Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chaos in the Cascades

I've heard crazy stories from seasoned drivers and well-traveled passengers about people being arrested on the bus for things like drugs, drinking and violence.  On Thursday night, I got to experience the height of craziness.  It was a night I'll never forget.

I had thought about heading to San Diego on Thursday, traveling down the California coast.  But, when I arrived a half hour before the 1:10 bus was to depart, I was informed that it was sold out and that the next bus would be at midnight.  Instead, I opted to go to Vegas.  That bus would leave at 7:50.  So, after killing the afternoon walking around Seattle, I headed to the terminal. 

I arrived at 7 and the line was already out the door, pouring onto the sidewalk.  The Seattle Greyhound terminal is typical.  The floor is brick colored tile and it is sticky.  There are spills and stains that have been unattended for months.  About 40% of the vending machines and phones have "out of order" signs taped to them.  It is crowded and doesn't smell very good.  I went to the men's room and passed by an African American man standing in front of the sinks.  He had dirty clothes, a red mesh ball cap and was cradling a big oil can of Busch beer.  He was talking to himself and then looked at me and mumbled something.  I just proceeded to the urinal.  I walked out of the bathroom and saw a woman with a cast on her foot using her good foot to push a scooter around the waiting area.  It was a circus.

When I joined the line, people were already agitated.  It was getting close to our departure time and the bus was nowhere to be seen.  At about 8:30, I walked up to the ticket counter.  "Do you know what the deal is with the 7:50 bus?", I asked the guy.  "No.  It's late.  The bus isn't here yet", he nonchalantly replied.  He didn't care.  Nobody really cares, except the people waiting for the bus.

On the sidewalk, there was a cluster of people just hanging out drinking and smoking.  Greyhound stations are popular gathering spots for this kind of activity.  Everyone in line was complaining about the delay.  When I reported to the interested parties that "the bus is late and they don't know when it will be here", people just shook their heads and lit cigarettes. 

I looked forward in the line and saw my friend from the bathroom holding a bus ticket.  I couldn't believe he was going to be on the bus.  He kept working his way back to everyone in line: "you got a cigarette?"  He would wobble as he stood and would stare at people for an uncomfortably long time, his eyes struggling to focus.  Everyone blew him off and he just kept trying.  I figured the security guard would stop him before he could get on the bus. 

That turned out not to be the case.  Our bus finally arrived, just before 9:00 and we started boarding.  The security guard was having a discussion with the man in the red cap, but he let him on.  We all filed on the bus and it was packed.  Before we even left Seattle, I could hear activity from the back of the bus, about 5 rows behind me.  The lady on the scooter and the African American guy were going at it, arguing about space issues.  Things calmed down, but not for long.

About 45 minutes outside of Seattle, we were climbing up toward Snoqualmie Pass and I started to smell cigarette smoke.  This is against the law, as the driver explains at the start of every trip.  "Stop smoking!  You're going to get kicked off the bus!", I heard coming from the back.  It wasn't another passenger chastising the smoker, it was the smoker herself.  The lady with the cast and scooter was yelling at herself.  She flicked her lit cigarette under the seat in front of her.  A college-aged guy picked up the cigarette and ran to the bathroom to throw it down the toilet. 

With all of the hubbub, our driver Curtis, pulled over on the side of the interstate and turned on all the lights.  He made his way to the back of the bus.  "You need to stop smoking or I'll have to kick you off the bus", he told the woman after getting a report from the surrounding passengers.  "Shut up", she told him.  "Shut up and drive the f-ing bus".  The driver just ignored her and went back behind the wheel.

The resolution didn't last long.  About five minutes later, she started kicking her feet against the wall of the bathroom, screaming:  "I don't want to go to Pasco! (Pasco, Washington was her destination)  Just drive the f-ing bus.  Shut up!  Shut up!"  She was talking to herself and getting louder by the minute.  It will forever be a mystery whether it was sheer mental illness or the influence of some strong drugs, but I've never seen anything like it.

It got worse.  "You shut up!  Get your black ass off the bus!"  She was screaming now.  Everyone started standing up and turning around to see what was going on.  She had singled out the Busch drinker and was berating him for no apparent reason.  She was yelling at him and even dropped the big word on him.  People started yelling at her: "Shut up lady!  Settle down".  She had no part of that.  Suddenly, she got up out of her seat and punched the African American man in the mouth. 

Again, the driver pulled the bus over and turned the lights on.  As he came to the back, the woman started charging at him, pushing him.  Curtis was a smallish man and was trying his best to diffuse the situation, but this woman was far gone.  She ran toward the front of the bus.  "Let me off the f-ing bus!  Let me off.  LET ME OFF!" she screamed.  As she made her way to the front gate, a man swung his cane at her head.  They decided to open the gate and let her off.  There was panic and people were screaming, "don't let her off!  She's going to run on the interstate!"  But she took off running up the shoulder of the road.  The driver called 911.

I was trying to get the best view I could, peering out the front window.  I saw the man she had punched chase her down the road and he lunged at her ankles.  Curtis was in tow behind the two of them.  The lunge was successful and all three of them crashed on the gravel berm like linebackers.  Curtis and Mr. Busch were sitting on top of the woman, keeping her from running off.  She was large and violent.  They stayed on top of her for about five minutes until the police showed up.  They immediately cuffed her.  The large officers were able to pick her up and carry her to the cruiser.  I was out on the side of the road watching this go down, at that point, unable to contain my curiosity.

She was bucking and kicking.  They shoved her head into the back of the police car, but she wasn't going in easily.  It took three officers to get her in.  Then, they gathered information for the next 20 minutes.  Everyone was eager to get off the bus to add their two cents, but mostly they were excited about this bonus smoke break.

I was able to snap a couple of blurry shots of the arrest.

We wound up being over 2 hours late.  People missed connections left and right.  One guy was going to have to stay in Stanfield, Oregon until two the next afternoon to catch the next bus going in his direction.  Everyone was given an incident report to fill out.  Most people wadded it up and threw it under the seat in front of them.  Some people did artwork on theirs.  A couple of dutiful people handed in the form.  I did not.  I was tired. 

The rest of the trip went smoothly, but there was a buzz on the bus, and not just the typical chemically induced buzz.  This was a night we would all remember forever.  Nobody got too upset about the delays.  It's Greyhound and "stuff happens".

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