Haley Cullingham's piece for The Awl about the many reasons American travellers find themselves on a Greyhound bus is fascinating, especially for someone like me who lives in a relatively small country where long-distance bus services have long since lost most of their market share to the rail network (and where in any case there's not the same sort of readiness by people to up sticks and move to a completely different part of the country). 1
The long-haul nature of the rides meant that there was a lot of time to kill from Michigan to Tennessee to Kentucky, Texas to New Mexico to LA. When you're waiting, people tend to sidle up to you and tell you something about why they find themselves on the bus. Prior to 2008, almost everyone I spoke to was travelling to visit their children. An older man carrying a fold-up stroller pointed me to the best delis within safe walking distance in Buffalo; an eighteen-year-old who boarded the bus in Kentucky shared his fleece blanket with me, grinning as he told me that his best friend from back home in California was pregnant, and it was his, and he was going to help out, even though her boyfriend wasn't happy about it; a woman walked over at a station in Kansas, frenetic and happy, and told me she was waiting for her son, who had just come home from Iraq. But after 2008, all anyone on the buses talked about was finding work.
I met a journalist in the Denver bus station just before Christmas in 2011. He had a neatly trimmed beard and one duffel bag. He had been riding around for about six months. His sister had gotten sick, and he spent his retirement money paying doctors to try to cure her cancer. By the time she died, his money had run out. He tried to find work near home, but there was none to be had, so he decided to get moving. "My neighbour's wife is six feet tall, so I gave them my king-sized bed," he said. "I gave my daughter my good kitchen knives, and I got on the bus."
I realise that's a huge generalisation on my part, but I still think it's largely sound. In the UK particular groups - e.g. students seeking a post-graduation job who've already moved away from home to go to university, or people unable to find work in their chosen field who look to move to London because that's where much of the growth in the job market lies - clearly do make big life-changing cross-country moves, but it doesn't feel like there's a British equivalent of the 'Greyhound experience' that Cullingham is writing about. ↩