I Shouldn’t Have Taken That Bus Trip!
It was 2:15 a.m. as I sat on the metal bench of the Portland, Oregon Greyhound bus station waiting for the southbound bus for California to arrive. At 2:30, I’d be able to take a seat close to the front of the bus hopefully so I could get some sleep. After I saw three other passengers head for door number 4 and set down their luggage I stood up and got in line.
Just because I was fourth in line didn’t mean the bus arriving wouldn’t already have a bus half full of passengers. I didn’t want to be stuck in the back of the bus while others talked loud on their cell phones, looked at their laptop monitors glaring light a light keeping me awake and I didn’t want to have someone next to me reading a book. I was tired.
I was going to be on the bus for 15 hours before I saw the blue sky of Sacramento. It was 27 degrees outside and it sure felt cold inside the bus station to me. Nearly a foot of snow was on the ground. Maybe it was me being too sensitive to the winter weather in Oregon. Well, the sooner I saw California the sooner I would smile. I like warm weather and seeing palm trees.
The line behind me was getting longer now as I saw the empty greyhound bus stop outside the door. On the front I read the word Sacramento. I was glad to see no passengers were on board. I had ridden the bus from Seattle to Portland and that buses restroom smelled horrible. The driver was late getting to Portland because of the snowstorm so I missed my connecting bus to Sacramento.
I hoped this bus driver had a clean bathroom. It would still be 10-15 minutes before we could load, that is if we left the bus station on time. As I looked behind me, I saw an assortment of people and ages. It looked like it would be a full bus this trip. Only 55 passengers could get on and those after that would have to wait even longer for another bus. I saw maybe a dozen children standing beside their mother or both parents as well as seniors and a group of people all wearing yellow jackets.
They were part of a church group. In each of their hands I saw their Bibles. Several looked like they would just as soon mug one of us. I was just glad I could hand my suitcase to the baggage guy and watch it put under the bus and get my seat. When the announcement was heard, the driver said they would be boarding shortly. He also said that another bus would soon pull in to take those on to California if his bus was full.
I looked back and saw people at the end of the line nodding to each other and smiling. Ten minutes after the bus was supposed to have pulled out of the station the driver opened the door and called out, “Please take your tickets out of the envelope.” I reached down and picked up my suitcase and held my ticket in my other hand. When I stood in front of the door, the wind was blowing hard against my face. At least it wasn’t snowing.
I handed the driver my ticket and he tore his part off and asked me to watch my step climbing on board as he motioned toward his bus. The baggage attendant took my suitcase, looked at the destination tag and placed it in one of the luggage compartments. I sat down on the right side of the bus three seats back from the driver. I put my small pack under my seat and sat down by the window so I could lean against it to sleep.
Slowly other men and women boarded the bus and they decided where they wanted to sit. Each time a family came on board I hoped they’d not sit close to me. Kids on long bus trips were talkative and fussy. I counted 14 children on the bus as they passed my seat but to my relief most walked to the rear of the bus or middle part. After the driver boarded the last passenger, the elderly woman looked down at me.
“If this seat isn’t taken could you help me put me bag overhead?” she asked with a smile and tired eyes. I stood up and told her I’d be glad to help her. After I scooted over and sat down, she sat down next to me. I really didn’t mind because she looked as tired as I was. She sat her white purse on the floor between us and commented on the weather.
“My name is Joyce Koehler and I live in Lodi, California. I’ve been visiting relatives here in Portland and can’t wait to get back home.” she said in a happy voice. “My old bones are aching!” she said with a warm laugh that made me smile. We talked for about 15 minutes about this and that before I saw the driver and his envelope of bus tickets walking toward the bus. We were leaving late. That meant everyone was going to get to where they were going later.
Plus the amount of snow on the highways or black ice would delay us even more. Hopefully the sand trucks would keep the roads passable. The bus driver stopped a moment to talk to a baggage attendant and I could hear the impatience in the voices of other passengers. Joyce asked me why we hadn’t left yet and I looked over and told her I didn’t know.
Finally the bus driver boarded the bus and sat down in his seat. He leaned forward and pulled the door closed. After he turned the engine on everyone could begin to feel the heat coming on and it was nice. That was when the driver turned on his loud speaker. “Sorry for the delay folks. We’ll be heading out of Portland shortly. The weather between here and Sacramento will be unsure. Right now it’s snowing in the Siskiyou mountains just before California.
The dispatcher will keep me updated as to weather conditions ahead of us. If I’m told that I can’t go on until the weather clears up, I’ll have to stop at the nearest greyhound station. I know we’re running late and I apologize.
Federal law requires me to remind you that there is no smoking allowed on the bus and that includes the bathroom. That goes for drugs and no alcohol of any kind is allowed.
There’s a restroom in the back of the bus for your convenience and it’s just been serviced. Please keep the lid closed when ya leave. Please keep your cell phone ringers on vibrate and keep your conversations low since many of the passengers are going all the way to Sacramento. I can feel the bus getting warmer for you folks. If it gets too cold or hot please come forward and tell me and I’ll try to adjust the heat.
My name is Frank and I’ll be your driver all the way to Sacramento. Try to get comfortable and I’ll get us on our way.” Frank said before beginning to back up the bus. Even though Joyce and I were tired, we talked for a while and told each other about us. Joyce lived by herself in Lodi, California, a town not too far south of Sacramento. She hoped one day to sell her house and move north closer to relatives, even though the cold ached her bones.
I smiled at her and told her family was important. I was glad as we left the outskirts of Portland and took the on ramp to I-5 that folks were quieting down. I guess when kids get tired and have a full tummy that they tend to fall asleep especially at 2:45 in the morning. The freeway was mostly clear leaving Portland thanks to the snow plows. But black ice is a driver’s worst fear when traveling, not snow under his tires.
It was almost four in the morning when we slowly pulled into Salem. When Frank’s voice came on the loud speaker and the lights came on, he announced we were coming into Salem. It was snowing fat flacks and the street had about an inch of snow on the road as a snow plow with flashing lights cleared the street ahead of us. At the terminal, five passengers got off and two women got on the bus as they anxiously looked for an empty seat.
When they realized they wouldn’t be able to sit beside each other, a young guy in a 49er’s jacket gave up his seat for them. They gave him an appreciative smile and thanked him for being kind to them. I laid my head back against the cushion I had brought along and closed my eyes as the driver shut the inside lights off, closed the door and began backing up the bus.
When I felt Joyce nudge my shoulder, I looked over and she spoke, “Forgive me if I fall asleep and lean up against ya. I’ll try not to.” I just smiled and told her I wasn’t worried. “Just get some sleep Joyce. It’s a long ride to California.” The bus made stops at Corvallis, Eugene and Roseburg. It was almost seven in the morning as the bus headed for Grants Pass.
I couldn’t fall back asleep so I stared out my window. Joyce was asleep and her head lay against my shoulder as I looked over to her and smiled. It was past 8 now and as we began to head down a mountain I could see snowed alongside the road almost up to the top of the guardrail. The road was bare of snow and I knew that wasn’t a good thing. Not only could there be black ice in spots but the buses tires had less traction to slow down going down the winding road.
It was daylight but the sky was cloudy and overcast. I couldn’t tell if it might clear up or if it would start snowing again. When the driver’s bus reached the top of the mountain and began going down the other side I began to worry. The bus was beginning to pick up speed and I could feel the bus was swerving left and then right. The road had black ice on it.
I anxiously looked around and most of the passengers were still asleep. Those who were awake looked back at me with worried eyes. Suddenly the bus slid to the left and when it hit against the guard rail, it hit the guard rail hard. The next thing I knew, the bus flipped over the guard rail and everyone in the bus was tossed from their seats as screams filled the bus. Men, women and children and their baggage were tossed around like clothes in a dryer.
The bus flipped over once before it slid down the mountainside and eventually was stopped when it landed against two large trees. At that moment, no one could see clearly or even move. Every part of my body ached and the bus was filled with the sounds of people moaning and children crying. Parents and loved ones were calling out people’s name.
Some people answered back and some didn’t. The bus landed upside down and everyone was lying on the ceiling. The bus hadn’t caught fire which was good but the strong smell of the chemicals in the restroom tank filled my senses. Some of the bus windows were broken out and I could see some tree limbs poking into the bus. The bus driver was seat belted in; hanging upside down and I heard him calling out for help.
I struggled to get to my feet and made my way like someone drunk to Frank. He was bleeding from a head injury and I could see the pained look on his face. It took every bit of strength from me to push Frank away from his seat belt enough so I could get the seatbelt to release him. As it let go Frank fell on top of me as we both groaned. By now the bus was filled with the sounds of crying as I looked down the bus and saw passengers either injured or holding someone who had passed away.
The wind was blowing through the broken out windows now and what heat had kept us warm was gone. I knew someone had to get back up to the road to flag down a passing car or we’d all freeze to death. “I’m gonna get out of the bus and climb to the top of the road Frank. Some of these people need an ambulance.” I said after I helped get him off of me.
As he nodded, I called out, “I’m going to climb to the top of the road and bring back help. Try to help someone near you and try to stay warm.” I crawled over to the nearest broken out window and crawled out. There was about a foot of snow on the ground and as I looked up the hill I was in shock. I saw a littered trail of luggage and bodies. Not one person was moving.
Although I could see my breath in the air, I saw no breath rising from their faces. For every step up the hill I took, I slid two steps backwards. I was only half way up the hillside when I was startled by the sound of Frank’s voice. As I turned my head and looked behind me, I saw Frank wiping the blood away from his forehead so he could see. “You’re not gonna make up to the road without some help fella. I’ll do what I can to help ya.” he said.
By the time we both reached the guardrail, we were freezing especially our hands. I pulled myself over the guardrail and extended my hand to Frank to pull him over too. But he shook his head no to my shock and instead, handed me his wallet. As I took his wallet I asked him why he was giving it to me. “It’s too late for me and a lot of those folks down there!” he said in a sad face as looked behind him.
As I too looked, I began seeing the ghostly spirits of those lying on the hillside begin rising from the bodies. More spirits were leaving the bus one at a time. “My address is on my driver’s license. Please let my wife know that I love her and hit black ice. I hope as many passengers live as possible.” Frank said before he suddenly began rising into the air and disappeared above the clouds. I didn’t know if Frank had died back in the bus or up by the guardrail. But I was grateful that he had helped me reach the highway as I saw a blue car approaching as I frantically began to wave both my arms.
© 2013 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)
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