What do taking a bus and smuggling drugs across the border have in common? They both happened while taking the longer route.
With one of my best friends contemplating going back to Alberta to find work, I am reminded by just how vast Canada is. He is going to Alberta as cheaply as possible, and he plans on taking a string of buses for a trip that will take two to three days in total. It’s uncomfortable bus seats, truck stop food, and the open road for him for an unconceivable number of hours.
Although technology makes travelling incredibly easy with planes and high-speed trains, sometimes it is those uncomfortable bus seats and the people squished around you who make all the difference.
I’m advocating for trying, at least once in your life, to take the long way around. Sure, it is easier to get on a plane and be at your destination in a few hours, but this causes us to lose the human element of travelling. Travelling isn’t just about going to new places, but also about meeting new people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
While my “long way around” experience wasn’t as long as my friend’s, I took a 12-hour bus ride to New York, NY to visit my friends Nat and Jesse (from Miami and Boston respectively). I hopped on the cheapest Megabus I could find ($40), and was loaded into a double decker bus with a criminal level of wifi, considering their advertisement of “FREE WI-FI” haphazardly stuck to the window. Ignoring all of humanity for a few hours was not going to be an option this time.
That’s when I met her.
Barbara just happened to plop down beside me and immediately she turned to me and said, “Sorry in advance… I’m a little hungover.” She then pulled out a foil-wrapped burrito, which, unknown to me at the time, would become her constant companion for the entire 12-hour trip.
I thought she was a little odd; blonde, tall, late-20s, and with a pretty bad case of “resting bitch face.” Barbara had a confidence that I later found out stemmed from her complete and utter lack of consideration for other people’s judgements.
Because of her confidence and my apparent lack of (I was sporting sweatpants and a reclusive vibe emanating from me as I turned my computer screen away from her nosy eyes) I thought her comment would be the extent of our interaction, but before we drove off, she gestured to the middle aged hippie at the bus stop with the patchwork skirt and tells me the woman had tried to buy weed from her. It was then I knew it would be an interesting trip.
I am not one to talk to strangers but the more we exchanged small talk about me handing her Gravol so she wouldn’t throw up burrito all over me, and about her wicked hangover, the more I wanted to. We spoke almost non-stop for the entire 12 hours. I found out she was actually a college professor whose entire family sold weed, some of which she stashed in her seat to smuggle across the border. Barbara was leaving Toronto for New York to see a guy she’d met only two weeks prior after telling him that he was hot from across the street. Her confidence was infectious, and eventually I, in turn, told her my life story.
At every pit stop we were together, dissing Dunkin’ Donuts and popping all the creaks out of our bones. She kept tucking into the burrito, who by this point had become practically another passenger worthy of a separate ticket, as she told tales of throwing garbage out of a moving cab while stalking assholes from a bar who had run up a tab and left them with it.
Barbara had a knack for weaving stories together, and my favourite was about her and her sister running into the ocean from a sheriff trying to arrest them for public disturbance after almost being arrested for drunkenly yelling at an angry coffee store worker. The woman had vehemently insisted that Barbara was lying about getting the wrong change, so in turn Barbara went around drunkenly screaming to the customers that the coffee shop was “an institute built on lies.” Once the woman barricaded the door to contain her until the Sherif arrived, she had barrelled the woman over, thrashing around like some feral fox that animal control was trying to wrangle. Her sister meanwhile was still passed out in a nearby bush.
She said once the sheriff had refused to get into the water to catch them they had smoked up as they waded through the sandbanks all the way back to her beachside hotel.
I was more honest and open with her than I am with a lot of people. We laughed, talked about education, our friends, and life in general with such ease. It felt cathartic to be able to talk about anything with someone you’d never meet again. When we parted, we wished each other a great life.
It felt so reminiscent of Fight Club’s “one serving friends” where, like single-serve ice cream, the people you meet during travel are single serving friends.
Being shoved into a small box for hours with strangers and with nothing to pass the time forces us to communicate. So save some money and try taking the long way around next time you travel. Who knows who you’ll meet?
(Posted originally in my IMPRINT column “A Broad Abroad”, edited for “A Real Adventure”)