If you're looking for the opposite of the Republican National Convention, you can't do much better then taking a Greyhound overnight from Tampa to Charlotte. It's cheap, it's small-scale, and it's exactly the opposite of exclusive—older white men and the wealthy are nowhere to be seen. There are a lot of single moms, and as opposed to the white-collar criminals you'll find at the RNC, the ex-cons on a Greyhound have actually done time in real prisons. The Greyhound station in Atlanta, in fact, is directly across the street from the Department of Corrections. This morning, a shrieking woman left the Department of Corrections and started to walk toward the Greyhound station ("EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE") until she was intercepted by a screaming man ("AAAAHHH! AAAAAGGHH! AAAAAAAAAARGHAGGGH!"). They then walked down the street, away from the Greyhound station, screaming together (EEEEEEAAARGH! EEEEEEAAARGH!").
So far as Greyhound is concerned, Atlanta is directly between Tampa and Charlotte. It's where they stick you on a layover for an hour or three as you wait for your connection to come in. Before I started my 17-hour trek, I suspected that I wouldn't hear anything about politics at all. I was wrong; everyone was talking about Clint Eastwood and the empty chair where Obama was supposed to be. They thought it was fucking hilarious. The TV stations in the bus terminals were showing CNN, which was apparently running footage of Eastwood's chair interview on a 24-hour loop, with Anderson Cooper smirking at it last night, and the Saturday morning news host presenting it straight-facedly this morning. And when my bus was leaving South Carolina, the people sitting around me couldn't believe the billboard they saw, with an Obama head poorly Photoshopped onto the body of a baseball player. The sign warned us that Obama now had three strikes against him—no hope, no jobs, no something else I didn't catch. "Look at that shit," the man in the seat in front of me said. "Look what they're saying about Obama." The billboard pissed everyone off.
I have no idea how the DNC will go, but I can tell you that the speakers at the RNC did not mention the people on these buses even once. They don't care about Greyhound riders. They don't give a shit about the man who had his license suspended in Florida and was desperately trying to get to New York to get a job as a driver before electronic news of his suspension made it up to NYC. ("I'm 66. It's not like I'm going to learn how to do anything else," he told his friend.) They don't care about the homeless or the mentally ill who have no other way of getting from city to city. They don't care about the guy who works in Orlando for Disney theme parks because the money's too good to refuse, even though he commutes by bus once a week to be with his family and girlfriend in Charlotte. This is poverty—the kind of poverty that people like Sean Hannity scoff at—and it's very real.
Yesterday, over lunch in Tampa, I heard a man lecture his wife for what was probably the ten thousandth time. "People who don't have health insurance can still get health care," he said, adding, "doesn't sound like a crisis to me." I wish I could've pulled him out of that air conditioned diner and made him spend almost a day of his life riding to Charlotte with me. If anyone on that bus had an unexpected illness, they would be ruined forever. Some of them probably are already thousands of dollars in debt because of cancer, or a broken bone, or a difficult pregnancy.
So, no: I would not recommend riding a Greyhound to anyone. I did it a lot when I was a lovesick kid in Maine and the woman I loved lived in Boston. And I took the bus everywhere when I was younger—Memphis, Colorado, Vermont, New York, D.C. But post-9/11 security theater has even hit buses—you get wanded for metal weapons every time you board a bus, and they make you stand there while they put on rubber gloves and go through every pocket of your bags—and the routing seems even more convoluted and inconvenient than it was a decade ago. But the point is that most people don't have a choice. They use Greyhound because they have to. And they don't have a choice but to live paycheck to paycheck. And that's something that the Republicans I listened to all week simply don't understand. Or, worse, they simply don't give a shit.