When I was a junior in high school, my sister moved away from our home in Michigan to pursue a career in the fashion industry in New York City. I was thrilled that my sister was finally pursuing her dream of living in New York but saddened by the fact that I would no longer see her every day. After our initial trip to move her in, our contact decreased significantly. Navigating a long-distance relationship between a brother and sister was uncharted territory for both of us. I would see her during big holidays but that was about it; I missed having the support of someone who knew exactly what I had gone through.
My freshman year of college, I finally planned a weeklong trip to New York to see the city as my sister knew it. I was so prepared for this trip to change my life and reignite our relationship — but what ended up being the most impactful part of the whole trip was getting there.
I opted for a $30 bus ride rather than a plane ticket because it was all I could afford. The bus was scheduled to depart at 5 a.m. to arrive in New York City 16 hours later. With that much time to waste, I packed my bag with books, enough sleeping pills to sedate a small elephant and a journal for the week.
I arrived at my bus stop at 4:45 a.m. and still remember the brisk morning — I could see my breath as I waited. I stood in line with about 30 other people, many cherishing one last cigarette before the long haul. I remember looking around, curious of everyone’s lives around me.
We’ve finally boarded the bus. After some woman in the front got in a loud argument with the driver for a long 15 minutes, she realized this bus was New York bound, not Newark. I had to wake up an angry man with a moustache and shimmy into the last seat next to him. He made himself comfortable, leaning on my shoulder and loudly snoring — I can still feel his moustache through my shirt. How do men with moustaches date when the sensation of being slightly brushed is so unnerving?
This is going to be a long trip.
We’ve arrived in Cleveland. I don’t think there is anything more boring than watching the Midwest roll by. The man sleeping on my shoulder gets off and I can finally feel my arm again, which is all I’m really excited about. I’m curious what kind of business he had in Cleveland, or what business anyone has in Cleveland.
A woman in scrubs replaces the man with the moustache. I’m excited because if she ends up sleeping on me, I can push her off easier. She immediately introduces herself as Brita, “like the water filter.” I can’t imagine how many times she has had to say “like the water filter” in her life. She asks me why I’m headed to New York and I tell her about my sister. I ask her the same and Brita says she is traveling to New York to meet her father for the first time. She explains her father was “a man who let his dick do the thinking.” Her mother was a librarian knocked up by a traveling businessman, so Brita was raised by a single mother. Brita and her husband were preparing to have a child and she wanted meet her real dad before raising a child of her own.
“He doesn’t know I’m coming, but we started writing letters back and forth about six years ago. He’s a property manager out in Harlem now. I have his address and I’m going to surprise him.”
We share a pack of Starbursts as she continues telling her story. We agree pink and yellow get more hate than they should. I really hope everything pans out for Brita. I’m not sure she knows exactly what she wants to get out of meeting her dad, but I hope she finds it.
We stop in Pittsburgh for a three hour layover. It’s the worst amount of time for a layover — I don’t have enough time to really explore, but I have too much time to simply sit. I lug my backpack and duffle bag to a local restaurant and order some fennel salad that they’re apparently famous for. I wonder what Pittsburgh must be like if a salad can be famous here.
Finally, back on the bus, I manage to secure the front seat on the second level. The seat has additional outlets and extra legroom — I think this is what first class on a bus feels like. I’m so tired of sitting. I admit watching Pennsylvania through a bus window is way more exciting than watching the Midwest. This state is full of beautiful mountains and farms; there is always something new to look at. I try to draw some mountains but I remember I don’t really know how to draw.
I’m at a loss for words right now. From the time we departed Pittsburgh, the bus has been making worrisome noises — the kind you never want to hear from any vehicle. After every successive noise, passengers share worried looks — until there’s a loud boom and the back of the bus fills with thick grey smoke.
We pull over and everybody runs off. I sit on the side of the road in Pennsylvania with a group of 60 or so strangers. It’s cold and it looks like it could rain any second. We may not get another bus for four hours.
I’m beginning to understand why taking the bus is a last resort for many people. Brita finds me and we watch “The Empire Strikes Back” on her computer.
So this is what it feels like to be rescued from a desert island. I opt for back into my glorious first-class bus seat. This time a tall man with long, dark hair and a beard sits next to me wearing sandals, a brown vest and vertically striped green pants. Without saying anything, he hastily begins sketching me. I pretend I don’t notice until he catches me staring.
“You’ve got a weird chin, I hope you’re not coming to New York to be a model.”
A little insulted, I tell him I’m going to New York to pursue my dream of being a foot model for flip-flop ads. He looks confused but seems pretty convinced. The guy introduces himself: Kent is running away from home to be a painter. He looks a little old to be “running away” — “moving out” would have probably been a more accurate phrase. I take a few sleeping pills and drift off.
I wake up to see the bus entering the Lincoln Tunnel. I don’t think people realize how tiring it is to sit in one place for such a long time. Everyone is weary, but there might be some hope in the air.
When we emerge from the tunnel and finally enter New York City, the bus is silent in awe. Eyes fixate on the skyline. It’s kind of humbling — everyone is coming to New York for different reasons, but nobody can deny being totally enchanted by the view.
I have never been happier to reach a destination. I meet my sister. We get a slice of pizza.
After 20 hours, everything falls comfortably back into place — like putting on an old pair of gloves, things fit perfectly just as they had before.
The trip was totally fulfilling. My sister and I fell back into place, and our contact became more frequent and meaningful afterward, which is exactly what I wanted. I think seeing my sister felt even more satisfying because of how long the trip took — but more than anything, I think I have a new appreciation for people taking the bus to New York.