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Prostitution, Women's Bodies

Traveling While Poor, or Where is the News Coverage of the Abomination That Is Greyhound? Part 1 of the Michfest 2007 Chronicles

As some of you know, I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival a couple of weeks ago courtesy of Women’s Space/Margins women’s generosity.   My nine-year-old daughter accompanied me.   I didn’t know until a few days before I left that I would actually be able to go.  When I realized it was going to be possible, the scramble was on to find an affordable way to the land and back, a journey of nearly 3,000 miles each way. 

Cheap Tickets

I found a great new travel agency run by a young woman, a recent college graduate with a new baby, and her sister.  The agency specializes in finding the cheapest possible way to get from here to there, and the friendly women there did a great job finding airline tickets for me for the trip to Michigan– $215 per ticket one way for Maggie and I, meaning $430 for both of us.  These were decent tickets, too; there was one brief layover, but we would be able to arrive before 4:00 p.m. at Grand Rapids,  in time to make the shuttle to womyn’s land.   This was actually an amazing price, given that I was buying tickets only four days ahead!  On my own, obsessively checking Cheaptickets, Cheapfares, Orbitz, individual airlines, economy airlines, Jet Blue, Southwest, Skybus (very interesting new concept in air travel),  the absolute cheapest fare I had been able to find was a round- trip fare of $590 per person. 

In my searching for the cheapest way there and back, I found that Greyhound was offering one of its specials– $99.00 to go anywhere in the U.S., from anywhere in the U.S., with a seven-day advance purchase and traveling Monday-Thursday.  If I booked reservations home with Greyhound, the total cost for travel for Maggie and I round-trip, excluding shuttles to the land, would be $615 — just $25 more than the cost of the cheapest roundtrip airfare I could find for just one of us!  This seemed to be an unbelievably great deal.

I hadn’t traveled via Greyhound since my high school/college days in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and then I traveled only between the UW in Seattle and my parents’ home, then in Tacoma, about 50 miles away.   I remembered how uncomfortable it was to travel this way, and I doubted things had improved much, but the price was certainly right, it seems socially conscious and energy-efficient to travel by bus as  opposed to an individual car (not to mention the price of gas) and this would give Maggie and I a three-day segue between the Festival and the real world, a time to process, talk, unwind, and sleep, however uncomfortably. 

Weary of Airport Security

Then, I have come to despise flying, for many reasons, one of which is that I am invariably subjected to the most extreme of security procedures for reasons unknown.   I mean, what;  55-year-old white grandmothers are some kind of security risk now?   On every trip I have taken by air in recent years I have had to step aside after going through the security gates, even when no alarms have gone off, and I have then had my carry-on luggage extensively searched, including being wiped down with pads used to detect substances, I guess, and then I have had to take off most of my clothes and be patted down.  On my trip to the land this year, my stowed luggage was also opened and searched.  I am sick of being treated as though I am some kind of security risk.  I have no criminal record.  I have never even been arrested for demonstrating or protesting.   I have wondered whether traveling alone was possibly viewed as some sort of red flag, but this  time I was traveling with my daughter.  I knew I would not have to go through all of this rigamarole and all of these hoops if I traveled by bus.  I am sometimes emotionally vulnerable when I am on my way home from Fest and so I thought it might be good to minimize my exposure to invasive, intrusive people like airport security officials.

Traveling While Poor

The experience of riding Greyhound coaches from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Seattle, Washington, as it turned out, was nothing short of hair-raising.  It was absurdly degrading, humiliating, demeaning and very scary.    Miserable doesn’t begin to adequately describe it.  The only redeeming value in traveling that way was — of course — the money saved and the fantastic writing and blogging material the trip provides to me.  Since my return I have searched the internet for news stories about the abomination that is playing out in Greyhound stations across the country.  So far I have found exactly one article:

Travelers Get Stranded at Greyhound Station

Dozens of people were stranded at Cleveland’s Greyhound station Monday morning.  Passengers said they were stuck there for more than six hours.  “When we pulled in at 2 o’clock this morning, they said they had no drivers,” siad Bruce Morgan of St. Petersburg, Fla.  “All the buses were pulled around back ready to go but no drivers.  And they lost my luggage in Atlanta.  I saw them put it on the bus and it never arrived with me.”

Leslie Esters, of New York City, said that when one bus pulled in she was afraid there was going to be a mob scene.

A Greyhound spokesman said they had an unexpected large number of passengers at the Chester Avenue Depot.

That’s it; that’s the entire article.

Supporting Michigan Womyn

The reason I was so determined to save money on air- and busfare was that I wanted to spend the money on, for, and on behalf of women instead, especially in view of the fact that women had sent me to Michfest and I went to represent.  We have an opportunity at Michfest to directly support women who are craftspersons, publishers, musicians, artists, writers, filmmakers, in a manner we don’t have any other place or time in the same way.  Congregated there on women’s land are the most talented, creative, gifted, brilliant women I have ever encountered, and by far most of them are progressives.  I want to support them.  Why spend hundreds of dollars extra on airline tickets  or gas or expensive travel arrangements when I could use that money, and any other money I could manage to save, to buy women’s music, CDs, films, books, magazines, handmade clothing, soaps, lotions, jewelry, amazon wear, raffle tickets to support Fest, items at the Cuntree Store and Saints, Festie wear, with all the proceeds going to Michfest itself or to progressive, alternative women, most of them lesbians, who often find few outlets for their amazing work?  Going to Michfest is more than a trip to womyn’s land, it is an opportunity to spend money in ways which serve the interests of female persons, directly and indirectly.  It is an opportunity for the best and most effective forms of political networking and activism.

Leaving the Land

My daughter and I left the land via “shuttle,” a big bus chartered to bring women from the land to the Grand Rapids Airport, about a two-hour drive.  The shuttle tickets were $50 — a fourth of what it was going to cost Maggie and I to travel 3,000 miles!  But the company was, of course, wonderful.  On the way to the airport we watched a video of a lesbian comedian and laughed ourselves silly, which helped us to momentarily forget that we were driving away from women’s land. 

Michigan Magic

I met another woman waiting for the shuttle who was going home by Greyhound, although she wasn’t planning to board until the following morning.  She and I split the cabfare to get from the airport to the Greyhound terminal.  That kind of thing always happens at Fest– there is always a woman willing to split the difference with you in some way, for some good reason.  Fest is magic like that. 

Uh Oh

Maggie and I arrived at the Grand Rapids Greyhound terminal four hours early.  We encountered yet another Festie waiting for a bus — Festies have Festie-dar and it rarely fails us — and we spent some time talking about Fest.  It was her first Festival.  She had had a Christian fundamentalist upbringing and had grown up in Texas, the daughter of a pastor.  We shared experiences of our lives in our old worlds.   I know this wasn’t a mistake.  Every year I have this kind of encounter at Fest with women with whom it seems I am appointed to meet for all sorts of different reasons.

She had had quite the journey to Fest; she had traveled by Greyhound approximately 1,500 miles.  Greyhound had lost her luggage and she arrived to a rainy Monday in the line with nothing but her carry-on bags, no tent, no sleeping bag.  She slept the first two nights, until her luggage was found, in a place on the land where there are beds for those who are not feeling well.  She wasn’t an experienced camper, and she had brought only a very small pup tent, no ground cloth, no rain fly, no tarps and no air mattress or ground pad!  When the thunderstorm came she and all of her belongings were soaked. 

She told me about navigating the buses and said the most important thing was to get your place in line as early as possible and to keep your luggage with you.  Greyhound holds passengers responsible for their luggage, including to move it between buses during transfers.  Passengers are supposed to stand with their luggage to ensure that baggage handlers put it on the right bus.  She had trusted her baggage to the handlers and didn’t watch what they did once she turned her bags over to them.  The result was the loss of her baggage, which she was told was her fault because she didn’t “stand with” her baggage and make sure it went where it was supposed to go.

By the time she had explained all of this to me I was feeling fairly daunted.  I was exhausted, and I had a huge blister on one of my toes.  This was something of an improvement over past festivals; I have come home from past fests with many bad blisters on both feet, and last year I returned with an injury to one foot which did not heal fully until the following December.  But there were other problems this year.  It was very hot at Fest on several days, and despite the adequate precautions I believed I’d taken, I became dehydrated  — a very scary experience which I have never, to my knowledge, had before.  I took care of myself and got better, but even before boarding the first bus home, my feet were badly swollen, especially the foot with the blister.  This was also new to me– to my knowledge my feet have never swollen this way before.  I’m not a swollen-feet-and-ankles kind of a person, just in general. 

I was tired, Maggie was tired, and we had a lot of luggage to be schlepping around and no cart, no luggage with wheels.  We had three jumbo-sized duffel bags which carried our camping gear, sleeping bag and blankets, a folding chair, and three smaller bags carrying clothes and other items.  I couldn’t move everything at once by myself and Maggie was too small to move anything but the small bags.  I was going to have to find a way to make a place in line for us across the country while keeping track of a huge stack of heavy bags, which would require two-three trips to move each time, with swollen, blistered feet and my daughter in tow.

Continued

Discussion

17 thoughts on “Traveling While Poor, or Where is the News Coverage of the Abomination That Is Greyhound? Part 1 of the Michfest 2007 Chronicles

  1. If it makes you feel better, my mother (white, about 55, often not traveling alone) always gets pulled aside for “random” screenings. We used to live abroad, which meant airplane trips about every three months. She joked that she “must fit some terrorist profile”, but now that I know it happens to more people, I wonder…

    The fest sounds amazing. Maybe one of these years I’ll get to go. I went to Burning Man a few years back (loved it!) and thought of that when you said you have “Festie-dar”. Burners sure have Burner-dar!

    Posted by Miko | August 26, 2007, 12:19 am
  2. Ugh. I HATE Greyhound with all my heart. I once bought round-trip tickets with them, and they didn’t print out my ticket to get back home. As I’m sure you found out, Heart, their ticket printouts are kind of confusing, and I didn’t realize until the trip back that they hadn’t printed it out. When I gave them my receipt and told them what happened, they directed me to the manager, who proceeded to treat me like complete crap (though not quite as badly as I’ve seen her treat African-American customers) and basically accused me of selling my other ticket for profit and trying to get a free one. The reason they couldn’t issue me a new one is because Greyhound doesn’t keep a record of how many people have bought tickets for each bus and doesn’t assign seats. This results in all sorts of problems, such as overbooked buses and being unable to get a refund when you need it or when they’ve screwed up (I’m pretty sure this is done purposely, so they can make money off of their own screwups). When I was in Australia, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Greyhound there does assign seats and doesn’t overbook, which makes things much more smooth and less stressful — but then again, more white people travel Greyhound in Australia, so there you go. (One Greyhound employee in Australia did tell me that Greyhound there isn’t affiliated with American Greyhound, which I find possible but doubtful — my guess is they know American Greyhound’s reputation and try to avoid being associated with it.)

    Because of all the troubles I’ve had with Greyhound, I’ve been recommending people use Megabus when they can. It’s a UK-based bus service which is becoming extremely popular here in the Midwest. They do have their fair share of problems, but for the prices they charge, you almost have to expect problems. I’ve traveled between Minneapolis and Milwaukee, round-trip, for $16.50 with them. (Yes, that’s $16.50 for the entire trip.) The downsides are that you can only buy tickets on the Internet, and in most places they don’t have official stations but rather just stops at already-existing bus stops. Also, if you buy tickets, make sure you have JavaScript enabled — I once bought tickets on my home computer, which has the Firefox extension that blocks JavaScript, and I ended up getting charged without getting a confirmation number! Luckily, the manager who I talked to was very understanding and fixed the problem as soon as I notified them about it (although that was after they gave me a phone number where nobody answered and I sent them an irate e-mail). I think the phone number issue has since been settled, as I called them shortly afterwards and did get connected. Other downsides are the limited number of cities Megabus serves and the fact that they don’t have as many departure times as Greyhound. In Minneapolis, they usually only have one bus that leaves at 7 am and goes to Milwaukee and Chicago. (Like Greyhound, you can then connect to buses going to many other cities when you get to Chicago.) Also, it’s not uncommon for Megabus to experience delays in leaving its first destination, although I haven’t heard of anything as atrocious as that Greyhound 6-hour bullshit. It’s also a little weird the first time you ride Megabus because their drivers don’t tell you much at all about what’s going on, but that isn’t really a big problem since things go more smoothly and are less hectic than with Greyhound — Greyhound’s drivers have to communicate, otherwise nobody would know what the hell is going on.

    As far as advantages of Megabus, price is obviously the biggest one. The ride is also much faster, because Megabus doesn’t stop in all the smaller cities that Greyhound stops in. Another huge advantage is that although they don’t assign seats, they DO keep track of how many people have bought tickets, so buses don’t get overbooked and people don’t end up stranded. Of course, that makes sense when you consider that in many places the bus only leaves once a day, so they can’t just bump people to the next bus like Greyhound does. I also like the fact that it’s a ticketless service — they give you a confirmation number and you can either print it out or write it down and bring it with you when you leave. It’s good for them because it helps keep costs down by not printing out tickets, and I like it because it cuts down on waste. Finally, although it’s harder to get ahold of their customer service due to the fact that you’re never in a dedicated Megabus station, I’ve found their customer service to be much more respectful than Greyhound’s. So despite its drawbacks, I’d travel with Megabus when it’s at all possible — I know that’s usually not going to be possible for you, Heart, since they don’t serve your area yet (or Grand Rapids) but maybe in the future they will, and maybe other readers will find this info useful! I’ve also just realized that they now offer service to several locations in California, so maybe they’ll make their way up to you one of these days!

    Interestingly, Megabus actually may be part of the reason you got such a cheap ticket with Greyhound — apparently they’ve been offering discounts left and right because Megabus has cut into their profits so much. Which serves Greyhound right, the asshats.

    Posted by mekhit | August 26, 2007, 2:23 am
  3. That is so interesting, Miko, that your mom also gets the extensive security checks. The hell? :/ I hope you get to Michfest! I think every girl and women needs to get to the Festival sometime in her life.

    Mekhit, thanks for the GREAT information about Megabus! I think you’re right that Megabus must be affecting Greyhound. I noticed Greyhound had posters up announcing the “new Greyhound” featuring fewer stops. Whatever! I’m going to finish my Greyhound saga in a new post but every time I think about it, I become livid. Although I just told my mom about it over the phone and we both ended up laughing our asses off because now that it’s over, it *is* kind of funny in this horrifying way!

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | August 26, 2007, 5:53 am
  4. Would you be able to share the name of the travel agency you used? I just moved cross country, and of course will be looking for cheap ways of visiting my friends and family.

    Greyhound is such a crapshoot. I used to ride it all the time from Bellingham to Seattle, and it typically was pretty sucky. The station in Seattle is pretty sketchy, as I’m sure you know. (Not SUPER sketchy, but worse than it should be, IMO). And the bus was ALWAYS late, sometimes by an hour or more…which is so lame for a 1.5 hour trip. I mean, give me a break. Plus the company was often not all that great, especially if it was during the week because there weren’t that many students travelling.

    So, now I live in Syracuse. And a friend of mine just came up from Baltimore to visit. I warned her that the bus might be terrible, because there is so much poverty here. Strangely, it was great! It arrived exactly on time, the people on the bus were nice, and the station was clean and pleasant. I was SHOCKED.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you had such a terrible trip. Greyhound is definitely something that is better when you have very few bags to keep track of.

    Posted by Atalanta0jess | August 26, 2007, 3:24 pm
  5. I can’t put my finger on what it is that makes Greyhound so creepy, but it is generally creepy. I keep riding around third world countries in buses where the conditions are, most of the time, materially worse than Greyhound but it still isn’t creepy like that. It may have something to do with how passengers are viewed – with everyone but Greyhound, it seems, even if they don’t have a fantastic service they are still at least trying to provide an actual service in exchange for the fare.

    Posted by profacero | August 27, 2007, 2:24 am
  6. Profacero,

    I have had the same experience living & working in third world countries.

    The inter-city (inter-village, etc.) buses were cheerful, exciting places to be. Folks were cheerful & friendly with each other. It was a very “up” experience, much like going to the night-market.

    Mary

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | August 27, 2007, 10:05 am
  7. Yikes, Heart. I’m so glad you and M. are home safely.

    I’ve never taken Greyhound, but my former gf lived RIGHT next to the station, which never failed to freak me out with its parade of scary. I really felt like every predator in town waited there for someone vulnerable to pick off.

    Posted by goldfish | August 27, 2007, 12:47 pm
  8. As a less than privileged womyn, I’ve taken dozens of Greyhound trips, most of them 1000 miles or more. Best traveling years of my life. I think it helped me build character, helped me see poverty firsthand, helped me to meet some great people, see a lot of cities from the hidden perspective of the poorest neighborhoods and their residents, and helped me develop an empathy with my fellow humans that I would have not been taught to by most other travel methods, Plus it greatly helped to build up my urban survival skills, since I mostly traveled alone or with my mother.

    Sorry for your sucky trip. Maybe buddy up next time with a Greyhound traveling buddy for the festival?

    Posted by Bliss | August 28, 2007, 1:29 am
  9. Good for you Bliss!🙂

    Posted by profacero | August 28, 2007, 12:33 pm
  10. I got stranded in Chicago one year on a trip from Memphis, TN to South Bend, IN on the Greyhound. I don’t mind the bus ride itself but I hate the way they don’t count passengers.

    As for grannies getting searched on airlines, I know it must be annoying but it beats the hell out of the racism involved in limiting searches to people who “look like” terrorists: translation, brown people who “look” Muslim. You know as well as I do that white people have committed terrorism in the United States before, and that so-called “terrorists” in other countries have included women as well as men, because the women wouldn’t be suspected until it was too late. So while I have a lot of complaints about how airport security is run, random searches are not included in that list as far as I’m concerned.

    Posted by radicalearthling | August 28, 2007, 9:05 pm
  11. I hear you, radicalearthling, but how many terrorists anywhere in the world do you know who have been white 55-year-old grandmothers? I wouldn’t care about random searches, for the reasons you give. Once in a while I’d understand getting searched down to dust in my backpack. But this happens to me every time I fly!

    I talked with my daughters about this — they are biracial adults. This either does not happen to them when they fly, or it has happened very sporadically to them and infrequently (and my oldest daughter has flown a lot, including to Europe; she is 31 and it does not happen to her.) She thinks I’m on a list somewhere. I think she’s right.

    I wrote a long comment that got poofed because of the Akismet issues, but I agree, it’s GREYHOUND I take issue with and the way they get away with what they get away with, not the people on Greyhound or even riding the bus itself.

    So I gotta write my next installment.

    Heart

    Posted by Cheryl/Hearrt | August 28, 2007, 9:33 pm
  12. Who remembers a skit on Saturday Night Live back in the 70’s, when a recurring character was a priest, Father Guido Sarducci, I believe. Anyway in this skit drugs were the issue. As people went through airport security, white people (including the priest) had wheelbarrows full of cocaine spilling over the sides and were waived through, yet each person of color were jacked up, even when the person of color looked as if they were the most conservative in the land. Over 30 years ago and we are still having the same discussion.

    Posted by E.K. "Kitty" Glendower | August 28, 2007, 9:47 pm
  13. I get searched many of the times I fly alone – and I think it’s because they want to fill up their search quota by picking someone non-scary. I also used to REALLY get searched coming in from abroad and what they were concerned about was drugs. I deduced this was because of my arty look. I now fly in a business suit or at least wear the jacket of one for security and customs. It helps. A lot.

    Posted by profacero | August 29, 2007, 4:19 am
  14. There’s a thought, profacero! I am very non scary looking. I like the idea that they use me to fill up their quota more than that I’m on a list somewhere. :/ I think I also look like someone who might at least smoke dope, even though I never have, just never liked the sensation. I guess I should try harder to look mainstream or something like that.

    Posted by womensspace | August 29, 2007, 4:54 am
  15. They deny this makes a difference, or at least look annoyed when I mention it, but buying one-way plane tickets, particularly if the name on the ticket isn’t the name on the credit card, seems to greatly improve your chances of being searched.

    I’ve ridden a bit of Greyhound; it’s just a crap shoot, really. When stuff goes well, it’s wonderfully convenient and interesting. I always talk to people, on buses, in the terminals, and they’re much, much more fun than the plane-folk. But there’s also, “oops, we’ve stranded you in Philadelphia for four hours after dark, sorry ’bout that,” and “Oh, yes, we have three buses of people and one bus. Sure, your ticket says 11:45 PM but actually you’ll leave at 6:20 AM tomorrow.” The thing is that for the most part, those who ride Greyhound are there because they have no choice, so there really isn’t much impetus for Greyhound to provide actual service. About 60% of the employees are cheerfully inept, 25% are totally oblivious (one ticket-seller reminded me of nothing so much as a sloth, whatwith her incredible slowness and added necessity of carefully typing each letter with three inch fingernails), but those last 15%, astoundingly, will move heaven and earth to get you where you need to go if you’re lucky enough to find them when things go awry.

    Interestingly enough, as skeezy as some of the bus terminals are (DC was infamous, and Wilmington is just skeezy all over) I’ve never had a problem, ever, despite the fact that I’m a particularly small, young-looking white woman traveling alone.

    Posted by threemilechild | August 31, 2007, 7:32 am
  16. PS: Oh, man, Megabus looks great. I wish they extended further east, as that’s the direction I travel in. But their fare to Chicago is barely a quarter of what Greyhound wants to charge.

    Posted by threemilechild | August 31, 2007, 7:35 am
  17. I know this is an old post, but the last time – and I mean the LAST time – I traveled on Greyhound I was targeted by two very creepy men working in tandem, though pretending to be unassociated with each other. I believe they gauged me to be vulnerable because my wacky father (whom I was trying to visit) drove me to tears yelling at me so loudly on my cellphone that surrounding people could hear about how he didn’t want me to come, etc. So they must have concluded I had nowhere to go. Thank heaven they were wrong. Since there were two of them, I figure they must have been traffickers or something, which is way, WAY scarier than a garden-variety perv in my book. When the bus stopped at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, I asked the cashier if it was an all-night truck stop and when she said yes, I went and hid in a stall in the ladies’ room and texted my husband to come get me immediately (I was several hundred miles away by this point; it took him all night). I didn’t even want any women from the bus to know my situation because I knew from long experience that I would be “reassured” or have my experience minimized by women who can’t or won’t face the kind of world we live in. I didn’t want to have to justify my own perceptions of danger. In fact, while I was on the bus with these guys I switched seats next to an older white woman and she really had a remarkable degree of trouble figuring out what was going on without me having to indiscreetly spell it out for her.

    Around 4 a.m., I was dozing at a table in the truck stop when I was awakened by the driver on her return trip, and it was clear she understood what had happened, I remember her saying something to the truck stop folks about “oh, they ~scared~ her” like I was being silly or something. This was before I even fully woke up to talk to her so it must have been based on her own observations. And yet at the time, she, a fellow woman and the most resourceful person in the situation at the moment, had done nothing at the time. And then there was the lady I sat next to, who acted like the idea of men behaving threateningly was something that had never even occurred to her as a possibility.

    Why, why are we so blind?

    I consider long distance buses to be one of the most dangerous things a woman in America can do because there’s almost no other situation where you are cut so completely loose from the possibility of finding a safe haven. I would rather be on Skid Row (and I grew up in inner city LA not far from there – I speak literally) at 3 am. The large numbers of poor folks and people of color are not the problem with Greyhound. These guys were white, middle-aged. I shudder to think what kind of scheme they were running.

    Posted by Elizabeth | May 21, 2008, 5:49 am

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