One of the things I decided I was going to study while I was living abroad was the culture of the place I was calling home. As my field of study is literature and art, it seemed very important that more than just read about it, I should go out and experience everything this big and diverse country has to offer.
Some years ago, while still living in São Paulo, I met a guy through a website called Couchsurfing.org. He was supposed to be hosted by me, but something happened and I was not able to host him. Anyway, we kept in touch and we found out we had a lot of ideas and projects in common. When I got here, even though we were living 1.833 km or 1.139 miles apart, I decided I should take a break to go there and visit him. He gave me the green light and plans started to unfold.
One of the decisions I made was that I was not flying there. It would be time-saving but I don’t like airports and the tickets were not so cheap, since I would be flying from and to regional airports. I made up my mind I was going to get there by bus. There is a bus company here called Megabus. It is one of the few companies they have and the buses are very good, double deck, skyview roofs, they have wifi and plug outlets, so I could be using my phone or computer all the time without fearing the battery would run low. The buses are clean and on time. Enough reasons to convince me it would be interesting to plan a road trip.
My friends here were curious about it. The culture of traveling by bus is not widespread. One should drive, as they all have their cars or they fly places. It sounded like an adventure even for the people who like adventures. And the most important thing was to be very thorough in my planning. I didn’t want anything to go wrong and leaving whatever to chance was not an alternative.
I had few options, from Gainesville it is either Atlanta or Orlando. As I had to go north, Atlanta was the first destination. From there, more options were available. I could go more to the north or west. It was what I did: from Atlanta, the next stop would be Memphis (with one short stop in Birmingham, Alabama). From Memphis, the next destination would be St. Louis. It is one city extreme east of Missouri, almost Illinois. From there, it would not take much time to cross the state and get to my destination. After making sure that would be the best way, I had to buy the tickets, as they sell only from point to point, not from origin to destination. It would be fundamental to pay attention to the boarding times so that I had shorter layovers but time enough to get there even taking some delay into consideration. The trip to go was perfect: leaving Gainesville at 1.45pm, getting to Atlanta 6.50pm and leaving at 10.45pm. I would make it to Memphis at 4.40am and the bus to St. Louis would leave at 6.10am. I would be there from 10.50am to 12.30pm and it would give me time to have lunch and at 7.20pm I would reach my destination. Total: 28 hours. Not that bad. I would have books to read and study and my friends on the phone.
Gainesville and Atlanta
As usual, I left the packing process for the last minute, so I forgot two things: my umbrella and a sweater. It was hot here and I was late, so I took some pasta and fruits as I had no time to have lunch. The trip was uneventful and I interacted with no one. On my way there, I remember my friend David was living in Atlanta and I thought of sending him a text message and it worked. He was going to have dinner with a friend who was visiting and I was welcome to join them. I told them about my adventures and the others I had already had. We had good food and beer. His friend Shirley was an adorable person. They drove me to the station where I was getting the bus and there I was, on the road again.
We arrived in Memphis so early, I had slept through most of the night. I had a semi-drunk friend texting and it was very nice chatting with him. When we got to the stop, nothing was open, the bus dropped us outside the bus station. It was cold and I thought how stupid I had been of having forgotten a sweater. I just had to get some t-shirts and use them to wrap around my arms. Soon we were going to St. Louis. It was nice I interacted with some people who were there waiting for the same bus.
I walked away from the stop, towards downtown and the arch. I saw important buildings and a park. I was looking for a cheap place to eat. Also, on my way back I had to find a place to sleep there because I would arrive at 1.20am and leave at midday. I went to some hotels, even some very creepy-looking ones and they were very expensive. I walked many blocks, always paying attention to the time to go back and get my next bus. Lunch was a wrap and tea. And on the road again, going to Kansas City.
Kansas City – Sat night
I tried sleeping on the bus, but there was a guy listening to loud music. No one seemed to care so I tried to ignore it. We got there without any incidents and I texted my friend. It was 7.20 and he told me he would be picking me up at 8. So I started reading. At 8.30 he texted me he would be late. No wonder. He had some problems with Google Maps, an exit that did not exist and he got there 9.20. I was a little shirty because of the long hours traveling and my patience was running low. Let’s try my GPS to get to the hotel. The first adventure starts. We were driving OK and suddenly my GPS freezes. I reboot the phone and it is back online in time to tell me we should be turning right, out of the highway. He does, like a crazy person. Matter of seconds. Then, we are 2 minutes away from the destination, turn left. All the lanes are closed for repairs. Now what? Well, turn right. And the detour takes forever. When we are on the other side, I tell him, you should turn left, he misunderstands and there we are, past the place, back to where we were. We call the hotel, go all around that 2 mile detour, but with the girl giving us the directions, we manage to get to the hotel. We check in and go to the supermarket, to grab something to eat. After that, shower and I was sleezzzzzzzzz…
Kansas City – Sunday
We woke up and had a mix of things we bought for breakfast and some coffee and muffins the hotel offered. We got ready to have an early lunch with his friend – whose name I can’t remember. I just remember his family was from Thailand. We were going for some Dim Sum at Bo Ling’s. It was the first time I had Chinese like that: they came to the table and offered something. We would accept or decline and pay individually for each dish. After that, we headed for the museum of the city. We saw a lot of paintings and talked about art and about life. It was nice to see some local art and see the people on the streets. There was a park where we walked and even took a nap lying on the grass. Then, we went to an art gallery and finally drove downtown. We had ice creams and he helped me look for magnets. I have a collection of magnets from all the cities I have visited. We decided we were going back to the hotel to get some dinner and maybe go to some bar. And we did that. We went to a bar and a storm started. The winds were fast and it was dark at 5pm. A lot of lightning. There were some pool tables, we started playing and drinking exotic things like a Blood Mary which had celery and bacon, cheese and olives in it. Quite an experience! Then, back “home”, there was a kitchen in the room, so we cooked dinner – chicken, salad and shrimp – and talked some more.
Kansas City – Monday
I woke up a little later and Josiah was not around. I had breakfast and started reading. He came and said he needed to help a guy who he had just met and was having computer problems. We had one more hour and checked out. We drove to a different area, an artsy part of town. We saw a lot of street art and had brunch at Gratitude Café, a delicious and cool vegetarian restaurant. We walked around and then drove to Union Station. It was a very beautiful building, with restaurant and stores and even a science museum. We found the postcards and magnets I wanted and outside there was a fountain. Across the street from it, up a hill, there was a World War I memorial and museum. We walked upstairs and uphill but because it was Monday the museum was closed. Anyway, we had a wonderful view of the whole city.
We were getting hungry again after the exercise and the vegetarian soup, so we looked for a steakhouse and I tasted some of the local cuisine. Ribs and steak and even what they called a triple chocolate brownie (in Brazil we call it petit gateau).
Again, after lunch, it was time to go to the car and take a nap. We still had 20 minutes in the parking lot before the hour expired so we set an alarm and we took forty winks.
There was some time left and we drove to the city market. The bus stop was across the street from it. Most of the stalls and stores were closed but we went to a café and spent time, reading, talking and making friends with the attendant, who wanted to travel the world.
We sat at a square and saw people walking their dogs, exercising and we talked about the future. He dropped me at the station some hours before the bus would arrive. I read till an old lady came and started making conversation. She had a very strong accent but we chitchatted. The bus should be there at 7 something but we had to wait until 5 minutes before the time we should be departing. We were worried.
So, the night before I had been able to reach a hostel I had seen on the net. They said one could only check in between 6pm and 10pm. I was supposed to arrive at 1.30am. Would they be able to check me in? I called and called and when they finally answered, he told no, they wouldn’t. I told him my case, that I would be staying there from 1.30 to 9am and then I would go to the city for some tourism. If I didn’t stay there I had nowhere else to stay, so he said I should call them as soon as I got there, get a cab and he would open the door for me. In the end, he showed me where I was going to sleep and gave me sheets and a towel. I was alone in a room with about ten bunk beds. It smelled ancient. The shower was great and I was protected. The next morning I woke up and left the hostel. I bought some food to have as a brunch, explored the neighborhood and decided to walk downtown instead of taking a bus or a cab. It was a one hour walk. I got to Union Station, spent some time there. The plan was to spend the morning in a park with museums, but I was afraid of not making it back on time. So I stayed around and got my bus to Memphis.
I got to Memphis at 5.30pm. It was raining cats and dogs. I had not needed a sweater up to that point but it was chilly. Also, I had no umbrella. So, I would have to wait about 5 hours for the next bus. And there was not much I could do. The rain eventually turned into drizzle and I decided I was going to explore the surroundings. I had to find a place to have dinner. I started to walk and there was no one around. It was creepy but I was going up Main Street. And after some blocks I realized I was walking downtown-ward. I saw important buildings, squares and the neighborhood looked better. I got to Beale Street, a famous street with many bars and restaurants. I had dinner in a 1950’s style diner, root beer, burger and fries. I got my magnets and decided it was time to go back to the station. Instead of walking, I got the trolley, which also smelled ancient. Only elderly people and tourists were riding with me. It was fun. And when I got back to the station, it started raining again. Perfect timing!
Back to Atlanta, I was going to get the bus after lunch. But I had enjoyed spending time with David so much that I postponed the ticket for the early one the next day and I was going to spend the day and night there. As he was working during the day, I had to find things to do. I went to the Cyclorama, a museum and rotating painting about the Civil War. It was very interesting to know what had happened at that time. It was a bit expensive but worth it. Beside the museum, there was a zoo. It was not so big, but I walked a lot and saw all the animals. Even though it was a weekday there were tons of kids with their parents. Both attractions were in a park and after having lunch and walking a bit more, I went to the park and found a nice tree, under which I laid and took a nap. It was almost time to go to where I would meet my friend. We met, got groceries, as I was supposed to cook him dinner. We cooked and went to the swimming pool, not to swim, just to see the moon and talk. Then, back to the apartment we decided to watch a movie and then slept. On the following day, I got to Gainesville, rode my bike back home and continued working on my dissertation.