Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Day 11 – on the right bus
14/03/2009, 17:05
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , ,

Twitchhiker - on the right bus

Whichever fool decided an eleven hour bus ride would be more entertaining with the hangover from Hades, is the same fool who left a third of his clothes in the wardrobe of his room at the InterContinental in Chicago, although this fact wouldn’t come to light until two days later in Wichita. There’s a very nice jumper that was £32 from Burton – it’s yours for a tenner if it’s still there. Room 1807.

The walk from the Magnificent Mile to Union Station in the sharp Chicago air cleared both my head and my mood. Of course I was tired, that was a given – frankly it was a little pathetic that I was so surprised by my ongoing predicament. I genuinely hadn’t considered the implications of having to move on from place to place within 48 hours, and how that would impact on attempting to travel half-way around the planet in 30 days. Then again, I hadn’t considered very much at all before attempting this journey; I dare say if I had, I wouldn’t have even tried.

The stop for the Megabus was right across the street from Union Station, an ornately designed train station, a cathedral for commuters. In the US, the likes of Union Station and New York’s Grand Central Terminal are tourist attractions in their own right; we’ve got the West Cornwall Pasty Company in Kings Cross. It’s hardly fair.

The Megabus was a brand spanking new model, and because it was a double decker there was free wifi all the way to Kansas City. Unfortunately, unlike the Bolt Bus I’d taken from NY to DC, it didn’t have plug sockets; I had an eleven hour journey with a three hour battery life. There was nothing else for it, I’d have to talk to other passengers. Except there were no other passengers, apart for the obese lady three rows behind who kept clearing her sinuses and hocking into a handkerchief. I didn’t want to talk to her. I’d have to undergo this painfully long trial alone.

The odd thing is that it wasn’t a trial at all; I thoroughly enjoyed my day touring the forgotten freeways of the central states. The broken-down diners were populated by every gum-chewing stereotype I’d ever seen on television, the seemingly endless stretches of road swept past lonely shacks and water towers, and battered billboards were filled with bright and breezy 50s style Americana advertising. Throw in a couple of suitably long dozes, a pick-up in St Louis and a moment of jaw-slackening breathlessness as you take in the futurama of the Gateway Arch – and you have a not entirely unpleasant way to pass a Wednesday.

It was Twitter that chose to send me to Kansas City, and while there was plenty of support in seeing me go, nobody much cared what happened at the other end. Like Pittsburgh before it, Kansas City was struggling to show me any love. But the random inter-connectedness of Twitter, the likes of which had seen a singular offer of help from Paris to Frankfurt mesh seamlessly with a flight to New York a week previously, was about to strike again.

The very first offer of help I’d accepted on March 1st was my trip across the North Sea from Newcastle to Amsterdam; that ferry ticket was offered by a girl called Leanne, or @minxlj. Several weeks ago, she’d casually commented on a tweet made by Stephen Fry – as several hundred people do every time Stephen Fry tweets – and her tweet was in turn noticed by an Englishman from Tunbridge Wells called Ben, who went by the Twitter alias of @benasmith. The two of them began tweeting back and forth and became friends. Ben doesn’t live in Tunbridge Wells anymore; he moved ten years ago, to a town called Lawrence – a town 45 minutes west of Kansas City. Leanne tweeted Ben, who brokered a deal with his employers at the local television and newspaper company @ljworld, and Ben tweeted me.

Phenominal. And utterly ludicrous. If you ever require a single example of how Twitter can foster connections and establish trust between otherwise disparate individuals, of how this infrastructure of chaos can provide focus and opportunity, then this is it. I was such a lucky, lucky bastard, it was untrue.

Ben had been suffering from a gall bladder infection, so he wasn’t able to meet me, so instead another Twitter user, @Joey96 offered to pick me up from the “colourful” district of Kansas City where the bus had deposited me. It wasn’t until I was throwing my bags in the back of his car that I became aware how trusting I was of these perfect strangers helping me. I didn’t know the first thing about this man, or even if this was him. My whereabouts were there on Twitter for all to see, yet I happily climbed into the front seat with the first person who offered me a ride.

While driving to Lawrence, Joey explained the history of Kansas and its role as a free state during the Civil War; neighbouring state Missouri had been a slave state, and the road from Kansas City to Lawrence took us through the sites of the war’s most bloodiest battles. And despite the war ending over 150 years ago, there were still people in both states who refused to mix with one another, they were still fighting the Civil War to this day. It was fascinating but I was fading fast; a quick bite to eat at Johnny’s bar and I was ready to pass out once more.


2 Comments so far
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I’m quite envious, holed up on a near-empty newsdesk on a Saturday night, while you criss-cross the US and the world. Although I’m not sure I’d be ready to throw myself at the mercy of the goodwill of strangers, your reports are very uplifting and bring to the fore that there is still room for sharing and giving.
Keep on truckin’ 🙂

Comment by Fredrik

This is a great journey and shows the power of social networking…as well as the kindness of strangers. I used the same concepts on my round the world trip, but not to the extent you have. Safe travels!

Comment by brian from

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