Thursday, August 20, 2009

Well, at least the name's spelled right over there (Greyhounds of London)

Over the last five years, I have completed two cross-country trips from the Los Angeles area to the Chicago area. For the first trip, back in 2005, we went by car (although I interrupted my vacation in the middle of the trip, flew to Texas for that year's IAI conference, then rejoined my family in the midwest). For the second trip, earlier this summer, we went by train.

I've never traveled cross-country by bus. I almost took a short bus trip in 2005, because by the time I returned to Chicago from Texas, the rest of my family had already moved on to northern Wisconsin. I contemplated taking the bus from Chicago up to Wisconsin, but because of my business travel I had my laptop with me, and I didn't relish the fact of having a laptop on a Greyhound bus. So I ended up booking a one-way car rental from Chicago to Minneapolis, turning the car in, and then rejoining my family. (That was the trip in which I experienced an authentic Wisconsin dinner in the Holiday Inn.)

I think that the last time that I took a bus was in the early 1980s, when I was at Reed College and wanted to visit family in the San Francisco Bay area. I forget whether I took the Gray Rabbit or the Green Tortoise, but it doesn't matter today, since the tortoise bought out the hare. If you're unfamiliar with these modes of transportation, here's a description:

Back in the early 1970s, numerous one-bus operators in the San Francisco area would fill their vehicles from local "ride boards" for different destinations. Most of these operators traveled as quickly as possible to their destinations - like the "Gray Rabbit," which journeyed across the country in three and a half days, stopping briefly to allow passengers to hunt for cafeteria food.

Entrepreneur Gardner Kent devised a different route for his "Green Tortoise," a weary green school bus which took five and a half days, stopping to camp out in national parks, relaxing in hot springs, and cooperatively cooking fresh food at their campsites.

After years of competition, just as in Aesop's fable, the "Tortoise" beat out the "Rabbit" by taking its time and considering not only the destination, but the sights and activities along the way. Gardner bought out the Gray Rabbit and cornered what was then called the "hippie bus" market.

The Portland to San Francisco route was a little more straightforward - we just shot down Interstate 5 - but it was certainly different from your Greyhound trip. And, by the way, I wasn't worried about taking my laptop on the bus - laptops didn't exist then! (My computer of choice at the time was a DEC PDP-11/70, which didn't come in a laptop model.)

The Green Tortoise never was a real threat to Greyhound, which itself acquired a competitor along the way. And Greyhound certainly continues to exist today as a slice of North Americana, along with baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. (Dave Winer recently asked, "do they still make Chevrolets?")

Well, hold yer horses, pardner, because the Greyhound has swum across the Atlantic:

FirstGroup, the large British bus and train company that bought Greyhound’s parent company in 2007, said Wednesday that Greyhound buses would start service between London and two coastal towns beginning Sept. 14. The company plans to add more routes next year.

“Greyhound has been an icon of American life, carrying millions of people across the U.S.A. and Canada,” the chief executive of FirstGroup, Moir Lockhead, said in a statement. Since 2007, “we have hoped to bring this famous brand across the Atlantic.”

If nothing else, this British presence settles a nit-picky issue with the bus service. You see, I am an American (although some people have misunderstood my old "Ontario Emperor" pseudonym and thought I was Canadian). And Americans know how to spell words. None of these extra u's in words like "color." (The link goes to a blog written by a Canadian who is employed by an Australian.) And it bugs me that our true-blue American bus line has a name that includes a King George-like spelling. I thought that we fought two wars over this!

But if Greyhound is now owned by a British firm, and is starting to establish routes in Britain, then the "ey" spelling is understandable.
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