returning to chicago

After a delightful two weeks back at home, it was time to head back to Chicago (I’m writing this 5 days after the fact). Fortunately, a Burlington Trailways bus route started to include Grinnell as a stop not too long ago, though only twice a week (one day leaving and the other returning). I got a ticket for Sunday, which only cost me $50. I had wanted to take the train, but the tickets have spiked in price for some reason after the flooding. Plus, having the stop in Grinnell simplifies things tremendously. The bus was supposed to leave from the student center at Grinnell College, but had to be moved to the local McDonald’s instead due to street construction.

I was escorted to the McDonald’s by a familial entourage, and got on the bus at ten to four that afternoon. My previous bus trip, back in June, was very nice. We had been rerouted due to the flooding on I-80 and Trailways feared that we couldn’t get across the Mississippi at that road. So those of us going to Chicago got our own private bus in Cedar Rapids, one with nicer seats and more leg room!

This bus ride was nothing like that. The seats were comfortable enough (slightly more so than airplane seats), but there was a light unpleasant odor to the vehicle. Not so much that it was uncomfortable; just enough to make it a little annoying. Eventually I stopped noticing. The bus driver was a rugged-looking woman, who upon coming back into the bus from the McD’s immediately said something along the lines of, “There is no alcohol allowed on the bus. If anyone else causes any trouble I will call the police and have you arrested. There are trash cans in the front and back of the bus if you need to throw any of these items away.” So I don’t know what happened before I got on, but it must have been interesting.

The ride to Iowa City was fine, and I nearly finished reading the translation of Genesis that one of my friends gave me. I looked out the window when we pulled up to the stop and saw the new riders: a family with two 8-10 year old children that seemed a bit too energetic and a large mother with three fat children, all apparently under age 5. I had a sinking feeling that nothing good could come from this…

We continued on for another hour or so, and I finished the Genesis book. I packed everything up and started drifting off to sleep, when my brain slowly started to recognize noise coming from the back of the bus. It was the two youngest fat kids, who had started to make random loud shrieking noises that they found hysterically funny. So one would screech, then the other would cackle. Back and forth, back and forth. Fortunately I was far enough away that it wasn’t that big of a deal.

But then the screaming and crying started. Right before this, everyone on the bus was in a near-comatose state, from which they immediately began climbing out of. I could feel the whole bus starting to stir, and people were immediately getting grumpy. This went on for the rest of the trip (4 hours!) with small break periods of up to ten minutes. Mostly the two kids just tag-teamed the crying, but every once in a while they’d both be going at the same time…

Eventually everyone gave up on trying to sleep, and even on being pissed off (at least outwardly). Seemingly at the same moment, everyone just began talking to one another or calling people on their cell phones, as if to say “well I guess we’d better be making some noise too.”

I, on the other hand, had wadded up some kleenex and shoved it deep into my ears. This reduced the noise by about two thirds, and I was able to maintain a steady near-sleep state for the end of the trip.

Aside from the screaming children, the bus ride was completely pleasant. With the only two trips that I have taken, I have to say that riding a bus is not nearly as shady as I was led to believe, and is not a bad way to travel at all. Not having to go through airport security, and being able to bring on board whatever the hell you want (except booze, apparently) makes the slightly lower cleanliness and longer journey completely worth it.

A few things I found interesting:

The key to getting a pair of seats to yourself is to sit in the front. Everyone wants to be in the back. This is the method I employed. Most of the passengers used the look-like-a-murderer or look-like-a-homeless-person approaches. These work better then my method…

I found it quite funny that no one actually worried about the crying kids. No one thought, “man, these kids have been bawling for hours; something must be horribly wrong!” We all knew that they were crying for no damn reason, because that’s what babies do. All public transportation systems should have baby Bendadryl dispensers (or morphine drips) to knock children out pre-departure or at the start of bad behavior. Clearly the kids would be happier if they didn’t know what was going on, and I can’t imagine any passengers not being happier as well.

Babies should be drugged and not heard.

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