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Thursday, September 14, 2000

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Heading north

At 12:00 midnight we're in Phoenix and they kick us off for 45 minutes to service the bus. Nearly two hours later we finally get on. They change drivers here so I don't know if there was a problem with servicing or the driver was late or they had to find another driver. They don't tell us that. The guy in the wheelchair is still on the bus as they let him stay on while they serviced it. I'm so tired but he must just be exhausted. I lose my separate seat as the bus fills up here.

We barely make it to Indio for people to make their transfers and we're still behind. Finally we're on CA-60 heading toward Riverside. It's light and it's good to see the brown hills around Los Angeles. This is a very spectacular drive as we wind through them. We ran into some heavy fog which looked great with the rocky hills peeking though. We also ran into rush hour traffic which isn't helped by all the construction around Riverside.

After leaving Riverside we take CA-60 to I-115, then north to I-10 which we take east to El Monte. We get in the HOV lane on I-10 and I felt smug as we zipped by all the traffic that was crawling. There are so many hundreds of cars with only one person in them. Is it really that much more efficient to take your own car and have to fume in traffic than to take transit and be able to read or whatever?

The Greyhound stop at El Monte is by the El Monte transit center which is a cool, yellow circle. It has a direct connection to the HOV lane on I-10 and we're soon up to speed again after crawling since Pomona and the loss of the HOV lane. Finally, an hour and a half late we reach the Los Angeles station. Greyhound had a lady greeting us as we got off the bus and telling us which gate our transfer would be at. That's a nice service as everyone is so frazzled at the end and so many people come through the LA station that speak little if any english.

It's still over an hour till my connection but there are already people in line. I put my bags in line and go to freshen up and get some breakfast. I brought some carrots and bananas with me and have already eaten a nutrition bar but there's something about a 'real' breakfast to help wake me up, along with the coffee, of course. I even have time to take a couple pictures of the front of the station. I'm usually in a hurry or at night and never seem to get pictures of the LA station. I keep dashing back to check on my bags but I've never had a bag in line even touched. I keep my bag with my money and other valuable with me, of course, but it's nice to not have to keep lugging everything with you, plus you do need to save a place in line.

Soon we're heading north to Seattle on I-5 and only 15 minutes late. I'm tired since I didn't get much sleep last night but I have the front seat so I'm determined to see everything. The sky is hazy but not brown and the hills have green on them. Going over the mountains, before Santa Clarita, they have totally separate truck lanes. I'm sitting next to an ex-truck driver but he doesn't know why. I don't see that the grade is any different. I love the golden hills with patches of russet and an occasional shrub or two. They seem to glow in the morning light. As we go north they become more shrubby till the golden grass only shows through in patches.

I-5 up to Tejon Pass and the long drop to the valley is a very scenic drive. The flat valley is such a change after more than an hour of hills. Suddenly there is just scrub with patches of fruit trees, grapevines and cottonfields. The valley seems suspended as we ride toward a flat horizon that meets a featureless gray sky. There's sunshine and glare, you just can't see any blue sky. We're surrounded by electrical pylons that rear up against the flatness.

The Coalinga bus stop is at a Burger King. The manager was complaining because there's work being done on the southbound lane and they cut off all the southbound exits, and half his business. There is nothing here but a bunch of restaurants and gas stations and their only reason for being is to service travelers. The town of Coalinga is about 13 miles away.

The California Acqueduct snakes it's way along with us bring the life giving liquid that allows agriculture in this area and is slowing smothering the land with the sediments the water leaves behind. As we get near Stockton there are more tres and wild, not irrigated, green stuff as we enter the delta area near Sacramento. The dirt has turned from tan to black. The Stockton bus station is a blue and white arc. They have a turnstile to get into the area where the bathrooms are with a note that passengers can get a token, but you can just go around the turnstile. Stations try so many ways to keep transients out of their waiting rooms and bathrooms, but after a while they seem to be too much trouble. The LA station has a sign that you have to have a ticket to enter the waiting room, and years ago they used to enforce it, but no more.

We have an hour at Sacramento as they service the bus. I chat with my seatmate. He retired in 88 from construction but went back to work driving a truck a year ago when his HMO closed and they had to pay in full for several hundred dollars in prescriptions drugs each month. He said that he made good money, but that there is a very rough, violent element in the truck drivers that he just doesn't want to deal with. A lady was on her way home to her two younger daughters after going to Tucson because her two older daughters had run away to live with her sister and didn't want to come back. She said they would be coming back, but she didn't sound too sure.

Another guy was on his way from San Francisco to Seattle to visit friends. He was in his 70s and wanted to see how he handled a bus trip as he didn't want to drive all that way. He was a retired school teacher and had a home in San Francisco, that was worth many times what he had paid for, and he and his wife were building a home in Hawaii. I guess they weren't rich but decidedly better off than many people riding the bus. Once you hit the middle of California and north you do get more people who ride the bus because they want to not because that's all they can afford. He also had a little case of veggies to nibble on, like me, and make several comments about the environment needing to be protected. It's nice to see an environmentalist riding the bus, most of them don't.

The new driver was also new to the first part of this route. It would from Sacramento to Anderson on CA-99, CA-70, CA-149 and CA-299, though many little towns and dark, unlit roads. They give the drivers routing sheets but they are often out of date plus it's hard to read them in the dark. Some passengers that have ridden this route often helped guide him through. One of the towns is Chico which has a University of California campus and we're riding down a dark, narrow street to the bus station with bikes zipping across in front of us.

At Anderson we're back on I-5 and heading north again as I go back to sleep.

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(c) Rachel Aschmann 2000.
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