Going Greyhound, Part II

The clock was ticking.

Only two weeks remained before the Cookeville Greyhound bus depot was to close its doors for good. After more than 50 years, proprietor Albert Ramsey was, understandably, ready to shut down his business and retire.

In the all the years I’d lived in Cookeville, I’d never visited our Greyhound station. Might there still be time to talk Herald-Citizen editor Buddy Pearson into buying me a bus ticket from here to somewhere so I could write a story about my travels?

Because I already had a couple of out-of-town trips on my calendar for late January, I couldn’t work a Greyhound adventure of any significant distance into my plans. Forget about New York City or Chicago or Seattle. But maybe I could take a short ride to Danville, Kentucky, just 130 miles north, to visit grandson Eli for the weekend.

Before I called Buddy, I checked the bus schedule. The closest I could get to Danville was Berea, 30 miles away. Because of a long layover in Knoxville, the one-way trip from Cookeville would take more than 17 hours. The price of a ticket? Seventy-five dollars.

So much for that plan.

But I still had time to visit the depot and chat with Albert Ramsey. So I called him early one morning (operating hours were 7-8 a.m. and 2:30-4:30 p.m., so my window of opportunity was small) and made an appointment for the next afternoon. I had no trouble finding a place to park in front of the one-story concrete block building, located on Veteran’s Drive just a stone’s throw from the fairgrounds, even though the depot shares a parking lot with a barber shop and a certified financial planner. Under a covered outdoor area west of the building are two sets of plastic chairs, welded together. Next to the front door is an old-timey phone booth, complete with folding door and a massive black telephone with coin slots on top.

The first passengers I saw when I entered the dimly-lit building were a sheriff’s deputy from a neighboring county and his prisoner, both on the way to the state penitentiary in Nashville.

While I waited for them to buy tickets, I settled into a plastic bucket chair and looked around. Not much to see. Half a dozen metal lockers. A one-seater unisex restroom. The sales counter, behind which—in addition to a computer and neatly-stacked papers and file folders—was the snack bar. No fried eggs or greasy hamburgers or strong coffee for sale here. Just chips and soft drinks.

Albert Ramsey told me how he got into the bus business in 1962 in the building that is now Ralph’s Donuts. He moved behind Maddux Hardware two years later and then to his present location in 1969. In its heyday, the depot saw as many as two dozen buses a day—carrying packages as well as people—stop in Cookeville. Now that number has dropped to four. Packages are shipped FedEx or UPS these days. People travel in cars or planes.

Does the depot’s closing on January 31 mean bus travel to and from Cookeville is dead? Not necessarily. Another businessperson may contract with Greyhound to open a new depot in a different location. But unless that happens, no bus will stop here. Which—even well into the 21st century—seems, somehow, a shame.

As to what will happen to that other relic—the old-timey phone booth—once the depot is locked up for good, all Ramsey will say is “It’s not for sale.”

(February 2, 2014)

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