A 30-Hour Bus Ride, Told in 13 Parts

My route as generated by Google Maps, with major stops, arrival times, and layovers

I said I’d probably make a post out of it—here it is. My thirty-hour bus ride from Iowa City to Tallahassee. It’s not much of a NaNoWriMo post, really. My goal was to get to twenty thousand words by the time I reached Tallahassee, but my broader objective was to survive—and this post is almost entirely about survival. To find out whether or not I lived, read on.

5:23 pm (Friday)

At the moment, we’re on I-74 heading south through Illinois, next stop I don’t know where. I know my next stop is Indianapolis, but I think there are stops between here and there.

Before I do anything else, I should recount the first part of my journey.

At two ten today I left my dorm and headed out into the thirty-six-degree afternoon. It was cold, windy, and overcast. The sun sets around four forty-five here, so wherever the sun was behind the clouds, it was already low when I made my way to the bus depot, pulling along my suitcase. The station is just beyond the edge of downtown, where all the downtownish brick buildings give way to construction projects and ragged, crumbling parking lots. So walking to the station feels like leaving civilization, and going out into the wilderness.

I sat and waited with a bunch of other students for awhile, and around two fifty the bus showed up. It was crowded, but I found a space to sit and to stow my suitcase overhead. About an hour later, at four, we rolled into the Davenport station , and I switched to the bus I’m on now. This one is scarcely populated at all, so I’ve got a couple seats to myself near the back.

I’m incredibly hungry right now, so I’m going to eat the sandwich that I packed, and listen to some podcasts.

5:56 pm

Listening to the podcast Twinnovation, sitting at a five-minute stop in Galesburg, Illinois. It’s been dark as night since five. It is night, really, though my Floridian sensibilities tell me it shouldn’t be.

7:14 pm

Somewhere near Peoria, leaving it behind. I’ve eaten my sandwich and some peanut butter pretzel snacks, and I’m still hungry. I just wrote a thousand words of Stuffed. I may try to rest now.

12:32 am (Saturday)

I’m sitting in the bus that will take me from Indianapolis to Nashville, at the Indianapolis bus depot. We’ve crossed time zones, so it’s actually just been four hours since I last wrote, not five.

On the drive to Indianapolis I tried to rest. Let me tell you, a poofy winter coat is a versatile thing. It can be an enormous, fat pillow, a big, warm blanket, or a combination of the two depending on how you arrange it. Still, sleeping was uncomfortable. I only really drifted off once. The bus pulled in around midnight, and I headed into the terminal. This was a proper (as proper as they can be) terminal, with a bunch of vending machines and a little restaurant, labeled “restaurant.” What they didn’t have was any water fountains.

So I go over to a vending machine and attempt to purchase a bottled water.

“Sir!” a woman calls out to me.

“Yeah?” I turn.

“Sir, I need some help.”

“Okay.” Dead Midnight Francis Brain throws itself against the side of my skull a few times. “Do you need some money?”

“I just need to get a cab. I just need five dollars. I don’t wanna freeze.” Her voice chokes.

Is she acting? How many times has she done this? Do I care?

“Here’s a five,” I give it to her. She thanks me, and exits the depot. I go back to getting my water. I put in a dollar, and punch the button with the picture of a water bottle.


Crap. I push the return change button, and it gives me my dollar back in quarters and dimes. I look at another vending machine, and decide to get a Vitamin Water. As I’m getting it, the woman who didn’t wanna freeze returns saying to no one in particular, “Well that didn’t work.”

No shit, they were sold out of water, I think at the time. And now writing this I think, At least when the machine didn’t work it gave me my money back.

I got into the line after getting the Vitamin Water, and noticed in an adjacent line some people who looked amish. Dressed in black, a man and a woman. Man with a long black beard, woman with a stiff black bonnet. She held a pillow, and something wrapped in black cloth on it. As I looked over at them, traffic rumbled overhead, in deep ominous bass notes. Then we boarded.

I’m going to try to sleep again now. This is a packed bus, so I’m sure I’ll wake up when we all get booted out at Louisville for the one-hour layover there.

6:35 am

I’m in Nashville, Tennessee now. Three hours ago I was in the Louisville terminal. Terminal, because everyone looks dead. They definitely do at three in the morning. There was an arcade at the terminal, and one woman was passed out at a game, face down on the control panel.

Between Indianapolis and Louisville, and between Louisville and Nashville, I tried to sleep. I kind of did sleep, or something vaguely resembling it. I got a muffin and yogurt at the “RESTAURANT” here. I’m going to walk to a nearby coffee place in a few minutes, because my next bus isn’t leaving until eight.

“They say he can’t put on the gloves, so is not he. That is the evidence.” That’s what a man (Filipino maybe?) sweeping up the place just said. Talking about OJ Simpson.

Right. I’m about to bounce.

10:02 am

My quest for coffee failed because the place wasn’t open. I went ahead and took off the inner part of my poofy jacket, transitioning to just the windbreaker. I’m hoping I’ll get some coffee in Birmingham.

I think I’ll write some Stuffed now.

1:30 pm – In which is recounted the Second Quest for Coffee

We’re moving out of Birmingham now, headed non-stop to Montgomery. I did write some (like a page and a half) of Stuffed as we traveled through the Alabama highlands, and also listened to music and passed in and out of sleep. I probably would’ve gotten more work done, but the seat I was in was reclined, and I could find no way of un-reclining it. So it was like trying to get work done in bed.

There were Amish people on the bus. They’ve actually been at all the terminals and buses until this one (I think. They may be hiding somewhere.) Not the same ones either, at least two different groups. I guess buses are the most luddite way of transportation for them. I’m not sure what they’d ever need to travel to, but what do I know about the Amish?

thingWe stopped for an hour in Birmingham, and the depot is actually in the middle of downtown. So I went to a place called “Edgar’s Bakery.” The big city was weirdly deserted. Nashville had been the same, but it’d been seven am when I was there. I went out into Birmingham around twelve thirty, and there were hardly any pedestrians, and hardly any cars.

When I reached Edgar’s Bakery, I saw a sign saying hat it had new hours, and was closed Saturdays and Sundays. Damn. I looked up other coffee places on my phone, found another one close by which was open, and went there. When I got to Continental Bakery, I found the windows had been papered up.

What the hell was going on? Had everyone abandoned downtown Birmingham?

It was getting close to boarding time again, and I needed to stay close to the depot, so I had one option left. Revelator Coffee was just a few blocks away, so I walked there, and saw outside a clapboard sign that said “Coffee Here” with a finger pointing me to the promised land. I walked in, and immediately wondered (yep, even after the sign pointing right the hell at it) if I’d made a mistake. The place was a large, long vault, with high ceilings and concrete floor. In the center was an island bar. On one wall was a menu, printed in enormous font because there were only four items–coffee, iced coffee, espresso, and tea.  I got a six-ounce espresso with milk (a cappuccino really, but the menu didn’t call it that.)

I’d wanted to get a bagel or something, but Revelator was not that kind of place. For everything that it wasn’t, the coffee was damn smooth, and did its job admirably. Not to mention, the place was open, which put it head and shoulders above the competition.

With no time left, I decided I’d get lunch in Montgomery a few hours later, though I did buy a disgusting soft pretzel at the terminal restaurant. It tasted like steamed, hot rubber with salt, but for some reason I didn’t mind that at all. And, after walking back and forth all over the place, I transitioned to wearing no jacket.

I think I’ll work on Stuffed now.

3:12 pm

I wrote another couple thousand words of stuffed. I was sitting in an upright seat this time. I’m in the Montgomery

3:57 pm

In the middle of writing that I felt a bit hungry, and I realized I would be making an enormous mistake if I didn’t go and get something to eat. There was a gallery of fast food places across the street from the depot—and by street I mean highway. This terminal is on the outskirts of Montgomery, and it could really be the outskirts of any southern city. KFC, Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, Arby’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and, my drug of choice, Waffle House. So I put my laptop in my backpack and my back pack on my back, and went out. I walked along the highway in the direction of the Waffle House, waiting for an opening, then dashed across when no cars were coming from either side. Except one car pulling out, around
which I corrected my course so they could turn and I could not be in their way. I got a pecan waffle and a coffee—the coffee I got in the hopes of alleviating a pounding headache that was possibly from caffeine withdrawal, and possibly from anything else. I got it to go, and saved a

IMG_0808 crop
Seems legit.

quarter of the waffle once I was full from the rest of it. I dashed back across the highway, and our bus, the one I’m on now, loaded soon after that. I’ve finally got a pair of seats to myself again. There’s just two more stops between here and Tally. I’m not sure what I’m going to do to pass the time.



5:28 pm

It’s dark as pitch out, and that’s making me sleepy. We’re between Troy and Dothan. I’ve written a little more of Stuffed. I read some of Asimov’s. I’ve still got this headache. And I’ve put my windbreaker back on.

8:52 pm

I’m in Florida, which means we’ve made the time switch—again. I didn’t realize that we went back into central time somewhere up in Tennessee or north Alabama or something. But now we’re back, so it’s like it never happened. I finished my waffle, and I’m still hungry. When I realized I’d only eaten a muffin, a yogurt, and a waffle today, I decided to take my mom up on her offer and have her bring me Moe’s when she picks me up. That’s doubly awesome because man do I miss Moe’s. Food is probably one of the biggest things I’ve missed being away from Tallahassee.

Just another half hour and I should be back home.

The Night After (Sunday)

I made it, safe and sound, and managed to write three and a half thousand words, bringing me up to 21,500 words. I slept till around twelve today, and then I dicked around watching youtube all day. I probably shouldn’t have done that, but whatever.

My NaNo stats says I have to write about three thousand words a day to finish on time, so that’s going to be my minimum. Not too hard—maybe around four hours at most. I might not hit it tonight, but I’m sure I’ll go over that amount on other days, so it should be fine.

Later on in the Night After

I wrote about two thousand words today. Not the best start I could be off to, but, and this has kind of been my catch phrase this NaNoWriMo, who cares? I know I’m going to do this. I’ve written novella-length amounts of writing within a week, twice. I’m not worried about being able to do the same now, using characters that are as familiar to me as my friends, and stories that are as deeply ingrained in my psyche as any archetype.

In fact, this should be fun.

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