This is for those of you that asked how my fall break went. It would be impossible for me to tell all of you everything, so this will have to do.
“Why cover the same ground again? … It goes against my grain to repeat a tale told once, and told so clearly.”
I am aware that parts of this story may sound ridiculous, so I will try to explain my perspective when I feel that it is particularly strange. So please sit down, get comfortable, and if you do have questions, save them for the end.
The story begins with a lack of judgement. When the semester started, I didn’t intend to go home over fall break. For some reason I thought that I would be fine transitioning from seeing my girlfriend every day to once every two months. Idiot.
I was honestly handling myself well until two weeks out, when being away from my girlfriend became unbearable (don’t tell her that), kind of like playing hide-and-seek when you really gotta pee (or is that just me?).
At that point, the plane tickets were already outlandishly expensive, and spending that much money makes me extremely uncomfortable (feel free to psychoanalyze me). So, instead, I bought bus tickets that would take me from Ithaca to Birmingham, Alabama, and back. Was I desperate? Of course. Am I insane? That’s debatable.
To be fair, the journey to Birmingham wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (I mean it was only 27 hours). The food was poor, the sleep was sparse, and the ride was sketchy, but I was a motivated man. I would have done just about anything to see my girlfriend, so I endured.
“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time.”
Saturday afternoon I was rewarded, and the next few days were wonderful. The weekend was refreshing in every way, and I was certain that I had made the right choice coming home. The specifics I’ll talk about some other time, but know that for those still hours I was happy.
“…an irresistible sleep fell deeply on his eyes, the sweetest, soundest oblivion, still as the sleep of death itself…”
Unfortunately, what went up came down hard.
I was scheduled to leave Birmingham at 8am. When my departure was pushed back an hour I was actually happy, because I was able to spend another hour with my girlfriend (bus stations are so romantic), and I could still catch my bus from Nashville to Louisville. That first delay didn’t end up mattering, because when I got to Nashville I found out that my bus had been delayed for one hour, then two, then five. I had no idea how to react, so I just sat in a corner and anxiously tried to read. Sitting there in Nashville was the first time I considered caving in and buying plane tickets, but I decided to wait it out – part of me still believed that I could get back on schedule somehow.
“Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier; I have seen worse sights than this.”
Louisville wasn’t much better. We weren’t even supposed to switch buses there, but they told us we were going to have to wait on another because our driver had “run out of hours.” I’ll admit that at 11:30pm and running on one hour of sleep, that logic floated by me. In hindsight, the fact that Greyhound acted surprised that one of their drivers’ shifts was ending isn’t just ridiculous, it’s deceptive.
After tacking on another hour wait, a lady at the kiosk took my tickets and printed me a new itinerary. At least she was honest when she told me that one of the later routes on my new tickets didn’t have any open seats, but it was the best that she could do. I conceded, because I didn’t have any other choice but to hope, and paying for a flight was still out of the picture.
Side note: I was brushing my teeth in the Louisville bathroom when a man stumbled in, a hand covering half of his face and blood pouring down his arm. He moved to the sink next to me and tried to wash his face. I was already pretty numb at that point, so I just stood there and brushed my teeth.
Side side note: Waiting in Louisville was the first time I really considered the other passengers (by all means, I was the outlier). I thought of the Middle Eastern man who sat next to me. He spoke little English and barely had any idea what was going on. I thought of the impoverished families – black, white, Latino, whatever – who had no choice but to submit to every new delay.
It was in Cincinnati that Greyhound crushed me. We arrived in the dead hours, and were supposed to leave within thirty minutes, but I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Our first delay was until 5am, and I managed to handle myself. Somehow, I slept for an hour on a bench next to a homeless man (you get used to it). I woke up to a voice over the intercom telling us to go to the front desk, where we were told that we were being pushed back to 7am and that we were going to get new itineraries. It was supposed to be okay, though, because they were going to give us a travel voucher and a coupon for their bus station café. I looked at my new estimated time of arrival and struggled not to cry – the people in that place could smell fear. It had me stopping in Rochester at 6pm, but not leaving until 8 the next morning. Thursday morning.
I stumbled back to a bench in a daze, and tried to comprehend my situation. I thought of all that I had gone through, and how much more I could handle. I started to make that impossible assessment – what is my time worth? I looked at the flights again, and almost threw up. If I did fly back, all of my discomfort would have been meaningless, because I could have bought those tickets two weeks ago had I known the outcome of this trip. All of my waiting and missed time with my girlfriend would be my own fault. “If only I had known,” I repeated to myself, “if only I had known.”
I was desperate for advice, so I called my brother, mom, and girlfriend, but none of them picked up (fair enough, it was 4am). My dad picked up the phone (bless him), and he told me that if I bought a plane ticket, it was okay – that there were more important things in life than this (which I knew was only partially true), and that he loved me (which was completely true). That call calmed me down, but I still didn’t know what to do.
Then, at 4am and running on three hours of sleep, I started to think of Odysseus. I thought of the tremendous luck that I, too, was desperate to get back to Ithaca. I thought of my love, my crew, and my home. Last, I considered if Cincinnati would be my last trial if I stayed on this route, or if I would get to Columbus only to find Scylla and Charybdis waiting, keeping me even longer from home.
For some reason the metaphor calmed me. I decided that my pride, my regard for my own morality, wasn’t as important as being on top of my schoolwork and being there for those who depended on me. So I threw out my pride, bit the bullet, and drove a knife right into my savings account.
“Of all creatures that breathe and move upon the earth, nothing is bred that is weaker than man.”
Within minutes I was being driven to the airport by a nice guy named Chris. I boarded at 9am and was back in Ithaca within a few hours.
“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.”
Greyhound, I live a blessed life, so I’m not going to complain to you about being a little uncomfortable for once, but on behalf of those who don’t have a choice and don’t have this platform, be better. That’s all I have to say – be better.
“…but sing no more this bitter tale that wears my heart away.”