Going Home

Travel Stories: The Greyhound bus takes 51 hours to get from Los Angeles to Winnipeg, just enough time for Stephen Hunt to rediscover a little human decency

11.12.01 | 11:53 PM ET

Hello, Barstow!Photo by Michael Yessis

Omaha, Nebraska
Wednesday, August 8, 2:40 a.m.

A twelve-inch TV dangling off a mechanical arm shows the Home Shopping Network. They’re auctioning Ichiro Suzuki rookie baseball cards. The snack bar sells bacon and eggs, ham and cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, fries, apples and oranges. A young short order cook waits for someone to order. Next to the snack bar is a gift shop that sells cassette tapes, baseball caps, sunglasses, and inflatable Greyhound buses. There is no newsstand—no newspapers, no magazines, no paperback books. Outside, on the front steps of the terminal, a half-dozen guys stand and smoke, gazing into the Omaha night, as if anticipating the arrival of their destinies.

I am listening to Dale, a veteran trucker from Arkansas, deconstruct the romance of long-distance trucking. He’s 48 or so, youthful in a Carville-esque kind of way. He’s wearing tinted glasses, a flannel shirt, jeans and black cowboy boots. He speaks in relentless bursts, the way you might expect someone who’s spent such a large chunk of his life having no one to talk to he’s not gonna wait for the niceties now that he has a captive audience. You see, our connecting bus doesn’t leave for Sioux Falls until 4:30 a.m.

“Man, I’ve been busy,” Dale says. “Workin’ six, seven days a week since last Christmas. Hardly had a day off this year. When I git this sucker back from Spokane, I’m takin’ a week off and goin’ to Memphis. I need it. Big time.”

“Is Memphis fun?” I ask.

“It is when I show up,” Dale says. “I have a lotta tension to work off.”

Dale is going to retrieve a truck abandoned in Spokane by a rookie driver, who wasn’t quite prepared for the rigors of cross-country trucking. Apparently, it’s a common event. A guy drives forty or fifty harrowing hours across the country, his speed wears off, nervous system crashes, at which point he has an epiphany: This isn’t the life he thought it would be. He packs it in right there, on the side of the freeway.

These days, trucking companies use Global Positioning Devices to track their trucks as they make their way across the country, so what Abandoning Drivers do is park under a freeway overpass—satellites can’t trace them there—open up the back of the truck, and sell whatever they can out of the back to make enough money to get home.

“I’ve bought big screen TV’s that way for a hundred and a quarter,” Dale says, smiling at the thought. “Hell, my whole house is full of electronic equipment I bought off the back of a semi parked under an overpass on the freeway.”

I’m going home, to Winnipeg, on the bus, to play golf with six guys I went to high school with. After September 11, ground travel has suddenly gone from quaint ‘50s anachronism to a suddenly viable—if not exactly desirable—form of travel. I ended up on a Greyhound Bus for pre-September 11 reason: I was a little slow to book an advance flight home. It was what I used to do, not now—not until airfares shot up to $700 or $800 and my choice was between going Greyhound or staying home counting the minutes in sullen, idle, spiritually noxious Los Angeles.

Last summer, I wrote for an entertainment dotcom. I had a development deal with Time-Warner to write a comedy pilot. My wife had a part on a television series, playing a British exchange student on a show starring a talking dog. For a brief moment, in a life together that was more uphill struggle than success story, we were earning $20,000 a month.

I got laid off from the dotcom, which went bankrupt a few months later, having burnt through $32 million in a year. My pilot wasn’t picked up. My wife’s series completed its season and wasn’t renewed. The NASDAQ bubble burst. Strike-talk scared all the studios into preparing a production-free summer.

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Stephen Hunt is a longtime traveler currently seeking the road out of L.A. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Press, Toronto Globe and Mail, Shift, Saturday Night Magazine and other publications.

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