice for my fellow passengers (carbon reduction?).  This was financial necessity.  But the necessity itself was the mother of the diverse, and mellow (albeit protracted), travel experience the other passengers and I had that evening.  Meanwhile, approximately 12 miles away at MSP, some account exec was in a long line taking her shoes off...

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