At the end of June of my 29th year, I rode a Greyhound bus from Texas to Utah. I was going to the tiny town where my friend Ivy and her partner Jay lived. I wanted to be there for Ivy’s birthday on July 2. My friend Sheff dropped me off at the crowded bus station, and I was on my way.
When I planned the trip, I didn’t realize I’d be traveling with crowds of people trying to get somewhere in time for 4th of July festivities. I was only thinking about Ivy’s birthday on the 2nd, but hordes of people were thinking about Independence Day. Every bus was packed, every seat filled when the bus rolled. Every bus was running late too.
It was well past the time to make my connection when the bus I was on pulled into the station in Denver. Still, I hoped that bus had been delayed too, and I’d be able to get on it.
First I had to claim my luggage, a large backpack. I found it among the other suitcases and duffle bags, but when I grabbed it, I saw the brand new self-inflating pad to go under my sleeping bag was gone. It had been firmly attached to my pack, but now it was nowhere to be seen. I shuffled through the unclaimed baggage. Nothing. I asked a totally unconcerned and uninterested worker about it. He didn’t even suggest I fill out a lost-item form. It was simply gone, and I’d have to deal with the loss. (To this day, I think the pad was securely attached to the backpack and was actively stolen by a Greyhound employee.)
When I made it into the terminal, I found my connecting bus was long gone. I also found the information desk and the ticket counter were closed for the night, so I had no way of finding out what bus I’d need to get on in the morning or what time it would leave.
I sat down at a table in the snack bar area, exhausted by hours on the ‘Hound. I contemplated my options. I didn’t know anyone in Denver. I’d never been to Denver. I didn’t know if there were any cheap motels near the bus station. I didn’t really want to spend money on a motel anyway. Although I had a credit card and money in the bank, I was on a tight budget because as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I only received a small biweekly stipend. I didn’t want to waste a chunk of change on a motel room I’d only spend a few hours in. Besides, I didn’t know when I’d need to be back at the station to catch my bus to Utah. I wanted to speak to the person at the information desk or a ticket agent as soon as one of them started the work day. I reached my decision. I was going to spend the night at the bus station.
I got up from the table and heaved my pack onto my back. I went to the restroom where I washed my face with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, brushed my teeth, and attended to other calls of nature.
When I’d gone into the restroom, the large waiting area had still been busy with the bustle of people, but when I came out, it was officially Late At Night and the space had mostly cleared out. I had no idea if I’d be allowed to spend the night in the station. Would the security guard think I was homeless? Would I be kicked out? If I was, where would I go?
I went back to a snack bar table and sat down. I wondered if anyone would try to steal my pack if I slept. I wondered if I could stay awake all night. I sat there for a while, read my book, but soon I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I was going to have to sleep, even if I only managed a short nap.
How to protect my backpack? I lifted it up onto the table in front of me and wrapped my arms around it. Then I lay my head on it. It made a lumpy, uncomfortable pillow, but I managed to catnap throughout the night. Mostly I was awake.
By the time I was able to ask questions of a Greyhound employee, travelers who knew where they needed to be were already lined up in front of numbered doors. When I explained my situation to the Greyhound representative, there was no apology for the late buses causing me to miss my connection. A new ticket was issued and I was directed to a door with a long line of people in front of it. When I asked if there’d be room for me on that bus, the worker shrugged. She mentioned the possibility of another bus headed in my direction but remained vague.
Once my new ticket was printed, I queued up at the back of the line. Other people filled in behind me. A bus arrived and passengers began boarding. The bus was full long before it was my turn to get on. Passengers started to grumble. I thought maybe a riot would ensue. Finally, a Greyhound worker confirmed another bus was on its way.
Once on the bus, I finally allowed myself to relax a little. I was exhausted and emotional. As we passed through the Colorado Rockies, I cried and cried at their beauty. When I saw the giant red rocks of Utah, I wondered if we had somehow left Earth and landed on Mars.
I finally arrived at my destination and was relieved to see Jay there to pick me up. We still had an hour’s drive before we arrived in a town so tiny it only had a public library (opened four days a week) and a movie theater (opened only on weekend nights). My friends shared a house in the town with their friends who were about to become my new friends.
By the time we pulled up to the house, I was exhibiting symptoms of the cold that would plague me for my entire visit, but I was grateful to eat a real meal, then stretch out on a bed and get some real sleep.