Posted by: TomA | 21 May 2007

Days 24 – 26: Greyhound Bus: San Francisco to Austin

In the morning Becky and I are getting the bus from San Francisco to Austin, Texas. This takes over 40 hours and goes through 2 (I think) time zones. I am planning to write my thoughts through the trip to upload later on, should I make it through sane and alive. At the least, it should be memorable…

  • 11:00 Attempt to check in my bags at the somewhat seedy San Francisco Greyhound station. My carefully packed suitcase has to be briskly unpacked and re-packed into two bags to meet the weight limit. Stressed.
  • 12:30 Bus leaves San Francisco. Rather sad to leave the city behind, I feel as if I’ve only just started to find the real SF.
  • 16:00 We pass through Castroville, CA, the “Artichoke Capital of the World“. It’s true – the surrounding fields, as far as the eye can see, are full of artichokes, and Mexicans picking them. We drive past a giant artichoke (it’s seriously taller than a 3 storey building, albeit made of plastic). Shacks sell deep fried artichoke snacks. More shacks sell artichoke merchandise. We sadly missed the Annual Artichoke Festival by a day. As we pass by, I feel I’ve narrowly missed out on the potential for a whole weekend of artichoke fun, which is obviously a shame. Imagine the artichoke related anecdotes one would have….
  • 17:15 Reading Kerouac’s Big Sur is becoming a surreal experience. Everytime we go through a place on the bus, he starts to write about it.
  • 19:30 Starting to feel a little bored now. The sunset over the mountains around San Luis Obispo was rather pretty.
  • 22:30 We arrive in Santa Barbara, having not eaten anything substantial since breakfast. Dinner ends up consisting of a snickers from the gas station. This does little to satisfy. It also starts to rain, for the first time in ages. Santa Barbara itself looks tame.
  • 01:00 We arrive in Downtown LA, having forgotten in our ecstasy of leaving it a week earlier that we’d be back. The skyscrapers of the tall bank buildings look rather smart though the smoggy fuzz of the night air. They Greyhound station itself is a touch gruesome and full of people.
  • 01:30 I get frisked and thoroughly searched. I’m then reminded not to take weapons, guns, alcohol or narcotics onto the bus. Becky gets through without being frisked – she’s obviously far too nice to be carrying weapons in LA. I don’t notice anyone getting through so lightly.
  • 01:40 We leave this industrial area of LA on a full bus. The people in front are eating marmite (in America?); the guy across (and in) the aisle is snoring. Loudly.
  • 02:50 Earplugs are no match for this guy. I have no idea how he can produce such a horrible noise, so loudly and with every breath.
  • 03:30 The bus pulls in at a Wendy’s, I’ve no idea where. Becky stomaches a kid’s cheeseburger meal; just the smell of it makes mine turn. The rest of the bus returning with stagnant food does nothing to settle my stomach or to help me sleep.
  • 06:30 The sun rises over the Arizona plains. Sleep becomes impossible once more.
  • 08:30 We arrive in Phoenix, AZ and change my watch to “Mountain Time”. A reasonably wholesome breakfast of yoghurt and cereal is found amongst the oily hotdogs and burnt coffee.
  • 08:50 I make a friend in the gent’s toilets in Phoenix. He’s an elderly black gentleman who addresses me as sir; I provide him with with some toothpaste as I try and wash in the rather grubby sink.
  • 09:30 Back on the bus and joy! We manage to snag the seats by the emergency exit with twice the leg room.
  • 16:00 Finding food is becoming ever more difficult. At least in the wilderness you can forage; on a bus your only hope is a gas station. A truck stop somewhere in New Mexico brings the joy of dried fruit and nuts. The rest of the bus bring back those scary looking hot dogs that sit and roll in grease on those rollers. Why do they need to be so shiny? The obese woman opposite, cradling 3 of these monstrosities on her ample gut, attempts to start a conversation in Spanish with me. I do my best to mumble something back and feign sleep.
  • 16:50 The scenery hasn’t changed for as long as I can remember. Long gone are the sweeping, lush green hills of California; now we’ve had over 8 hours of flat and sandy desert plains flanked by unimpressive mountains.
  • 17:20 Tumbleweed blows across the road in front of the bus. This provides the highlight of my day.
  • 18:30 I think we’re in El Paso, Texas and we change buses again. This time we’re stuck at the back near a bunch of bratty kids, the air conditioning is buggered and it’s bloody hot outside.
  • 22:15 US Border Patrol stop the bus, presumably to make sure we’d not picked up any Mexicans on the way. We may have crossed into Mexico and come back, I’m not sure. Sniffer dogs find nothing, nor do the Army personal looking around and under the bus. The official that boards to check documentation seems confused by our presence with British passports but is easily persuaded (because we don’t look Mexican). He’s happy to let anyone white or black simply say they’re a US citizen and let it pass; but when a Hispanic man says the same, he’s asked for documentation and then promptly removed when he can’t.
  • 23:30 Deja vu. We enter a truck stop that is IDENTICAL to one we went in earlier, down to the location of every last candy bar, every pack of chips, every can of soda. I have no idea if this is one we’ve been to and we’ve spent the past ten hours driving in one huge circle. I am totally disorientated, hungry and tired. I buy a gross chicken sandwich from Wendy’s and eat it before I can think about it.
  • 07:30 We arrive in San Antonio, TX. It’s unbearably hot and muggy outside. We’ve a couple of hours, so head out to find some breakfast. Expecting huge Texan breakfast portions, I’m more than a little disappointed when my granola from the coffee shop simply comes in a large bowl, with two pathetic spoonfulls of crumbs, sitting lonely at the bottom. Too tired to complain, but sulk anyway.
  • 09:30 Get on our final bus to Austin. Try and sleep, but fail completely.
  • 11:30 Austin! The Greyhound station is in the middle of nowhere, with no signs or information on public transport or how to get downtown or anywhere else. This is the same as every other Greyhound terminal we’ve been in. At least the majority of the signs here are in English, in some they’d all been in Spanish, which confused me a bit.


  1. So you’d recommend a long Greyhound trip then as a good way to see the US. Sounds fun!

  2. “11:30 Austin! The Greyhound station is in the middle of nowhere, with no signs or information on public transport or how to get downtown or anywhere else. This is the same as every other Greyhound terminal we’ve been in. At least the majority of the signs here are in English, in some they’d all been in Spanish, which confused me a bit.”

    As an FYI for readers, behind the bus station there is are the Duval and Red River lines. They go to downtown.

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