Greyhound, You Will be Missed.
Come November Greyhound busses will no longer be seen on the highways of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, as well as in most of British Columbia and Northern Ontario.
I don't want to comment on the company's decision to end these routes; I'm inclined to believe what the Vice-President of the company cited as the reasons for ending them. He said that it's just not sustainable anymore; they've had a 41% decline in ridership since 2010, more people are driving and flying places now and much of their competition comes from subsidized transportation services.
Also, if it were a sure fire money-maker then I'm pretty certain some company or some diligent entrepreneur would already be unveiling a replacement.
The BC government seems to be rolling out a replacement out west but whether or not I think the government should intervene and invest in a failing business model is also something I'm not going to comment on here.
What I'd prefer to discuss is the cultural legacy of Greyhound; the great opportunities Greyhound provided for millions of Canadians, including myself.
I got married last summer, and one of the members of my wedding party made the trip from Ontario via Greyhound.
Once, in my younger years, I found myself in an odd predicament: I was stranded in Sarnia, ON, with no job, no prospects and about $400 to my name. I'd spent the entire summer travelling Canada like a beatnik and was running low on cash; it was either head east to mom's house and a quiet life in Tillsonburg or use that limited money to go someplace more exciting and start looking for work and shelter. I was raging hard against the dying of the light.
I opted to spend much of my remaining funds on a Greyhound ticket to Banff. I've never regretted that decision.
The bus ride was horrible, don't get me wrong. The seats were tiny and it was impossible to stretch your legs in any way that would permit sleeping. Plus it was crammed full for a lot of the journey, so there was no way around sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with someone in the exact same predicament as I.
I met a woman in Banff. She was nearly as adventurous/reckless as I am, and after a few years enjoying the mountain life we decided the time had come for us to leave. We wanted to settle slowly into a more responsible life; but not without one last grand adventure.
The two of us bought 60 day Greyhound bus passes.
That meant we could board any Greyhound bus, at any station in the country, at any time during those two months. And thus it was that the only time I have genuinely travelled across Canada was while practically living in a Greyhound Bus.
We didn't budget a lot of money for luxuries like hotel rooms, hostels and B&Bs; in fact, we were limited to a meagre $30 a day between the two of us. And with that we still NEEDED food money and WANTED drinking money.
And what made it even crazier was that, like a pair of numbskulls, we did it on the middle of winter.
The plan was to take the latest possible bus out of whichever destination we were in; we would take that bus to whichever destination was a good nights sleep away. The bus became our beds. From Banff we travelled to Swift Current and from there to Winnipeg and from there to Thunder Bay and on and on. In this way we dotted the map, one bus trip at a time. One horrible sleep at a time.
My girlfriend at the time experienced Toronto and Niagara Falls for the first time. We arrived in Ottawa on a gorgeous Monday with the goal of visiting the National Gallery of Canada, only to find out the National Gallery of Canada was closed on Mondays. We slept rough in Charlottetown (extremely rough) after over-spending in a karaoke bar. We went shopping for used books in Moncton then had bacon, eggs and beer for breakfast in Fredericton.
We spent a few nights in a cheap Halifax hostel, this allowed us the joy of ditching our rucksacks and exploring the city freely. It was magical. We spent hours on the wharf, taking in the history and the scenery and even found time to tour the Alexander Keith's brewery.
Newfoundland didn't have the benefit of a Greyhound bus service, the bus only got us as far as Port Sydney, where we caught the ferry to Port-au-Basques and slowly hitch-hiked our way across that frozen land; where we spent one night at the bars on George St. I remember vividly how excited people were when Rey Mysterio Jr. won the Royal Rumble.
Hitching a ride out of St. John's was a miserable experience that really highlighted how desperately that lonesome island needed the glory of the Greyhound. We waited half a day before finally being picked up. An excited elderly couple was ecstatic to take us to a town called Dildo.
The people of Newfoundland were fantastic. Another man gave us room and board, for two nights, in a bed & breakfast in the picturesque fishing community of Trinity Bay; all he asked in return was for us to cook for him. That Greyhound adventure brought me there. Otherwise, I likely would never have gone.
Inclement weather caused the Ferry back to the mainland to remain docked for 13 hours. We drank beer with stranded truckers and ate the best damn fish & chips known to mankind on that boat. Upon arriving back in Sydney, one of the nice truckers even put us up for a night in his house. His wife and kids more than a little uncomfortable with these two unwashed vagrants at their dinner table. Because of that bus line we saw olde Quebec and got lost in Montreal and made a second stop in Toronto.
On the journey back west we saw Sudbury, Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie. We camped in Pine Falls, Manitoba for a few nights, then visited Moose Jaw for the first time in my life. I remember being entranced by the late night lights and neon signs, glowing on Main Street; and the now decimated party on River St.
That bus then took us on to Saskatoon and Calgary, then Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley. We drove north to Prince George then through the muskeg to Whitehorse. We also spent time on Vancouver Island; and it was in Victoria where I learned to love Curling.
I explored the country, east to west, and even a little bit north, and it wouldn't have been possible without Greyhound bus lines.
It disappoints me that my children will likely never have this opportunity. They'll likely never know just how handy and excellent Greyhound was. It's also possible my kids would never even entertain such a journey and it's even more likely they find a preferable way to explore the country.
I empathize with anyone who relied upon Greyhound to get them to places they need to be and I empathize with the 400 plus people who lost their jobs over this. But what cuts me deeper is knowing that so many children will grow up without knowing the reliability of a Greyhound bus.
As I said, I'm not going to comment on the businesses decision to shut down passenger services throughout much of the country. I'd sooner thank the company for all their good service and for providing me with one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Greyhound, the kids will suffer in your absence and you will be sorely missed.