Groundhog?

On Friday, July 18 I put my health, sanity and indeed my life in the hands of a rookie Greyhound bus driver for the 9-1/2 hour run from Calgary to Moose Jaw.

We lurched backwards and forwards for a good five minutes as what appeared to be a first-day driver ground the gears, stalled the bus, and generally did everything you shouldn’t do in order to back a bus out of a parking space in an enclosed terminal.

After about one minute of this rocking and rolling my 20-year-old (Parisian) French seatmate, Matthieu, turned to me and said, “He drive… ah… not well?” Although the inflection was on the last syllable, I’m pretty sure he was telling me his opinion rather than asking for mine.

Luckily a second driver stood up to make the on-board announcements and then took over the driving once the rookie had us out of the terminal and onto a main street. The rookie then got off the bus and walked back to the terminal, presumably to delay another bus by another 10 minutes.

Once we were underway the trip was infinitely more enjoyable than my Winnipeg to Calgary run almost two weeks earlier. Unlike the first experience on Greyhound, there weren’t any ex-cons on this bus. And the only child onboard was a girl of about eight who was actually very cute, even if her sourpuss of a grandmother did spend the entire 9-1/2 hours pestering her with, “April don’t (insert any one of the following here: ‘touch that’, ‘do that’, ‘sing’, or ‘lean on me’).

We also made a few less stops on the eastbound run. And since this was a day bus, only a few people slept and the collective snoring was kept to a decibel level below that of the engine.

There was the usual three-minute smoke break every hour and 30 minute breaks in Medicine Hat, Alberta and Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I opted for the cold roast beef sandwich and a chocolate milk at the bus station in Medicine Hat. It was so good that I went back for a second sandwich. (Okay, it wasn’t that good; I was just very hungry after skipping breakfast at the hostel where the Aussies ate Vegemite on toast while I temporarily lost my appetite.)

My favourite stop was the historic Commercial Hotel in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. A sign outside said: “The Commercial Hotel – Your ‘Home on the Range’ since 1885.” I would love to have had a drink at the authentic Western Bar but we were told to be back on the bus in 5 minutes. This was just enough time to unload some packages and change drivers for the next leg.

Once we got rolling Matthieu asked if he could practice his english with me. As my French is poor, we struggled to find words at times, but it sure made the time pass quickly. He explained that he was actually from the south of France, had worked for Van Houtte Coffee in Montreal for two months, and had taken the train from Montreal to Edmonton, and then traveled on to Vancouver and back to Calgary “with Groundhog”. I corrected him on that one, although at the speed we were initially going it was arguably more appropriate than “Greyhound”.

The new driver turned out to be the same 60-ish driver that got me into Calgary so I assume that he drives a 4-hour stretch twice per day – once westbound and once eastbound. I felt that I was in good hands when he took the wheel. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy who had the balls to confront several burly ex-cons who he suspected of smoking in the bathroom on the earlier trip.   They all denied it, of course, but when the driver said that he’d stop the bus and we could all get off and walk to the nearest town if the smoke detector went off again, he had the full attention of the imbeciles in the back half of the bus.

I didn’t buy into his threat, but the ex-cons did and that’s all that mattered. They had the maturity level of 12-year-olds and the gullibility of 4-year-olds.

But that was another bus and hopefully a chapter of my bus-riding career that I won’t have to revisit. This trip was thoroughly enjoyable, even if Matthieu did forget his pillow in the terminal.

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