It had been a long time since I took Greyhound. Then the Chicago terminal was in the Loop, on Randolph Street, and the buses entered and exited the Loop by way of that nightmarish subterranean world that was Lower Wacker Drive. In those days, Greyhound allowed smoking in the rear seats. Even if I sat up front, I'd emerge smelling like a three-pack-a-day man. And the person in the adjacent seat always wanted to convert me to some wacky brand of Christianity.
Normally I drive the weekly round trip from Bloomington to Elkhart. But I had driven down in my Subaru, which someone in Bloomington wants to buy, the previous week. So I rode the early train to Chicago, and took the 11:45 a.m. bus from there to Elkhart.
Chicago's main bus station is west of the Loop, at Harrison and Desplaines--just a few blocks west of Union Station, and not too far from the site of Mrs' O'Leary's barn, where a cow supposedly knocked over a lantern back in 1871. It's one of those postmodern steel buildings, where the structural steel is there for all to see. I got in line to buy a ticket and was upset but not terribly surprised that there was only on ticket agent working. There was a woman with two young children right behind me in line--they looked desperately poor--who were trying to get on a bus leaving in a few minutes. I let them go ahead of me in line, as I had another half-hour before my bus left. I think she made it. She was a very personable young woman, and her children were clean and well-behaved.
As soon as that young woman had made it to the ticket counter, Greyhound brought in a second agent, who was much more experienced than the lone agent had been. I had my ticket to Elkhart in less than a minute.
I walked into the waiting room section and sat down on one of the rather uncomfortable wire-mesh benches. A middle-aged woman in a Greyhound uniform was greeting all the passengers, asking them where they were going, and informing them of the proper gate. She was fluent in English and Spanish, and she was clearly an asset to the company. A lot of people seemed confused, and the public address system wasn't always easy to understand.
My bus was about 15 minutes late departing. It was only about half full, so I had a pair of seats to myself. The passengers were young, old, and middle-aged; black, white, Asian, and Hispanic. We rolled through the West Loop area, then headed south to Chinatown, where we got on the Dan Ryan Expressway. We took the Chicago Skyway through the South Side and into Indiana. The first stop was Hammond, at a nondescript building a few blocks south of the Indiana Toll Road. No one got on or off.
Gary was the next stop. Signs proclaimed the city's centennial, which actually occurred last year. In "The Music Man," the fact that Gary wasn't founded until "nineteen ought-six" was what tipped off Marian the Librarian that "Professor" Harold Hill was lying about his academic credentials. But Hill knew that the city was named for "Elbert Gary, of judiciary fame." The statue of Gary is still there, in front of City Hall. Gary had been a judge in DuPage County, Illinois before he became president and chairman of U.S. Steel, and was always known as "Judge" Gary.
Although more than 80 percent of Gary residents are African-American, a young Hispanic couple were the only people to get on. Back on the Indiana Toll Road, we passed by the massive U.S. Steel plant.
The bus seats were surprisingly comfortable. There was more legroom than on chartered buses I had ridden in the past few years. It was pleasant to see the Indiana countryside roll by. We stopped at the South Bend airport for about five minutes, which gave the smokers a chance to feed their habit. I was disappointed to see that all the smokers were younger people.
As we passed north of South Bend, I could see the golden dome of Notre Dame University. It was another half hour to Elkhart. The station there is in a strip mall just off the Toll Road. There's a small convenience store, a sports bar, a mortgage company, and a real estate office there. The latter two offices had signs proclaiming "No Loitering. No Public Restrooms." The bus station itself was open, although no one was manning the ticket office.
All in all, it was a pretty good trip. I arrived on time. There was no smoking on the bus. And nobody tried to convert me.