Friday, January 13, 2012

Atlanta Trip 2012

3am Bus Stop
First comfort stop, Ocala, Florida

My mostly-annual January trip to see my family in Atlanta started around 1:15 am this morning at the Orlando Greyhound terminal at John Young Parkway. I got to the terminal around 11pm so I wouldn't be late and to be able to queue up early enough to get a decent chance at picking my seat on the bus.

Normally I fly up, but this year the prices out of Orlando to Atlanta were trending towards the outrageous (Delta flights had hit $500 round trip and were going higher each day). So I booked a round trip bus trip between Orlando and Atlanta on Greyhound for a rather inexpensive $90.

It's been a while (years, really) since the last time I traveled Greyhound anywhere; the last trip was up to Tallahassee so I could ride back to Orlando with number 2 daughter in the Volvo (which we still own). Traveling by bus was simple back then; walk in, purchase the ticket, wait for the bus, board the bus, and then get off at your destination. This time I had to run the gauntlet of Greyhound's "security officers"; my bags were all opened and searched and I was wanded front and back to make sure I didn't have anything that might be construed as a weapon (see listing below).

Restrictions Apply
Restrictions from the Atlanta end of Greyhound

One of the reasons I choose to ride the bus was to avoid the institutionalized and unconstitutional TSA harassment that is unavoidable if you fly. And before anyone rises to the defense of the TSA, let me note that outside of the four planes used in 9/11, none have been used since. The only other incidents, the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, were overwhelmed by the passengers. Yes, some terrorist plots have been stopped with better up-front intelligence and cooperation between international agencies, but the real damage has already been done on 9/11. What's even more amazing is that, as far as I can research, and relying on my admittedly error-prone memory, there have been no terrorist incidents on Greyhound buses, especially in the seven or so years that passed between 9/11 and the point where all of the security screening started.

So here we are, having taken one more step down the slippery slope to a tighter police state with intrusive searches every step of the way. They should just go ahead and suspend the Bill of Rights, since that's the general direction we seem to be headed.

The other issue I have is Greyhound's labeling of their security personal as "security officers." The term "officer" automatically and immediately implies "police officer", of which they are most definitely not. This is the same problem that many now have with calling TSA personnel officers. The STRIP Act is meant to end the TSA's "impersonation" of "real cops." If the TSA aren't real cops (and they most certainly aren't), then Greyhounds security personnel certainly aren't either.

Waiting to Board
Waiting to Board

After the annoyance of getting into the terminal I sat near the departure door until about midnight, when I stood up and got into the queue. I was told that the bus would load around 12:30 to meet the 1am departure time. The bus didn't start to load passengers until nearly 1am. Fortunately for me there bus was only about 2/3rds full, allowing for the bus to quickly fill. We were 20 minutes late getting out on the road.

Chimping Her Camera

While waiting for the bus to start rolling to Atlanta, may of the passengers fired up their various electronic devices and started interacting with them. Whether it was cell phones, computers, games, cameras, or multiple devices per passenger, the was a wonderful freedom to use whatever they had. I had my Android phone, my Nook Tablet, and my E-P2. You can tell I was using the E-P2, but I was also able to use the phone to check messages and later I was able to use the Tablet to play back movies I'd ripped earlier with Handbrake.

Queuing for the Loo

The trip to Atlanta was scheduled to last nine hours. Because there are no facilities on a bus, the bus makes a number of  "comfort" stops, usually lasting 15 minutes, for the passengers to get off and do whatever nature demands of them. On this trip there were only two, on in Florida and one later in Georgia. I managed to make the Florida stop, but slept through the Georgia stop.

Waiting at the Crossing

Unlike flying and rail, buses are bound by the vagaries of the the nations's currently open roadway system. This means they mind all road signs and warnings, such as railroad crossings. This one was particularly bad because it was stuck down. After sitting at the stop for nearly fifteen minutes, the driver got out, walked to the crossing to check the situation, then backed us up and took an alternate route. This essentially added another 30 minutes to the time we were supposed to reach the Atlanta station.

Morning Snooze

Buses are built to seat passengers two abreast on both sides of the bus. When the bus isn't full and you're the only one in your seat, you can pretty much fill the seat and sleep. I chose to sleep upright but with the seat back, and as a consequence got a poke in the ribs by a passenger we picked on at a stop in Georgia. The passenger in front was full stretched out across her seat the whole trip.

Bus Charging

One of the features of the current Greyhound bus are the power outlets at each seat. I managed to fill both of  mine with a charger for my cellphone and my Nook. I think in the future I should find a more compact charger than can handle more than one USB charging cable. But it's a very nice feature none-the-less and a feature missing on every aircraft I've currently flown to date.

Morning Passengers

Every stop seemed to rouse the passengers a bit. You'd hear lots of conversation (and at several stops, somebody's hip-hop collection turned up loud). Then the conversation would taper down and eventually stop. As morning broke the passengers began to stay active longer, until around 8am, at which time I was immersed in multiple conversations and three separate phone calls (but mercifully, no more hip-hop).

On the Final Leg

The final stop was in Macon. The final stretch to Atlanta was uneventful, but filled with lots of construction activity. Roads are still being widened and new roads and bridges being built to handle the burgeoning population. Atlanta is certainly much larger than Orlando, but seeing that kind of construction is simultaneously heartening and disheartening; heartening that the economy is growing stronger, but disheartening that we're still hap-hazardly building for the individual gas-guzzling automobile.

The Driver
Our driver
Checking the Cellphone
I wonder who's actually checking the phone
Scrambling for Luggage
Scrambling to get their luggage

With batteries reasonably charged and everything back in my backpack, I stepped off the bus and into Atlanta and into the teeth of a bitingly cold wind.  I've long since forgotten just how cold Atlanta can get in the winter. Atlanta had that day highs in the 30s with lows in the 20s. Add a brisk wind channeled by downtown Atlanta's skyscrapers, and you'd better be reasonably bundled up when you step outside. I had on a reasonable jacket (I thought) but pulled out an extra hooded jacket and put it on inside that jacket when I finally got my bag out of the bus.

Riding to Doraville
Riding Marta to Doraville

The last leg of my trip up to my parents was on Marta's rapid rail. I was born and raised in Atlanta, so I'm reasonably familiar with Marta. Marta's been under construction since the late 1970's, yet I hadn't had an opportunity to ride on it until today. The part of the Marta rail system I road on (red line from downtown next to the Greyhound terminal until Lawrenceville, then transferring to the gold line to Doraville) was clean, bright, but definitely well used. If you're into Star Wars 'chic', with the well-used high tech look, then you'd love the Marta trains with its copious use of scuffed plastics on nearly all the visible surfaces.

The trains ran well and on time, and I was picked up by my brother who drove us up to my parents home near Lilburn.

I made this long trip by bus for many reasons, some of which have to do with a better understanding of all modes of transportation in this country. I might have my complaints about riding Greyhound, but they're minor in comparison to the problems I have with, and more importantly the loathing I have for, flying. I would have taken the train but Amtrak has been so mis-managed over the decades that it would have taken me three days to travel by train from Orlando to Atlanta. For me this was and is an opportunity to observe, document, and to learn.


  1. Cool, Bill - thanks for taking us along...

  2. That sounds like a good trip – in the sense that it's interesting and engaging, if not actually pleasant from beginning to end.

    I've done two overnight trips to New York, one to Chicago, and one to Ottawa, in addition to countless two-hour runs back and forth to visit family. The only time I've ever been subjected to a 'security' search was when returning to Toronto from Ottawa. I challenged the person conducting it, of course, for both legitimacy and need, and was met with the astonishing response of "you have no idea just how many weapons we take from people."

    I never realized just how incredibly perilous it must be to travel by bus. Given that I haven't been searched 95% of the time, then Greyhound must be tremendously negligent for not routinely disarming my fellow ruffian travellers. Clearly, I should travel by train instead.

    But snark aside, the occasional enforcement of stupidity can be a real problem. It makes it much harder to plan for travel – should I bring a separate bag so that I can check my nail clippers? – and a bag search brings its own set of security issues for me.

    I also like to be one of the first on the bus, so in Ottawa there were thirty or forty people in line behind me who could see that I was carrying multiple cameras, including the really big D700 and 105VR. That's not really how I want to start out an overnight bus trip.

    When it comes to actually carrying weapons, or tools that could be used as them, that's not much of an issue for me. Since almost all of my long trips involve crossing into the US and then wandering around in cities and neighbourhoods that I'm not familiar with, carrying even a little pocket knife is more likely to be a problem than a solution. I'm interested in seeing new things, but I have no interest in the insides of foreign jails.


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