A Greyhound bus Thanksgiving travel adventure

When we walked into the Greyhound bus station in downtown Columbus today a little after 12 pm to buy my dad a one-way ticket to Cincinnati, he asked my daughter if she’d ever been to the station. “Nooo,” she said, her voice implying disdain, as if, why in the world would she ever have the reason to go there. My daughter is 15, so you can imagine. It’s the way they talk.

My son, who is 5, proclaimed that the station looked like an airport. Sure enough, it was like an airport on a holiday weekend, except there were no announcements over a load speaker every few minutes. There were lines that snaked around almost to heading out one door before coming back in another and there were the delays, we’ve all come to know with airport travel. Buses are also part of the mysterious delay game. My dad’s bus had yet to arrive. For some reason, buses out of Cleveland were 2 hours late leaving there. That was creating delays on down the line. Since a bus can’t claim air traffic congestion, I wondered what was the problem. No one at the bus station seemed to know.

For my dad, who flew from Stewart airport in Newburgh to Detroit and then to Columbus, arriving a little after 10 this morning, this delay did not do wonders to his holiday travel. His travel already survived a few snafus. The flight out of Stewart was overbooked, and he didn’t have a seat assignment. This was because, according to him, he didn’t book through Northwest’s Web site. He refused the offer of a flight a few hours later which would have routed him through Atlanta and back to Columbus. Since he held firm, the ticket person was able to get someone to agree to be bumped in my dad’s place. Good deal for them. A free ticket anywhere in the United States.

Then there was the delay leaving the Detroit airport. But, all in all, the trip was not too bad. He was waiting outside the airport at Baggage Claim when I drove up about the time I thought he’d get in after I checked the flight status. Picking him up was a matter of swinging into a spot next to the curb and swinging back into the line of cars heading out of the airport once he and his bags were safely inside the car.

After a quick visit, here we were at the bus station trying to find out information about what was going on with the bus so he could make it to his sister’s in northern Kentucky. The ticket sellers had no idea what was going on. One person told me that when she asked about a later connecting bus from Cincinnati to Louisville, she was told by a personnel guy that he didn’t have the information. Perhaps he was unfamiliar with using Greyhound’s Web site. Funny, because that’s how I found out about the 12:20 bus out of Columbus.

Eventually, a bus was brought in to start from Columbus and head to Cincinnati with as many passengers as it could fit, although the driver was surprised because he never drives that route. My dad and about six others didn’t make it on the bus. It was unclear how long the bus from Cleveland would be. Harumph!

But, at this point, things got more interesting. In between giving my kids money for Cheetos and a bottle of lemonade out of the vending machine so I could get change to put more money in the parking meter, I was chatting it up with a guy who heads to Cincinnati via bus quite often. He said with the price of gas, it was much cheaper than driving there. He’s also interested in living overseas so we talked about the pros and cons of that. After a bit, it felt like we’d become traveling pals–even though I wasn’t going anywhere.

After discovering he was going to be left behind, still at the mercy of Greyhound, the guy decided to drive to Cincinnati and that he would take the two women, who had been unable to get information earlier, and my dad with him if they’d chip in for gas. Since the guy lives near the bus station, after my dad got back all but 20 percent of the cost of his ticket, I dropped him off next to the guy’s red pick-up truck. The two women were already tucked in the seat in back. We waved as they drove off, shouting Happy Thanksgiving. I never caught this guy’s name, but he has an awesome smile.

Right about now, the TANK bus, the commuter line from Cincinnati to Florence, Kentucky, should be arriving at Sears at the Florence Mall. Hopefully, my dad is on that bus since his sister is waiting for him there. My dad’s trip back from northern Kentucky on Friday should be a lot easier. I’m driving down to get him.

Here’s how Greyhound bus ticket refunds work, in case you’re in a similar situation. Round-trip tickets are good for one year, so if you think you’ll use the ticket later on, hang onto it. One-way tickets are good for 6 months. You can get a refund of all but 20% of the cost of the ticket. That’s my understanding of it anyway. The woman connecting in Cincinnati to Louisville chose to hang onto her Columbus to Cincinnati ticket for later and will use the Cincinnati to Louisville portion today. I hope she makes it in time for the turkey.