Awhile ago I got a bit crosswise with my neighbor and fellow blogger John Calypso about a post he wrote on being careful in bus stations in Mexico. I bristled at the notion that bus stations here were any more dangerous than anywhere else. I know I feel as safe in a Mexico bus station as I do in a US airport, for instance. But why? I think it's because longer-distance buses here in Mexico are the normal way to travel for all kinds of people, even people with cars. The waiting rooms have TVs and little stores and places to sit and have a cup of coffee. They have two classes of bathrooms, ones for two pesos a person which provide tp and soap and towels, and are quite immaculate and free ones which don't have the paper products but which are generally clean. In the US, however, many depots are places most of us do our utmost to avoid: they tend to be filthy, smelly, and, yes, often crowded, but with people who have no alternatives available or affordable. Ticket sellers and the like are curt and on edge.
John Laroquette, famous for his role in Night Court quite a number of years ago had a follow-up show called, surprisingly, The John Laroquette Show which was set in the St. Louis, MO bus station. It was very, very funny, and particularly to me since I had a nodding acquaintance with the place. I used to work in a state hospital (mental) (if I'm not mistaken, the only places so politely referred to as state hospitals were mental hospitals) in southern Illinois, right across the river from St. Louis where I lived.
Anyway, every now and then we would find ourselves with a patient from a place you needed to take a long-distance bus to get to. We weren't into funding plane tickets. So when someone was stable enough to more or less behave himself on the bus, one or another of us, including yours truly, would drive him over to the St. Louis bus depot and stay with him long enough to ensure he was safely on his way away from us and preferable across even more state lines than the one which divided Illinois from Missouri.
The TV show looked at the St. Louis bus depot in an almost realistic way, but not really. It wasn't anywhere near as sad or unnerving as the real thing. In the real thing, you didn't see many people aside from stray social workers like me and poor college students and the like who looked like anyone even close to middle class. You saw street people hoping not to be kicked out into bad weather, junkies, mentally ill people shuffling and talking to themselves, strange single men who looked like the best place they'd lived in a long time was a room in a seedy boarding house. You saw prostitutes past their prime. You saw raggedy women clinging to raggedy little kids. You saw people casing the joint on the off-chance they'd find someone who might want to buy a joint or a hot watch or who might, just might, have a wallet with a little cash hanging loose in his pants pocket. When I went, I brought only the barest minimum to pay for the patient's ticket. I stuck my driver's license in a shoe or some place like that. I was on the lookout because by virtue of my good fortune, I was a target. I backed off and sauntered away when people who seemed like they had stuff to sell seemed headed in my direction. And I made sure I didn't have to go to the bathroom, the odors from which drifted out for all in the waiting room to enjoy.
I have to say I have had much better experiences with buses in the Northeast corridor of the US. In the Northeast, many more people use buses along the Boston-New York routes, for instance. And while I still would be exceedingly careful with my belongings, I think it's fair to say you can be a lot more comfortable in those buses. My favorite line in the northeast is Peter Pan. (I have never ridden the line called PUTA whose buses I see in Springfield, MA.) All the Peter Pan buses are named after characters in the Disney movie, their cheerful pictures pasted on the outsides. Peter Pan provides service equivalent to standard ADO rides and is just fine. But that's the Northeast for you. Always have had decent mass transit, at least for as long as I've been around.
While the US probably can't suddenly provide high-speed trains criss-crossing the country, I can't for the life of me understand why under this new stimulus package Obama and friends can't develop decent local, intermediate and long-distance bus service a la the Northeast, or even better, a la Mexico where it is decent and affordable for a lot of folks. The luxury lines here are, for those who have a little bit of spare change, quite posh and still very, very reasonable.
And here is a picture of the St. Louis bus station that I took people to in the early 1990s. I'm not sure it's still standing. It was in a marginal area of the city. is the link to the original.
Below is a picture of the outside of CAXA, the long-distance Xalapa bus terminal, link here.
Below is a picture taken from a site called Cyberbuses of TAPO, the bus terminal in Mexico City which services the eastern part of the country.