lovehate: Not the Man in the Gabardine Suit

1:48pm, Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Sitting patiently at the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Flagstaff, Arizona. The snow crept up over the past few hours and the 45 minutes travel time from Sedona took more like an hour and a half as we glazed around switchbacks while gaining altitude over the frosted pavement.

Having said goodbye to Mom and Dad, and officially reaching the culminating point of holiday family obligations, I find myself waiting for close to two hours wedged into a metal patio chair at a fibreglass table near the nascent glow of a post-nativity vending machine row.

A far-flung devolution perhaps from the Business Class flight back to Toronto (via Boston) that awaits late tomorrow night and definitely a damn sight short of the hipster deco that will become my cocoon post-ride tonight at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

Any bus terminal always pulls me back to the hometown experience which was far more depressing than the current one. Bus Terminals tend to be small dingy places more suited to the wayward than the stalwart, which by itself isn't a bad thing, but often smacks of a sense of desperation and tense stares darting back and forth.

My hometown depot had the Terminal Restaurant, which always sounded ominous to me. I hardly wanted to associate food with the status of a dying hospital occupant. I can only assume that, at one time, the bus terminal restaurant was a welcome way station for travellers who could hardly afford a car much less a plane ticket. By the time I would start to travel by bus (with infrequency at that) the Terminal Restaurant was a grey envelope of kitsch besmirched by naugahyde booths, cigarette burns and ketchup-stained menus.

Their hamburgers were replusive.

I would've thought the growing preponderence of discount airlines throughout the 90's would have signalled the death knell of many bus stations, but I suppose air travel is really only the hallmark of the major city that can sustain the beast that is an airport. The remainder of long-range travel is divided by trains and buses. For a big guy, such as myself, I have a choice to make based on comfort alone: be cramped and wedged between the plastic arms of a seat for 5 hours of flight, 30 hours of rail or 40-50 hours deisel. Weighing all the options, I'd rather drive myself, but, when time is a parameter in any way whatsoever, I'm choosing flight.

Being the other side of 40, I'm also guessing that any residual romaticism that was attached to bus travel is completely tempered by age and intolerance. It's not enough to recall a Paul Simon travelogue where hitting the Greyhound with a companion meant "Laughing on the bus. Playing games with the faces. She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said, 'Be careful. His bowtie is really a camera.'"

So Flagstaff is coated in powder. The rust tiled floor is spotted in snowmelt. The wayward are growing within the painted brick crypt that seems better suited for a time long past. And that its pulse still beats strong is either a testament to the frugality of our natures, the lenience of our timelines, or a simple statement that maybe my choices aren't necessarily shared.

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[For the culmination of this observation, listen to lovehate podcast 235: Flagstaff. I Can't Believe I'm Still in Flagstaff.]