Monday, June 23, 2008

Greyhound doesn't have to suck, but it does

Dateline: Grand Rapids

Because we're cheap broke, it made sense for us to ride the Greyhound on this trip to Michigan. Because we're gainfully unemployed living the life of leisure this summer, we had the time to do so. Now, I am known to be very pro-bus. I have a lot of patience for time, waiting, and entertaining myself on the road (reading, etc.) and I actually have very little patience for people, such as airline passengers who bitch and moan about the airlines all the time for every little thing instead of marvelling at the miracle of flight that gets them across the continent in a mere four hours; I think more people should ride the bus and get a reality check every once in a while. I have been nothing if not thrilled to zip up and down the East Coast (Boston, New York, D.C.) on the bus with their hot fares and convenient schedules.

This trip was longer, of course, but still reasonably comfortable because Brian and I travelled together and thus didn't have that whole sitting-next-to-a-stranger-you-try-very-hard-not-to-touch factor. We left NYC in the late afternoon, said hello to Pittsburgh before midnight, and disembarked in Cleveland for a 3 a.m. transfer.

As I perched atop my big orange bag (an important character in this story) there in the Cleveland bus station line, I even said aloud, "This station is totally filed under Not Terrible." It was clean, well-lit, spacious (I know, right?), and had hot food on the grill served 24 hours. It was 3 a.m., but we could get a burger and fries instead of being subjected to vending machine sandwiches or some such travesty. I sat there and marveled at the wonder that is the Cleveland bus terminal, happily comparing it to less stellar bus stations I'd seen in the past (Port Authority and Des Moines come to mind, among others. Plus, who can forget Adventures in Babysitting and Brenda's jumbo-sized sewer rat?) and I mentally composed a blog entry that would have been titled only the first clause of this post's current title.

But the truth was soon to dawn. So was the dawn, of course. I was tired, but cheerful, as we marched out to our next bus, placed our bags next to the coach (whose compartments weren't yet open) in the bag handlers' queue, and then boarded. I removed contact lenses and slept my way to Detroit. I then stepped into the morning light of the motor city, watched Brian retrieve his suitcase, and watched the ever-dwindling supply of luggage coming out from under the coach that decidedly did NOT include my big orange bag. Nor did it include the bags of two fellow Cleveland-Detroit passengers.

It's hard to know what to emphasize about what happened next. Shall we talk about the fact that there is no reason on this planet for our bags to have not made it? As I mentioned above, I have a lot of sympathy for airlines, who contend with a lot, and little sympathy for people who FREAK out when their bag doesn't follow them to their destination until the next day. The bags have to travel across the airport, make connections, etc. Let's distinguish this, shall we, from Greyhound, who makes us place our bags on the ground NEXT TO THE BUS, then is somehow unable to get all the bags onto the bus which is three feet away.

There is no good reason. <--Note the period.

Shall we talk about the abject cluelessness of the baggage handlers in Detroit, who start throwing around stories about how the bags will come on "the next bus" which will be here "any minute" or maybe "at 11" or god knows when, really...shall we talk about the one whom I asked, "What is your procedure for getting a misplaced bag?" and who answered, "I don't know the procedure. We don't have a 'procedure.'"

Shall we talk about how we had to board our 8 a.m. bus to Grand Rapids, with Brian's bag but without mine, trusting the assurance of the bus driver that my bag was tagged for Grand Rapids so it would eventually show up there? Even though it was now not in Detroit, and according to a customer service person I called in Cleveland no longer there, either?

Or shall we just talk about the fact that it did not, in fact, show up in Grand Rapids on the next bus, or the next bus, or the one after that, or after that ... in fact, we arrived Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m., and while I had packed toothbrush, contact lens case, extra shirt and underwear, and hairbrush in my little backpacklet, I now had nothing to wear to either the Friday night rehearsal dinner nor the Saturday wedding? Nor did I have any make-up...or shoes, let's talk about the shoes. I was wearing Skechers on the bus. And ripped jeans and a ripped Old Navy ribbed tank top.

I think I'd like to go back to the fact that WE ALL PLACED OUR BAGS ON THE GROUND NEXT TO THE BUS, as instructed. That before we left Cleveland I(aisle seat) asked Brian (window seat) if our bags were placed on the bus. That he saw through the window them clearing away the bags and placing them on the bus...but they couldn't fit the last three? Dude, *I* could have fit the last three. (I am a master of using space efficiently.) I just don't think they care. They certainly are the most clueless batch of baggage handlers I've ever seen.

I've been pondering that over the last few days. I've decided that the most desperate people on the planet get jobs as overnight baggage handlers at the Cleveland and Detroit bus terminals. I feel reasonably confident in that conclusion. I think you'd have to be even more desperate than a burger flipper...heavy lifting, crappy hours, nowhere near as good of travel perks as an airline, etc. Not to mention the occasional dregs of society with which you sometimes must contend. Then again, if you are a dreg of society yourself, does it bother you to deal with other dregs? Do you even notice?

Maybe I'm being mean. But I had three weeks worth of clothes, toiletries, cosmetics, shoes for multiple occasions, six dresses from which to choose for the two weddings and one rehearsal dinner we'd be attending... all stuffed in my big orange bag. Which is a magnificent orange bag. Which I love. And which after the fourth or so trip to the Grand Rapids station and the umpteenth phone call to all three stations (not that the people in Detroit ever answered the phone) I'd begun to realize I'd never see again.

Remember how I mentioned in the first paragraph that we're broke? This is not the time I want to buy new clothes. For two nice occasions. And shoes. And deodorant, for god's sake. And so on and so on and so on ... yet, purchase I did. For everything else there's Mastercard, so out came mine and off we went to CVS, Target(skirt and shirt for the rehearsal dinner, underwear), Old Navy(a couple cheap tank tops so as to stop wearing the same outfit around for three days, flip-flops two for five dollars), the fabulous Ladies' Designer Outlet (nice dress for a mere $25, suggested retail $158), Payless (dress shoes, and then a brown and gold purse half off, as I was having a total Carol Brady moment having bought a brown dress...)


Greyhound, I curse you. I curse your idiocy, your terrible attempts at "customer service," your lack of systems for said service, your poor training of workers, and most of all your tolerance of a system that allows for all the bags placed beside the bus to get on except three of them.

I curse you even more because now I'm even more broke than I was.

I turned my cell phone off during the wedding (I really do like the dress I got, at least) and then after arriving at the reception locale I turned it back on, around 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and noticed a voice-mail. Brian, a groomsman, was off with the wedding party in the party van, and I had driven one of the other groomsmen's car from the church to the reception site. My first thought was that something had been left behind or I needed to drive his car somewhere else or something, but what to my wondering ears should appear but "This is lah-dee-dah from Grand Rapids Greyhound; we have a bag that came in for you. You can pick it up anytime between the hours of blah blah blah..."

I think I had almost forgotten. I had already cried over losing all my jeans, tank tops, and shoes I ever wear, over the extra pair of contacts, the necklaces, the skirts, the cloudberry moisturizer; I really had started to contemplate repurchasing my life. Like maybe when my student loan check comes in the fall. And I was totally caught up in wedding mode. And suddenly - yeah.

Brian's dad shared his theory with me: it's all a plot from the Bush administration. A surreptitious economic stimulus package, if you will. They get Greyhound to lose your bag just long enough for you to have to infuse the economy with $100 or more in order to attend the wedding to which you traveled -- and then they deliver the bag.



Megan said...

So, so sorry for your troubles. But I think it's almost worth it for how awesome Brian's dad's theory is about economic stimulus. Almost, but not quite.

Now that you have your stuff back, I hope that the rest of your trip goes well (went well? Still there, right? Anyway, hope it's better than it was).

Bill M said...

My "Greyhound" Google Alert led me to your blog entry -- i'm a Greyhound driver in British Columbia. Your entry is beautifully written, and despite everything, it is a fine testament to the importance and value of bus travel and the curious nature of those who fly. Your lost luggage story is as heartbreaking as most. It always makes me sad to hear that someone's luggage hasn't quite made it to where it should. All too often though, i have found that passengers don't realize how important their own role is. Clearly -- seeing as your bag DID eventually find its way to you (and luckily, before you left for your return trip!) -- you must have done everything right. Many passengers don't tag their bags correctly -- i've seen incorrect destinations, multiple tags with multiple destinations, no tags at all, and most frequently, tags without a name or contact phone number. When baggage is mishandled by loaders, there are those among us who are almost as outraged and frustrated as the passengers whose bags have been lost -- as you so simply put it, it doesn't have to be that way. Thank you for reminding me to have a second look around my bus before i pull out of a station.

Heather said...

Thank you for the comment on my blog lady. I am sorry for your hellish bus travel. It is funny because I was just thinking of you when I was on the bus yesterday. I was forced to sit next to a very sleepy girl who kept resting body parts on my. Not really resting, more like leaning dead weight. I was just thinking of how much I missed my car after that, when i realized that the environment needs me to take a bus. What if I take a bus my whole life? And then I thought of you, and how you always take the public transit. I wondered how you do it. How do you deal with those people who sleep on you (with smelly breath too)? You and Brian should come out to San Fran and ride the BART with me and Jess :)

Michael Schaller said...

I remember the Cleveland greyhound station! Does it still look like something out of a gangster movie? All granite and bomb-shelter looking? Do the chairs still have the coin-operated t.v.s?

Have I told you about the time carrie and I got other people's luggage stolen in Florence? Another sad tale, but with no happy ending...I think I may have...I think I just did.

linda said...

But that's the whole thing! It doesn't look like that at all! I'm used to granite, bomb-shelter, TV-armrest bus stations, but some of them have been seriously upgraded, including Cleveland.

They just need a comparable upgrade on the baggage handlers.

jnap said...

The last time I went Greyhound, you lived in Joe City... I am so sorry for your troubles. My wish is you have a better stay than the trip started. Can you watch to see your bag loaded before you take a seat, on the way back to NYC?