Those Bus Trip Blues

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

I'm an independent traveler - give me a map and get out of my way! I like meandering through unfamiliar places, asking the locals for input on where to go, where to stay and where to eat.  Crowds make me nervous – and I avoid tourist traps like the proverbial plague.  I’ve been known to veer off main highways to make my way on unknown back roads – just to avoid sitting in traffic.  I’m also known for marching into kitchens, demanding better food or service. 

So why did I spend last week on a bus trip to Myrtle Beach, surrounded by women who were 20-40 years older than I?  Love. My mom loves traveling with her Red Hat group, and invited me to go with her. I went.  Didn’t even complain when we had to get up at 3am to catch a 6am bus (which finally arrived 2 hours late).

The speeding bus with harried bus driver (he had been stuck behind an accident), turned into where we were waiting, and sped by us without blinking. How he missed a group of 30 well-padded women wearing bright red and purple (and red hats!), jumping up and down amidst enough luggage to dress a small country, is beyond me.  He finally figured out his mistake and returned.

We loaded the luggage into the bus (the bus driver had a bad back) and claimed the seats that would be ours for the week. Mom insisted the “Fun” group sat near the back of the bus (can you tell she was a trouble-maker in school?) so back we trudged – carrying enough food to survive for a week. I couldn’t fit through the aisle with all my packages – but my cousin rescued me before I was overrun by anxious women wearing purple.

We took off to pick up the next group of Red Hatters – and I immediately flashed back to a cab ride in Boston many years ago as the driver alternately sped and slammed on the brakes for non-existent obstacles. I was suddenly grateful we hadn’t had a big breakfast!

We were finally on the road to Myrtle Beach – albeit a few hours late and traveling like a drunken milkshake.  After several hours of the jostling I was able to adjust enough to finally nod off into a well-deserved rest.  You know that dream you have that you’re falling and you wake up suddenly? Well – that was me – except the falling was the bus leaving the road and tilting up on one side, then suddenly slamming down on all wheels.  The next thing I knew he veered off suddenly onto an exit ramp, parked the bus in a truck lot and left the vehicle!  Turns out the women in front demanded he pull off – they were all pale and shaken.

The trip leaders were on the phone with the bus company, demanding a new driver.  They couldn’t get anyone to us til the next day – and we were still hours from our destination.  So our driver rested and stabilized his blood sugar and we hit the road again!  A lifetime later we arrived at our ocean-front hotel – but they wouldn’t let us out! We were late for our buffet dinner!

I don’t remember the name of that first buffet restaurant – much like accident victims have no memory of the actual incident. Suffice it to say the building should have been condemned and the food had been cooking under those lovely heat lamps for decades – which might have been the last time those curtains were washed.   In spite of that – the place was crowded with several bus loads of tourists – and they were all a bit put out by our red and purple brigade joining the buffet lines.  (because the actual line had food but no plates – if you joined where you could get a plate you were accused of butting in – JR high, anyone?)

We had a temporary bus driver the next day – who drove around in circles for some reason – then Blue arrived to finish out our week.  He did get lost a bit – but I think it was just to show how adept he was at backing up our monster bus! Blue called me “Teacher” (because you look like one!) and kept telling me to lighten up and smile more!

I will say, the Red Hat leaders who planned this trip did an excellent job! There were goodie bags with embroidered towels, toys and gadgets for everyone. They had daily raffles, giving away a Nook, video camera, and more. The work these women put into this trip went beyond love and duty – and they continued to work hard during the week. They did a fantastic job!  (the bus ride and the restaurants were chosen by the tour company – and they may have been limited by our destination – because I’m told the trip to Vermont last year was very different. Myrtle Beach is much more of a tourist destination.)

I don’t think I’ll ever LOVE traveling via tour bus – it’s just not me. But I certainly enjoyed traveling with my Mom and cousin – and the many wonderful women on the bus! (ok – there were a few I could have done without – but I got good at avoiding them!). As for the bus trip itself – now we know – always request Blue!

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