Travelling across the USA

How to get from one state to another


Amtrak is the national railway network in the United States. I travelled on Amtrak up along the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and then onto Seattle. I took the train because someone recommended the views along the Pacific coastal route, but due to the railway staying out of town centres, it usually felt like I was missing each town and city altogether. Someone I met on the train said that Amtrak was a great way to get views of a lot of backyards. The mountain views were nice, but I don't remember seeing the coastline from the train.

I wasn't impressed by security of personal belongings. You can take a carry-on bag with you onto the passenger deck, but bigger luggage has to be left in a heap on the lower deck, right by the doors. I spent the whole journey convinced someone was going to simply walk off with my stuff. Apart from that, the train seating was spacious and comfortable, and I didn't have much trouble getting off to sleep at night. A buffet car offered drinks and food, but from my seat it was a journey of five or six carriages to reach it. An observation carriage with floor-to-ceiling windows allowed for better views of the surroundings.

Amtrak is a very pleasant way to travel, but it costs more than an economy plane flight between the same two cities, and the journey takes longer. Not ideal for the commuter, but a nice form of interstate travel for a tourist.

Greyhound Bus

I wanted to get from Seattle to New York, and I didn't have enough money left for an Amtrak ticket. So I bought myself a ticket for a Greyhound Bus journey that would take me the full distance from Seattle to Manhattan. The three day journey time didn't sound too bad when I read the schedule, and I figured I'd get to see plenty of the northern states of the USA.

Almost as soon as the bus left Seattle, I realised that three days might actually be a bit of a challenge. A small child who'd boarded the bus didn't seem to like the cramped seating. He wailed from Seattle to Chicago. The seating was cramped for a child, but for a six-foot-tall adult, it was extremely limiting. Apart from flexing ankles and moving feet off of and back onto the foot rest attached to the back of the seat in front, there was little room for movement.

The Greyhound Bus was full of the same sort of people who use the city buses back in Los Angeles: tourists, and people who can't afford a car. Luckily, tourists and Americans are a talkative bunch, so the journey didn't get boring once. However, the cramped, rigid seating made it impossible to get comfortable without slumping against the glass window which would vibrate every time the bus engine idled. I didn't go to sleep so much as pass out from exhaustion. And the toilet seat was right by the engine, so it was almost dangerously hot to the skin. Which was alright because I was so low on cash that I couldn't afford to eat or drink when the bus stopped at small towns.

And the bus stopped a lot. In fact, I don't think the bus would ever go for longer than three hours without stopping. I believe this was to avoid bloodshed among the passengers who were nicotine addicts. The smokers on the bus would actually get to the point of gripping the seat because it had been too long since their last smoke.

On one occasion, the drivers told us that two buses were merging because each was less than full. Which meant that the mother with a noisy child was told that, despite paying a separate fare, the child would have to sit on her lap. Tuts and muttering did not change the minds of the drivers. Once we were all squashed onto one bus, the drivers left us on the bus while they ate at a diner in full view of the bus.

At one stop, a kid of about fifteen got back onto the bus without showing the driver his ticket. When the driver bellowed up the bus, demanding to know who hadn't shown their ticket, the kid was too scared to answer. Which made the driver angry. The driver went up the bus one passenger after another, counting tickets, and he was fuming by the time he revealed the kid as the uncounted ticket. He was so annoyed that he forced the kid off the bus and unloaded his luggage. The kid was told he'd wasted the driver's time, and now he'd have his time wasted waiting for the next bus, due in several hours' time. Stories circulated about similar incidents, including a tale about an elderly smoker that was thrown off a bus in the middle of the desert for smoking in the bus toilet. You do not want to mess with Greyhound Bus drivers.

But one woman did. At a transfer stop in Chicago, we were told plainly that the bus we were meant to get on was now full, and we'd have to wait at Chicago for four hours for the next scheduled bus. A redhead who needed to get to Washington, D.C. in a hurry decided that this was not the level of service she had paid for, and stormed into the drivers' rest lounge in the station. After demanding, at high volume, that an extra bus be laid on, the drivers relented and another bus was provided within minutes. There were so few of us on the extra bus that I could finally sleep in relative comfort by lying across two seats.

A Greyhound Bus journey offers plenty of views of towns and countryside across the USA. But anyone who grimaces at the thought of a twenty minute bus journey across town is advised to steer well clear of a cross-country Greyhound Bus trip. For those who think that endurance is a vital part of any adventure, the Greyhound Bus is the only way to travel. Just don't book a return ticket.