Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Kindness Of Strangers

So Greyhound is starting to offer, in selected terminals, a program by which you can pay an extra five dollars and guarantee yourself a seat on the Greyhound bus.

You can even pick which seat you want.

I tried to use this on Sunday, to be informed that the terminal I was at didn't offer this service.

Which is good because I feel a little melancholy about the thought that you can pick your seat on Greyhound. Greyhound is a profoundly screwed up organization, one given to massive lateness and imposing quantities of craziness. But the big upside is that if you're traveling via Greyhound, your only real option is to roll with the punches. There is nothing you can do about the fact that the bus is late, the fact that the bus is full, the craziness of the guy next to you. That's just the situation, and you can stew about it all you want but you can't change it. This whole pre-reservation thing makes Greyhound like other modes of transit, at least theoretically. Pre-planning becomes an issue. Where do you want to sit? Is it worth it to pay more to reserve your seat? Etc.

On the other hand, I've had it suggested to me that nobody's actually going to use this service.

Anyway, this story I'm about to tell you is why I like Greyhound, which is that I was taking the bus back on Monday, and, not having known when I would be ready to go, hadn't bought a ticket. I show up at the bus station in my full on suit and heels and hose (hose!) and there's a bus outside that's boarding. I'm the second person in line. I ask the security guard where the bus outside is going and he says "L.A." and I'm excited, but the guy in front of me is taking forever. He has a baby in a bassinet and he's asking ten thousand questions and I kind of secretly hope that the security guard will say something to the Greyhound employee so that I can get on the bus and I sit there and hate the world, and the bus driver announces final call and then comes into the terminal and sees me in line and asks where I'm going. I say "L.A." and then he stops and waits and the guy with the baby asks about a thousand more questions and finally the bus driver tells me to get on the bus and I can buy my ticket in Los Angeles.

It's not so much that it was a nice thing to do as that it was a human thing to do -- it was treating the situation with common sense and in a we're-two-people-here kind of way. It was nice only in the context of him treating me humanly, of him trusting me to buy the ticket on the other end, of him being more interested in me getting where I was going than in collecting the requisite number of tickets at that moment.

But here's the thing which may be somewhat interesting or may be only a sign of my particular mania and I'm not going to describe it well because for whatever reason I'm exhausted, which I'm going to blame on Bakersfield, so here's the thing: He was human, and that was nice, but it created this particular climate of embarrassment, where I worried that he would think that I wouldn't pay and felt vaguely anxious about the whole thing. The reason that I don't think this was just my mania is that we were going to be five minutes in the station before mine and the driver nudged me on the shoulder and said, "You can go buy your ticket here." Which was interesting, because I had been sitting there wondering whether if I got off the bus at my station and went to the bathroom before buying the ticket the driver would think I had run off, and then I concluded I was being ridiculous. But the nudge suggested that he was just as anxious that I know that he expected me to pay for my ticket, that he was anxious that human not be confused with unbusinesslike or free.


boss said...

The driver was not worried about you running off on him, as a driver I try to get folks to buy the ticket before reaching L.A. due to long lines there, so if Bakersfield does not have a long line and I have the time I'll have the ticket bought there as to save folks the heart ache of long lines and possible missing a sch. in L.A.

Captain Colossal said...

That's a fair point, and it's not like I have any idea what was in the driver's head. I will say only that it was actually a San Fernando vs. Hollywood situation, rather than a Bakersfield vs. L.A. one, and that he knew I didn't need to transfer.

On your side of the argument is that it's not like I could have run very fast dressed the way I was. That, and that you've actually been in that situation, which could be considered a trump card. And long lines are really irritating.

Also, it's not like it would be a bad thing if the driver was worried about me running off.

boss said...

The driver must ensure that the passenger has a ticket as to protect his/her job as the company has "spotters" ride the bus every now and then checking up on the driver, their job is to write the driver up for anything and everything. there should be more spotters riding, as we have some drivers that treat out passengers less then passengers. Not thinking that our passengers are our pay check, so to speak. But for the most of it,our drivers in this area are very good people,but as any company, we have the "bad ones" also.On my sch. there are times that a person will want to go from a closed depot, to another closed depot with nothing in between, so that is the time that I dont require a ticket.I will not leave someone at night at a closed depot if they don't have someone with them. Tickets make my pay check, but sometimes I have to think safty on the passengers part, I could be fired for letting someone ride for free, it's just a chance that I take once in awhile as to get a stranger from one point to another, thinking of their safty. We have a lot of "rif-raf" ride the bus that is always trying to pull a fast one on the driver, these idiot's also try to take over the entire bus with loud talking, shouting,yelling on a cell phone or using a walki-talkie that walks on everyone eles on the bus. The driver is put in a position that he/she has to do something, and because of these idiot's, drivers seem to get very hard harted and like-nor-trust noone.It's really to bad because it reflects on the good folks that are riding the bus. I myself don't put up with this bull sh-- and dump the problem as soon as I can. Most drivers are retired from some sort of job (police officer) or something that regardless of what they look like, they can handle them selfs if push came to shove, so to speak, plus there are fed. laws that give the driver some power.Some of these idiot's riding the bus, think they are riding a school bus, and their brain is not far beyound the third grade. All in all I have to say that I trust and respect almost all of my passengers every day that I drive. I don't let the idiot's get under my skin, but I do dump them somewhere as to make the ride smoother and better for all concerned.

Noko Marie said...

I also love the egalitarian feeling of the bus: you get there early, you get a seat. Otherwise, no.

I have to say, though, that five dollars seems pretty cheap to me; I admit I'd probably pay it to have a guaranteed spot.

I ride Greyhound a lot in both the US and Canada and at least from that vantage point it always seems like the drivers are way more together, organized, and sensible than the people who are supposed to be running the show. I don't know why that is.

Captain Colossal said...

I'm totally with Noko Marie; most of the Greyhound drivers I've had have been awesome, and very concerned about their passengers' safety. I love the inside look at the process, Boss, although the idea of Greyhound sending out spotters slightly freaks me out. Who knew Greyhound was so Big Brother-like?

I was recently on a bus where some guy was playing music without headphones, so that it was pretty loud. The driver says, "Hey, do you realize how loud your music is?" The kid says, "Yeah. I turned it on, didn't I?"

I don't think I have the lion-taming abilities to be a Greyhound driver. To say nothing of the driving abilities.

boss said...

Noko, you being an constant rider, I'll ask you if you have ever noticed that MOST drivers (like myself) wont use the front right side seat as for passengers, unless the bus is full, and some wont let passengers in either side in the front. Why is this? Well you may not know it but any time that a bus has a wreck at a speed of 35 mph or more, the passengers in the front seats are always killed. thats right . They go right over the rail and through the windshild and most of the time ran over by the bus. We never know when something will go wrong, as a car zooming by and then cutting the bus off and then slaming on their brakes, some do this for kicks, what they don't know is that a 32000 pound bus (empty) cant stop as a car and people do get killed. There are a ton of things that can go wrong, we never plan to have an accident, it just happends, sometimes the bus drevers fault, other times someone else causes it, but the passengers in the front almost always die including the driver. So most of us put our bags there as to keep passengers out. The safe seats are in the middle of the bus, I ride the bus alot, and I set about four rows back from the driver. You may want to plug into GOOGLE alerts for GREYHOUND BUS ACCIDENTS some times there are some very gross pictures.

boss said...

Captian "C" If you know anyone that wants a CHALLENGING job, and are "drug free" "accident free" 23 or older that wants to work their fanny off, Greyhound is always hiring drivers, it seems that they quit about as fast as the company can hire. All the sudden your life changes and now you are the pro and must deal with the no-pros of the road. we can't keep drivers, as it takes a DIFFERENT kind of person to drive truck and bus, all a person needs is a class "C" lic. and be able to pass a phyical, any color,sex,age above 23. If you are married, well then you won't be after you start driving as the ol' man or ol' woman at home won't put up with you being gone all the time. Greyhound will send you to drivers training school and feed and house you for two weeks then out on the road for two weeks, then you are on your own at about $17 per hr and work up to $22 per hr. and you will earn every penny of it. If you know someone looking, tell them to try Greyhound. I've been doing it for almost 30 years.

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing post and set of comments, and illustrates the fact that there are still people who do not let the $$$$ stuff run their lives. I would like to ride on Boss' bus. It was really interesting to learn where to sit, and I will follow it. I always try to sit up front because it is so much fun to see everything, but as Boss says, it's maybe not worth sailing through the windshield when some ass---- driver barges in front of the bus going 20 mph slower than us.

Noko Marie said...

Hi Boss, on the routes I ride most, the bus is often crowded, so people take up all the seats. I didn't know that about the safety issue.. I have a habit of sitting in the third row back (far enough back that the reading lights don't bother the driver, close enough to the front that I get less motion sickness from reading). Maybe I'll sit further back. I doubt I'll google for images of bus accidents though... that is one source of anxiety I definitely don't need!

And yeah, anonymous, I'm always amazed how often people dart out in front of the bus in their cars. Don't people know that if they're in an accident with a freakin' Greyhound bus, they're going to be the ones going to the hospital? Sheesh!

boss Bus Operators Safty Sensitive said...

Noko, The reading lights don't bother the driver per-se,It's the front row of seats that cause the problem as the light reflects in the windshild and causes the windshield to become a mirror.Insted of the driver seeing outside, he/she sees the folks in the bus. As far as the buses being full all the time, that's a new thing that has happend in the last few years, the company quit the "CUSTOMER SERVICE" business and stopped running "EXTRA" buses when the reg. sch. is full, now they find it more cost effective to make the passengers wait for the next sch. could be 1-2 or 5 hours, The company already has your money, so what are you going to do? if you cash your complete unused ticket in they will cheerfuly refund your money LESS 15%, what a money making deal this is. You will find that the costomer service people are "dud's" as they are folling orders from higher up, the only REAL costomer service people are the drivers and not all of them are very helpful due to job security. To make things work, one has to break the rules and that could cost a job, some of us push it too much but we try to make it work.

boss said...

the word should be "following" not (folling) this comes from clicking publish before proof reading. BOSS

boss said...

Hey, arnt there any other drivers out there that have some input? or am I the LONE RANGER.

boss said...

I just received a $3.00 tip, I was floored. I had picked up three older folks in San Fernando, Ca. only going to Glendale, Ca. They had came from somewhere else by bus and had a transfer in San Fernando, for Glendale. In my 30 years of service, I had received maybe $10.00 in tips, total. a dollar here and a dollar there. Unlike charter bus drivers that sometimes receive $4.00 per person, per day, which times 40 people is a "pretty penny" plus thier reg. wage makes a nice day, as it helps pay the bills as the charter or any mainline bus driver does not work every day, so spread out really is not much totaled up per mo.It's good for the day only.
But it was always known that Greyhound drivers were well paid. That is "so thirty years ago" but people dont know that things have changed and now Greyhound drivers are paid as any other blue collar person now, and only stress has gone higher, and so there are no tips. The cab driver can take you three blocks, and drive a few extra blocks in circles, slamming on thier brakes, and scaring the h--- out of you as to up the "fare" and the passenger will tip him 3 to 5 bucks because it is expected, what a rip! a cabbie told me one time about two years ago while taking me to the hotel in San Francisco, that if he could not make $600.00 a day in tips on a friday and saturday that he would drive a cab, I told him that $600.00 a day is not enough to get me to drive a cab in San Francisco day in and day out, I just could not handle it. Back to the main story, Greyhound drivers don't expect a tip, ever, as it's just not us. We are paid for the work that we do and that's it. One driver told me once, after I had received a tip from an older lady, that I should have not taken it, but I feel different about that, as these older folks that ride the bus are for the most part on a FIXED income and a dollar to them is like $20.00 to us, and if that person handed me a dollar it's because they wanted to from the depth of their heart and we should take it with a big smile and a "THANK YOU" as it means a lot to them and I would never want to hurt any one's feelings by turning up my nose, or them thinking that I am turning up my nose. So in Glendale Ca. I very cheerfully took the three dollars with a big smile and hearty "THANK YOU"
Me being a (Dirty old man) that I am, I played a dirty-rotten-low down trick on a new driver awhile back, I (am rolling with tears as I tell this, busting a gut laughing my a-- off as I am so mean) any way I told this new driver that if he would put a cup on the dash of the bus and write TIPS on it, that he could make an extra $50.00 a day, another driver standing near by jumped in on it and said, "ya, I got $85.00 just yesterday. So the new driver did what we had told him, at the end of his day he had .06 cents in his cup, and to this day has never forgiven me for making a fool out of him. Yes I do feel bad about that, but it was so funny when I asked him how much he got, he gave me the old hand and finger gesture that means ("nasty to you, you old bast---")But really "THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS" is so neat.

Captain Colossal said...

Interesting. There are all these situations where I don't know if someone expects or hopes to be tipped or not, and it gets kind of nerve-wracking, esp. since I'm a little bit cheap, but you're right -- I had never even thought of Greyhound drivers as in the tip-able category.

In general, I vote for higher minimum wages and a rollback on tips; I hate trying to figure out how much to give someone, and never knowing if you've given enough or not.

On that same trip, I was in a taxi, and low on cash. I told the driver I was low on cash, and asked if we could stop by an ATM, but he said the place we were going was close. Anyway, it was close enough that I had enough for the fair and enough for a (on the small side) tip, and I felt like a jerk. I apologized, but wasn't really sure what the right action was.

By the way, the insight into Greyhound-driver life is really awesome.

boss said...

I have a dog named Malo and a dog named Dingo, as she is part Dingo. I take them out once in awhile as to get a hamburger, I order theirs with nothing on them but mayo and meat. One place that I go to, after I place my order and drive up to the window to pay for my order, If the manager is working the window and see's me he knows that the burgers are for my doggies and say's "oh, I made a mistake" and wont charge me for the doggie burgers. He must be a doggie lover, I don't even know his name, but he never charges me for them, just mine. I eat out a lot at fast food places for the very reason that I, as most folks try to watch their money and most of the time I don't have that extra money available for the tip that is expected at a Dennys, but when I do have the "tip" money (seldom) I do go in and sit down without the dogs and have a nice meal.I just thought that I would mention that some strangers are kind to doggies too!