Going Greyhound

No bus depot in Cookeville?

I read the recent article in this paper announcing the depot’s January 31 closure with a sense of unbelief. How could a town that’s home to a major state university, a bustling regional medical center and all the restaurants and retail stores most folks could ever need be without a bus depot? It’s practically un-American.

I’ve always been a big fan of bus travel, though my experience—if you don’t count riding a school bus—is limited. My first bus memory is of my grandparents riding a Greyhound from their home in Arkansas to wherever we lived. When they arrived, my grandmother’s feet and ankles were always so horrifyingly swollen that she couldn’t wear shoes for two or three days. By the time they returned to normal, it was time to get back on the bus.

In high school, members of our Junior Classical League (a fancy name for the Latin Club) traveled to the national convention a couple of times on a Greyhound Bus. We went to New Orleans my freshman year and all the way to Los Angeles when I was a senior. Those long bus trips are some of my favorite memories, and not because we spent our time conjugating verbs and declining nouns and translating Caesar’s Gallic Wars from Latin to English, though most of us could do all those things fairly proficiently.

It was the things we saw—Bourbon Street, Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the wheat fields of Kansas—that made those trips so unforgettable.

As was the fact that we were traveling to those places in a vehicle as unfamiliar to most of us as a rocket ship. But we quickly learned how to stow our stuff in the bus’s huge underbelly and overhead bins. To overcome our squeamishness about using the tiny bus bathroom. To get a fairly decent night’s sleep (boys in the back of the bus, girls in the front) while chewing up the miles.

The trip to California, in 1972, was the last time I set foot on a Greyhound bus.

One year during college break, I worked as an intern newspaper reporter for the “Nashville Banner.” Near the end of the summer, my editor asked me and two other interns if we’d be willing to spend an entire Saturday night at the downtown Nashville bus depot and write a story about it.

We said yes.

I’d give a million dollars if I could put my hands on that story now. I don’t recall a lot of details about what we saw and heard that night, though I do remember seeing people sitting straight up and sound asleep in the cracked vinyl waiting room chairs. A fair number of passengers clung to worn guitar cases. I saw a woman taking a bird bath in a restroom sink. I smelled diesel fumes and cigarettes and cooking grease and strong coffee and listened to Willie Nelson sing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” over and over again on the bus station radio.

And I remember being exceedingly glad that I was there with friends instead of in that big, busy bus station alone.

In the twenty-eight years I’ve lived in Cookeville, I’ve driven by our own little bus depot a million times. I always meant to drop in. But–until last week–I’d never even pulled into the parking lot, let alone caught a bus there. Was it too late to buy a ticket to somewhere and write a story about my travels? Or at least hang out for a few hours and take in the depot’s sights and sounds and smells?

You’ll have to wait for next week’s column to find out.

(January 26, 2014)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.