June 28, 2008
We met last night at the San Francisco bus terminal around 6:30 PM. There is an excited buzz in the air as many of us are headed out on the Green Tortoise for the first time and don't know what to expect.
"Have you been on the bus before?" I asked a tall man in his late 30's who just arrived at our meeting spot and took off his backpack.
"Oh yes, this will be my fourth trip." He said with a very thick German accent.
"Wow!" I said. "You must like it then?" I asked.
"Oh yah. I dooo." He says and then turns as a Japanese woman interrupts us and asks if we are going on the Northern Crossing.
"Yes. We're waiting for the bus." I reply.
"Oh good." She is all smiles and excited to board the bus.
Our group forms and a handsome balding man in his late 30's with a full, trimmed beard arrives and informs the fifty or so people that have gathered that there were two Green Tortoise trips leaving at the same time. Those of us who were taking the Northern Crossing were to walk about a block and a half away to the official pick-up zone.
In the Green Tortoise information guide, they advise that you be able to carry your gear at least one and a half city blocks and that you will be required to carry your own stuff, so pack wisely. I knew that I could carry my gear because I had hoofed it up the 12 blocks from the San Francisco Ferry Terminal to the Green Tortoise Hostel earlier in the week. Also, I had sent ahead of me about 1o pounds worth of stuff that I didn't need to carry with me to make my load lighter. In a week and a half, I'd send another 10 pound box worth of warm clothes ahead of me to Karen.
We walk en mass to the new pick-up place and our group diminishes to twenty-six. One by one, we go on board and check-in giving the driver the remaining balance of our bill in either cash, traveler's check or money order. After paying the balance, we are given another waver form and are told that this is our boarding pass.
As we're gathered, we mingle and try to get a feeling for who is on the bus. I talk with the German man a bit more and the Japanese woman. Most people are strangers but there are a few people who arrive together. Julie and Jessica are from North Hampton, MA and have been in San Francisco for several days before the trip enjoying the city. There is a strawberry blond woman in her early 30's with two children, Melia who is 6 and Mackenzie 11. Then I say out loud, to no one in particular.
"Wow. There are kids on this bus. I hadn't thought about that." Several heads turn and look at the girls. The German man says, "Should be okay." That's when I knew I'd hate him.
By eight o'clock all the money has been collected and we are nearly ready to board the bus. A plump, loud, crooked nosed woman runs towards the bus yelling, "Wait! Wait! I'm here!" That is Randi. She is from New Jersey, and I was just about to discover that the world revolves around her. For the next fourteen days she will be late and holding the bus up at all of our stops, she includes herself in everyone's private conversations and she knows all things about everything, everywhere.
We are instructed to load our big bags below in the luggage bay and board the bus by Dave, our primary bus leader and day driver. Cassie, a pretty, apple-cheeked grad student and professional baby sitter, is driving the first leg of the trip overnight towards the Ruby Mountains.
I board the bus. It is a customized vehicle that has eight bunks, four on each side, hanging above where we stash our day packs. There is wide bench seating facing opposite windows in the front of the bus followed by two sets of tables that can hold four skinny teenagers or two regular sized adults. These tables convert into bunk beds at night. Behind the tables is a long, flat bed like an extra long and wide king-sized bed. In the very back is a bench seat that holds two comfortably and a bathroom.
As we settle in, Dave reviews the rules in a strong, authoritative voice. "RULE NUMBER 1: No one uses the bathroom. Pretend it isn't there. It is for emergencies only and you must have driver approval before you use it."
Oh no, I think to myself. I already have to go to the bathroom now that I know that I can't use it. This is going to be a long ride. He continues talking about peeing and finishes with the pee-scale.
"The Pee-Scale is from one to ten. One is how you are right now. If you are not at a one, we will stop the bus and let you use the bathroom at the terminal. A Five is the feeling that your bladder is about half-full and you will need to go soon...not right away, but in the near future. Ten is oh man! I gotta Pee! You must let us know when you are at a FIVE! FIVE IS WHEN WE CAN FIND A SPOT! Do not report to the driver that you have to pee when you are at a TEN! TEN IS TOO LATE! In case of a Ten, an exception will possibly be made and you can use the bathroom in the back of the bus but: NO NUMBER TWO IN THE BACK OF THE BUS!" He raises his voice to make sure we understand.
"Mom," He says looking at the strawberry blond woman. "I'm going to be depending on you to make sure your kids understand fully the rules of bathroom on this trip, okay?" She and nods in understanding and has an air of confidence around her as if this is easy and been discussed.
This is the point I decide to start praying.
Dear Mighty God,
Hey...what's going on? You know I'm headed out on this trip and I got a bad feeling God. A real bad feeling. I know it's just because I've not had a lot of good experiences with little kids and Germans and carrying my backpack but I'm stronger than before. So please, please keep my bladder on bus time and may I have to go to the bathroom even when I don't think I have to and may the kids be well behaved and not screaming monsters. If you'd like me to do some bargaining, I'm willing to do so, but I think the driver's gonna speak again so Amen. Ashey. Namaste.
Driver Dave continues with the rules. "RULE NUMBER 2: SHOES ONLY ON THE FLOOR! No shoes or sandals on the beds, tables or bunks anywhere at anytime. We will be in a lot of rest stops and truck stops and there is goo and crap on the floor and you will be sleeping on these pads for the next two weeks. TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF! SHOES STAY ON THE FLOOR. NOT IN BUNKS. NOT IN BEDS. ON THE FLOOR."
Everyone takes their shoes off. I think how this should have been Rule Number 1, but no need for me to become critical of the driver. It is best to make friends with authority than run against them...I learned that in the corporate world.
All my fears about body odor and traveling on the bus vanished as I thought about foot odor.
There is some mumbling among the passengers as people find spots to where they can retrieve their shoes if needed. I noticed that there were a lot of similarly looking pairs of TeVa's and Keen's. If I didn't mark my shoes they may get mixed up with someone else's. I packed a silver Sharpie for just such an occasion and marked my shoes with a silver X so that I could see the difference.
"What if we stop someplace at night?" a woman with a thick Australian accent asks.
"Yeah! What if we need to get out in the middle of the night?" a thick New Yorker asks.
"People, I promise you will be able to find your shoes if we stop at night and if you can't just wear someone else's. This is the Green Tortoise. We all have to work together, okay." He sounds exasperated and we are twenty minutes into our ride towards the Ruby Mountains. "I promise you, you'll be able to find your shoes and it will all be alright." I don't feel reassured but try to keep the spirit of the Green Tortoise alive within me and remind myself that I signed up for a different form of travel and so far, I'm getting it.
Dave continues with the rules. "RULE NUMBER 3: NO HOMESTEADING! That means where you sit today may not be where you sit tomorrow. We do not save seats, beds or special spots. You are not to make claim to any area of the bus. Everyone paid their fare and there are no special exceptions for anyone. Understand? NO HOMESTEADING. NO SAVING SEATS. GOT IT?" I think how this might have been an issue in the past because he said it so passionately.
There were more rules and Dave went on. "RULE NUMBER 4: NO PARTYING IN THE BACK OF THE BUS! LOUD NOISES ARE FOR THE FRONT OF THE BUS NEAR THE DRIVER, NOT THE BACK OF THE BUS. There are two drivers and when one is driving, the other one is sleeping right up there." He points to a bunk sized cabinet opposite of the forbidden bathroom. We all turn our attention to the back of the bunk and the cabinet he was pointing to. It was the same wood color as the rest of the bunks and had a slight "L" shape to it with a sliding door.
I thought to myself, how do they fit up there? But I would find out soon enough...
To be continued...
So much love,
All the way from over here...