All teenagers go through phases, and during the summer of 1988, I happened to be going through my no-flying phase; I refused to fly on airplanes because of a bad flight I had endured on a previous vacation.
Unfortunately, the timing of this phase could not have come at a worse time. That summer, my family decided to take a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida; it was to be our first “real” vacation that wasn’t centered on visiting relatives.
After leaving me behind on several other family vacations that involved flying, my family decided that summer that they would do whatever it took to get me to Disney World. My mom has a bit of a driving phobia, so driving to Florida was not an option. We researched taking the train and quickly concluded that was not an option because it took over three days to travel each way. The only other option was taking the bus. And so we did, not knowing how adventurous the trip would be.
My mom, sister, and I boarded the bus in our small town for our first big stop in Houston. We quickly saw that a different class of passengers awaited us. We tried to avoid the prison and mental hospital escapees who seemed to abound at the Houston bus station. They were easy to spot because they were still wearing their jumpsuits and gowns. But, as much as we tried to avoid the weird people, I ended up sitting next to some pretty scary people. And the ones I didn’t sit next to still made their presence known.
In the middle of the night, we were awakened in Mobile, Alabama, during a driver change. The first replacement driver who stepped on the bus received an update from the outgoing driver--something about a guy who was high on drugs who had locked himself in the bathroom and would not come out during the ticket check. The replacement driver quickly disappeared. We then waited for hours for another replacement driver and for the police to arrive and drag the armed man out of the bathroom and off the bus, while we all sat in our seats. I don’t think that we slept the rest of the night because of how scared we had been.
On the way back from Disney World, the “clientele” seemed to improve, but we still did not sleep. We had an evangelist sitting behind us who preached all night to a non-English-speaking Vietnamese man. And the air conditioning vents leaked a mysterious red, sticky substance that was later determined to be Kool-Aid.
Somehow, despite all of this, the bus adventure of 1988 did not usher me out of my non-flying phase. Instead, that phase raged on for many years and outlasted my family’s desire to accommodate it. With the bus adventure of 1988 firmly imprinted in my mother’s and my sister’s memories, they couldn’t quite bring themselves to risk their lives on another vacation by bus just for me.