I knew there would be trouble as soon as I asked the ticket guy in the Butte, Montana bus station for a luggage tag. He asked where I was going and I said, “Terre Haute. Indiana.” He looked at me like I was speaking some ancient Mayan dialect or just kidding around, apparently expected me to tell him where I was really going. I said, “No, seriously, Terre Haute, Indiana. It’s in the United States.” The driver of the bus I’d just disembarked happened to be passing by and turned and laughed. This did not bode well but I thought I’d be able to handle it.
I’d been through this before, early in the fall I made this same trip and returned with two bags, one with my personal items in it and the second with fifty pounds of wonderful Idaho Russet Burbank potatoes tucked into odd pieces of clothing for protection. I was traveling full fare then so I was allowed two bags, fifty pounds each, and there’s just no reason to come back from Idaho without as many potatoes as you can legally carry. In Butte, that time as we were in process of boarding the bus, the driver looked at my ticket and saw that I was going to Terre Haute and shook his head sadly as he motioned me to step aside. I had mixed feelings about this, it was sort of like being shunted to a different boxcar at Auschwitz, you don’t know whether to run or be relieved. But when he sorted out the other passengers he asked me to go with him and find where my luggage was on the bus. This seemed odd but I helped, and sonofagun, my luggage was nowhere to be seen. I’d had it in my hands only moments before! and finally the driver spotted two bags on carts shoved out of the way in the loading zone, groaned and said, “What the hell are they doing there?” and loaded them on the bus himself while the baggage handler fellow stood by with an expression that said, Whut? It’s not my job, no one knows where Terre Haute is. So that time my bags came through to Denver along with me, and all three of us passed safely from the Jefferson Lines to Greyhound where they make you transfer your own luggage and now I completely understand why. I’m the one who knows where I’m going.
But this second time my driver was dealing with a greater issue and my luggage was on its own, so it didn’t work out quite the same way. The last guy in the ticket line apparently had some sort of problem, possibly had to do with not wanting to provide a photo ID, which is required now and although at many stops this is totally ignored, any driver who really does his job is supposed to check this. All I know is that something happened that wasn’t pleasant, because this poor fellow walked up to the bus door all sad and repentant and the driver whooshed it closed right in his face. If you want to ride the bus, be aware of this, the drivers are totally in charge and if you piss them off they don’t have to let you on the bus. Just before we left the driver was talking with the station manager about this issue, and I think I remember what he said fairly accurately.
“No! I’m not taking him! He’s fucking lucky I didn’t fucking choke him out! Tell him he’s the one who’s fucked! Fuck me, hell, tell him Fuck You!” So I figure something unpleasant might have entered that conversation and drivers today are stressed anyhow. (About eight hours later when the driver calmed down he phoned home to the station and let the manager know that IF the young fellow had his shit together tomorrow, he’d let him on the bus when he came back through.)
How this concerns my luggage problem is that while my driver was distracted by this young man’s challenge to his authority, my duffel bag got sorted out and left on a cart in the parking lot because everyone in Butte, Montana, knows that Terre Haute isn’t a real place, or at best it’s somewhere in Canada and the bus going north doesn’t leave until 9 a.m. In Denver where passengers transfer from Jefferson to the real Greyhound and take control of their own luggage again, mine was nowhere to be seen. I talked it over with the driver and oh well, neither of us was surprised and he said it would probably be along about 24 hours behind me.
In a way this made my trip easier, because in the Denver station Homeland Security people sometimes come through and stage anti-terrorism events just for fun and then for awhile everyone has to obey the rules and you can’t leave your luggage unattended or it is considered a bomb threat and the security guy takes it to the glass walled office at the side of the lobby. I have wondered about this, because it seems more lethal to put a bomb in the glass-walled office than to leave it in the lobby, maybe they should at least have one of those bomb-proof pits to store such things, but who am I to suggest practical stuff. Even though my duffel bag was a day behind me, I did not have to manage it and my carry-on while I was trying to pee, so this was good.
Somewhere in Kansas, our next driver politely waited five extra minutes during a rest stop at a Pilot store while two young ladies managed to somehow be fashionably late and snarked at him as they came back aboard with Slushy Cups and hamburgers, “Oh, we are terribly sorry, we cost you five whole minutes!” They did not say this sincerely and it totally pissed off our driver, who replied “Yes! Five minutes! You cost me five minutes! Five minutes!” and then he swallowed his anger and started up the bus. So when I did get to Terre Haute I already had a plan, knowing that my luggage was lost and not wanting to be banned from Greyhound Bus Lines for ever and ever. As soon as I got off the bus I told the driver about the luggage problem and suggested maybe we just skip looking for it because we both know it isn’t there, duffel bags do not magically teleport. I saved him five minutes and he was very happy.
I did not start to worry about my luggage until I got home and read the fine print. Probably people should read the fine print before they lose their luggage but no one thinks of this ahead of time. Greyhound agrees to pay up to $250 for lost luggage but of course that may not happen because there are potential arguments about actual contents and worth. This process will not begin for two weeks, during which Greyhound will try to find your luggage. Since several different bus lines are potentially involved and each will have slightly different rules regarding lost items and compensation, it’s easy to see how this might get really complicated. Jefferson Lines, the company that lost my bag, even charges a storage fee for unclaimed luggage. All this is sufficient reason to make a note of every driver’s name and route if you travel with them, and please please do not piss them off, they are doing impossible jobs very well.
But I started thinking about my duffel as I filled out the lost luggage form online, and realized how unlikely it was that I could actually replace the contents or even get the full $250. I don’t own normal things. How do you value five French Army winter hats? Who will even believe that you also have a Basque wool beret valued at thirty dollars and a tenor recorder worth forty? Should I even admit this? I became gloomy very quickly as I made a mental list of all the things in that bag. A wonderful brand new wool pea coat! Equivalent costs $200! but this one was made in 1950 and smells a lot like mothballs and only cost me $22.50, I will never find another deal like that. All my stuff was the result of good deals that will never happen twice! I am screwed.
I was surprised the next day when Greyhound called my home phone to say that they had a green duffel bag with my name on it at the Terre Haute station and I could come by between noon and 4 Monday through Friday to get it. I hadn’t expected this, I thought it would be circulating through Canada for at least a few months, looking for the mythical Terre Haute. I could have been a cranky bitch and demanded that they ship it by UPS, but it’s only a thirty mile drive to Terre Haute and I got free parking in the student lot across the street because the attendants aren’t back to school yet, yay! The bus people were really happy I came to get it, losing a bag is almost as bad as losing a person, and if they have to ship the bag the company makes negative money on your fare.