October 23 - 26, 2005: Back To Missouri
My new life as a novice aid worker started off with a bang. I have hated flying for years and have used Amtrak whenever possible. But since I was going one-way to an extremely remote area, the logistics of ground travel became somewhat complex. The plan was to take Amtrak overnight to Chicago, take a nine-hour Greyhound bus from Chicago to Rolla, MO, and finish off the trip with a one-hour cab ride to my parents' farm in Salem. When my uncle heard about this plan, he insisted on picking me up at the bus station in Rolla, which would save a rather chunky cab fare, but introduced some potential problems since he did not have a phone and my parents' farm is out of cellphone range.
The problems started when the train to Chicago was delayed four hours due to freight congestion caused by damaged track that was caused by a derailment. This caused me to miss the bus connection to Rolla. I left a message on my mother's voice mail, hoping she would be able to contact my uncle so he wouldn't be waiting at the bus station in vain. Since I figured it was best to keep moving, I took the Texas Eagle train to St. Louis. But since it would not arrive until 8PM, the next bus I could catch to Rolla didn't leave until 3AM with a nasty 5:30AM arrival time. But...keep moving.
The train to St. Louis was uneventful, although the Viewliner cars (unlike Superliner cars used on East-coast routes) do not have electrical outlets, making it impossible for me to do any work on my laptop. A lady on the train from St. Louis was not entirely certain where the bus station was, however I wondered whether it could be accessed via the Metro light rail that is a block away from the train station and she said that might work. On arrival in St. Louis I began walking to the Metro station and was followed by a pesky homeless guy who, thankfully, ended up being harmless.
Although there was a Metro employee at the station and a number of people waiting for the train, no one seemed to know where the bus station was. One gentleman suggested the convention center stop on the train, and finally, a nice lady said her bus passed right by it and she would show me the way. The weather was starting to get cold and the bus took about half an hour to arrive, but... keep moving.
Taking Greyhound is a unique cross-cultural experience for those of us who try to remain cloistered in middle-class existence. All the folks that can't afford cheap air fairs take buses, as well as people from all those remote rural towns that aren't serviced by air travel. The bus station was a converted 1927 Cass Bank building that turned out to be nowhere near a Metro stop. The initial impact of the relatively well-preserved rococo bank interior, inhabited by the huddled masses (including a family of Amish) and lit by garish modern (sodium) lamps (i.e. street lamps) was somewhat overwhelming, considering that I was at diminished mental capacity from 30 hours of travel. I bought a ticket and tried to get some sleep (on seats designed to keep people from sleeping on them). Finally, around midnight, I decided to give into biology, take a cab to a hotel room, and... stop moving.
The Econo Lodge was a dirty but good choice, I got up at 7AM and took a cab back to the bus station and got on the 9AM bus...which was 30-minutes late. My 55-pound bag was 5 pounds over the weight limit and I pulled out some books to save myself $25 (clandestinely replacing those books before boarding the bus). However, I was not entirely certain what I would do when I got to Rolla. I had left a message on my mother's voice mail about my approximate arrival time and in transit to Rolla she got the message and left a message for me that she would come pick me up...if she could find the bus station.
Turns out, the bus station was a parking lot in back of a McDonald's just off the interstate. There are very few people that take the bus to Rolla and, accordingly, no one knows where the bus station is...because there is no bus station. So, my mom is driving around Rolla, asking folks in stores where the bus station is and getting contradictory answers. I asked a cashier at the McDonald's, got the name of the street in front of the restaurant and called mom. However, I misunderstood the street name I was given and when she didn't show up in 15 minutes, asked again and got the correct name. Finally...48-hours later we had contact, and drove back to Salem, packed up the car and, via the Hilcrest in in Sheridan, AR, headed back to Louisiana.