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.
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.
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.
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.