A lament for the end of Greyhound buses in western Canada
Earlier this summer, Greyhound announced that it was going to end its services from BC to Manitoba. 300 small communities will have no regional bus service at all.
For singer-songrwriter Orit Shimoni, the Greyhound has been a whole lot more than a set of big wheels. Here's her essay.
I recently found a drawing I made at seventeen.
It was from an art-therapy session I had gone to. It was of a girl leaning her head against a bus window. I remember the therapist asking me where the girl was going.
"I don't know," I said. "She just likes the ride."
If there is foreshadowing in life, this was surely an example of it.
Thirteen years later I was in Montreal. I had taught school for eight years, finished a master's degree. And I had a band with one album out and another on the way.
We had played a couple of big shows and gone on a few short tours in Ontario, and it was always driving back from those tours, or rather, being driven by the fiddle player, that I realised I didn't want them to end.
So, for my thirtieth birthday I gifted myself with permission to be a full-time musician.
I swayed — both from nervousness and the weight of my backpack.- Orit Shimoni
The guys I played with were unable to join, of course. They had jobs and girlfriends, rent or mortgages to pay. But I figured since the songs were mine, I could take them on the road on my own.
I confided in a fellow singer-songwriter that I was going to tour full-time. He laughed and said there was no way I could do it without a car and a driver's license. I had never driven in my life.
Everyone in the music scene toured by car or van. No woman I knew toured alone.
I fantasized about learning to drive in a Volkswagen hippie bus. And then it suddenly hit me that I could try touring by bus. The Greyhound traveled all across Canada. I could try and book shows wherever it stopped along the way.
I only had to find accommodation for the night. There was even, I found out, something called a Discovery Pass. For $600, I could travel for two months unlimited, in any direction. If I could find a handful of bar gigs that would pay $100, I'd make the ticket money back. If I was frugal and found more pass-the-hat gigs, or open-mics, if I sold some CDs, I could make it work.
And when the bus started rolling, I'll never forget it, a grin immediately spread across my face. - Orit Shimoni
The day I left for my first ever solo, by Greyhound, cross-Canada tour, I was trembling. My legs felt like jelly, my guitar case between them, as I rode the city bus, then the metro to the bus depot.
My heart raced when I stood in line to board. My hand, which was holding my to-go mug, shook and spilled some of the coffee inside it.
I swayed — both from nervousness and the weight of my backpack.
But when I finally got into that blue seat, tucked a sweater beside my cheek so I could lean my head against the window, I let out a massive sigh of relief. And when the bus started rolling, I'll never forget it, a grin immediately spread across my face.
I was doing it. By myself. I was on tour.
Since then, I think I've seen every Greyhound station across Canada — from Wawa, where they sell 50-cent trashy romance novels, to Red Deer, where there's graffiti on the wall that says, "Music, Not Fear," to the Cowboy-Saloon style convenience store on the way to Castlegar, where, to my delight, the sign reads, "Now Selling Samosas."
Canada, the majestic — the endless forests and prairies and Rocky Mountains, even on ferries on the ocean — I've seen it all through the windows of a Greyhound bus, in every kind of weather, the brightness of day, the darkness of night, sunsets and sunrises.
Since then, I've heard hundreds of snippets of conversations about family feuds and prison, hardships and relationships, love and loss. I've heard different accents and languages. I've heard babies cry and get comforted. I've passed over legs stretched out in the aisles to get to the bathroom, smiled at the people I passed on my way back to my seat. I've shared snacks.
And, of course, I've played shows in all the towns I've stopped at, met more people, and gotten back on the bus, sometimes even on the same night, continuing on my road to everywhere.
Notebook in hand, I've sat and thought for hours on end, the wheels turning below me, urging my mind to release the debris of all the conversations and places, to capture their essence and meaning, to make space for what was to come in the next town, to write new songs.
That bus ... made me feel less alone in a universe of cars on the highway, each to his or her own.- Orit Shimoni
For a whole decade now, since that first tour, I have been riding that bus.
It was already a major blow when, a few years back, Greyhound stopped issuing Discovery Passes, because since then I've had to pay for each journey separately, and there isn't always enough income from each gig to make it worthwhile.
But when I heard the news that Greyhound was terminating its service in Western Canada altogether, I was in shock.
That bus has been both the reality and symbol of my freedom, my independence, my path, my connection to human hearts and souls across the country who, through music, could be transformed, soothed, and perhaps inspired, the way I have been in kind, through their listening and nodding, their gleaming eyes and smiles and applause.
That bus has opened my eyes to the other wanderers on their journeys and made me feel less alone in a universe of cars on the highway, each to his or her own.
It is a blow to know that money makes the world go round, and sometimes, I guess it does just the opposite. It stops it from rolling altogether.
In an industry I've tried so hard to succeed in without caring too much about 'making it big,' the bus was my way to keep it small and true.
Who knows now what we're all going to do now.
Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.