Take the leap.

Observations from the Greyhound night bus

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about scenarios that make conversation-starting more accessible. On my way back from a long, overnight bus trip to Georgia last week, I had a revelation: The longer your journey together, the more likely you are to strike up conversation with the people around you.

This time I met a truck driver on his way from Charleston to St. Louis (seat behind me), and a guy who had been biking all over Florida and had a nasty bug bite that the driver got concerned about and gave him some gel for. ‘I always carry this around when I’m in Florida,’ she said. She was a little impatient with most of us, up until then, saying stuff out loud like, ‘You people are harder to deal with than children!’ and that’s how the beginning of the conversation began for me with the trucker.

‘What was that about?’

‘No idea.’

The woman behind him had just moved to the Southeast from Seattle, which suddenly made perfect sense to me because she had very Seattle hair. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all–I had Seattle hair before I left Seattle. Which means, simply, that you look like at any point you  might join some local band, or be at open mic at Hopvine, or become an acrobat (true story, happened to an acquaintance of mine) or some such spontaneous thing. Anyway, there we were, chatting away with ease, mostly because we were going to be on this bus in these seats for a couple of hours and there was even going to be a stop for smoke and bathroom breaks, too. That helps. For conversation-starting, I mean. Having something you’re going through together for a set period: college, high school, rearing a small child. People begin to form bonds when they know there’ll be some continuity to a relationship, even if that relationship doesn’t last forever.

Waiting together

This all came to me in the post midnight hours, as we trundled back from Brunswick, Georgia, with stops in South Carolina at a McDonald’s in Walterboro and then a sparse gas station in Orangeburg. I was having a pretty okay time with Greyhound, right up until I got to Raleigh, tired, not wanting to hear a blaring television or be outside in the dark, smoky, cold. I found a little room that was unsigned and had a wide open door, then this unhappy worker got upset and wanted me to move. I will have to save my dialogue with the Raleigh police story, for after I hear back from the Greyhound corporate office. It’s been 7 days so far, and they say they sometimes take 14. A different story.

Back to buses.

I had been on night buses before: in India from Jaipur to Delhi, in Japan from Tokyo to Kyoto. I’d been on day drives for way longer hours in Ghana, going from Accra to Kumasi and dealing with the breakdowns of the tro tros along the way.

When people are in a small collection–not as many as an airplane, but somewhere around 14 or so, or less, they start to feel a bit of an unwritten connection. We’re all going the same way. It’s going to take a bit of time. May as well kick back, perhaps chat up this person next to me a bit, because I can’t busy myself with my ____ for that long.

At least, that’s how I go about it. Is that strange?

People are always asking me why I am meeting strangers on the bus.

I guess I’m a little obsessed about gaining new points of view, perspective, and learning from real people about what it is that they know from firsthand experience, and how it is they see.

I wouldn’t mind if I could do it without having to be questioned by police. (Greyhound Raleigh, I’m talking to y’all.) –DK