To the City 

A bus ride starts in relaxation and ends in squalor.

As I left Cape Cod, the travel gods laid one of their favorites on me: They waited until I was on the bus out of town to bust the skies wide open and be sunny. They did that to me one time in Monterey, California, after raining out a golf tournament that I had come about 2,500 miles to see. This time, I had seen nothing but clouds and wind for three days on the Cape -- it was winter, after all -- and as we headed for the bus station in Hyannis, we were practically getting blinded by sunlight.

We were also doing math the whole time and coming up with results like, "If we hustle, we'll get there about two minutes before the bus leaves."

One thing I've never liked is hustling to catch departing vehicles. And in this case, it wasn't necessary: There's a bus from Hyannis to New York every two hours. So I bagged the 8:30 a.m., even though we did in fact get there at 8:28, and I wandered off for a cup of coffee and a place to write for an hour or so. I found both in a "French" cafÇ on the main street, right out past the stores with signs like "closed for relaxation and recuperation." One of them, I was sad to see, was a Ben and Jerry's. Winter or not, morning or not, I could have used some chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.

Even though I would later wish I had more time to wander "The City," I had a nice sit-down in the cafe, which I had mostly to myself. A couple of pastries, a Nantucket Blend, some Dead on the radio, and I caught up on my journals. It was the kind of time-out every trip needs.

At the first bus stop, in Providence, I made a call and found that my friend in New York wouldn't be in New York. So I would have to find another place to stay. And in a town where the youth hostel costs 20-something bucks a night, I figured that was a bad idea. So I called Amtrak and found out that for $20 I could change my ticket and leave New York that afternoon, just a few hours after I got there. And that was that. I was no longer going to New York City, except to walk from the bus station to the train station.

Right before the "New York City Express" pulled out of Providence, which looks like an industrial port town that worked hard at making its downtown nice, the driver announced that he was starting the movie. A movie on a bus -- Greyhound this was not. Today's feature, brought to you by Bonanza Bus Lines and shown in about a half-dozen tiny sets hanging from the overhead baggage compartments, would be Murder at 1600, starring Wesley Snipes. Rental for the headphones was $2. I took the bait, if only because the driver said there were radio stations available on the other channels.

The movie's lameness would have been apparent without the headphones. Alan Alda was a vicious presidential aide who kills a woman in the White House as part of some plot to take over the government and start a war in Korea, but wise-talking Snipes, cynical-but-tough Dennis Miller (!), and a fine honey whose name I've forgotten stop him at the last moment. Whatever.

Meanwhile, the coast of Connecticut is beautiful, which nobody ever told me was the case. The stretch from Mystic (what a great name) to New Haven turns out to be a massive wetland, between the mouths of the Thames and Connecticut rivers, nothing but lakes and streams and inlets from the coast and tree-covered islands. Some of the water along the edges was frozen, which made it look that much prettier. The other people on the bus were working crosswords, reading books, listening to headphones, sleeping, and writing in notebooks. One of the lines in mine was "SO comfortable on the road. Don't want trip to end." Other random items include "four-masted Coast Guard schooner in New Haven" and "National Helicopter Museum, N.H."

Past Stamford, there was a massive, dilapidated apartment building. After New Haven, the countryside was decidedly unhaven-like. Smokestacks, trash bails, rusty sheds and equipment, general yuckiness. Almost before I could deal with it, we were plunging into the City.

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