Monday, 4th August 1986
At 9:10pm the bus turned up on time. I got on and waved to Mike from the window.
I struck up a conversation with the girl who had boarded the bus with me. She turned out to be a hairdressing student from Monongahela and we had quite an interesting chat about baldness and highlights until she got off in the centre of Monogahela itself. There weren’t many people left on the bus after Mongahela. There was a black security chief who told us he was celebrating his 78th birthday and then proceeded to read from the bible.
At just after 10pm I arrived at the Pittsburgh bus station. It was right in the middle of the red light district. There were police sirens wailing outside and the area looked decidedly dodgy.
The bus station had a café named “Restaurant Center USA”. I think this was the Trailways equivalent of British Rail’s Traveller’s Fare. They knew they had a bit of a monopoly so they charged more. They sold me an overpriced hamburger, an expensive cup of coffee and two quite costly chocolate bars.
I sat down to wait for the bus. It was scheduled to leave at 12:30am so I had about 2 hours. I will admit that it wasn’t the nicest place I had ever been. The toilets were locked, which was a problem as I was dying for a pee. There was a tramp sleeping on the floor in one corner and a woman constantly feeding coins into a slot machine in another corner.
I also noticed that there were very few white people waiting, most of my fellow passengers seemed to be either oriental, black or Hispanic. In fact, save for one elderly Amish couple, I was the only white person waiting.
I was heading for Toledo. This was part of a cunning plan to get some sleep. Toledo was further than Buffalo and it was in a slightly different direction. But the journey was long enough to get some sleep and then, after a 40 minute wait, get the bus back in the direction of Buffalo. It was an idea that I had adopted from my Inter-rail European rail trip two years before. It had mostly failed then, so I didn’t quite know why I was trying it now.
Tuesday, 5th August 1986
And so it proved. At 12:20am they announced that all departures were delayed, but they gave us no reason. We waited for almost an hour with nothing much else being said. Finally at 1:20am the bus pulled in. I climbed on and it left at 1:30am. It was not a massive delay, but I was now late enough to destroy any chance of a connection in Toledo.
As the bus picked its way out of Pittsburgh and the driver gave us a strange tourist commentary of the sights (at 1:30am this was a bit much), I consulted my Trailway’s timetable. I would now be forced to get off at Cleveland well short of Toledo. I would also have a much longer wait there for the bus to Buffalo.
The bus I was on had been scheduled to arrive at Cleveland at 3:30am so it was fair to assume I would now be in Cleveland by 4:30am at the latest. The bus was hot and crammed full. I was seated next to a rather large man who smelt of sweat and kept moving in the seat. Sleep seemed to be well out of the question.
At about 4:30am we pulled into Cleveland bus station. It doubled as the railway station and consisted of a ticket office, some vending machines and toilets. I was dreading the prospect of waiting until the Buffalo bus came until 10:00, so I was happy to see there were 6 other people, all my own age, waiting there as well. I spoke to them and it turned out all of them were British.
There were 5 medical students from Scotland, 2 lads and 3 girls, doing a tour of the northern USA and Canada and there also was a lad on his own from Croydon. All of us were heading for Buffalo. We got ourselves coffees, hot chocolates and even a can of hot baked beans (99c) from the vending machines and we started to chat. The time flew by as we shared each other’s experiences and opinions.
We all watched as the “Lake Shore Limited” train bound from New York to Chicago arrived at 7:30am and then decided to go on a quick tour of Cleveland. We checked our bags with the ticket office and the seven of us walked around the city. It wasn’t a very exciting tour. We had a chat with a Mexican guy who was planting flowers and we ended up, by mistake, in an underground car park.
By 9:30am we were back at the bus station. I watched the bus that I should have been on arrive from Toledo. It deposited about 30 people who joined us and a few others waiting for the connection to Buffalo. We were told it was stuck in traffic and the seven of us cheered loudly when it finally arrived. Peggy, the driver, wasted no time in loading our baggage and she drove quite fast to try and make up for lost time.
My seat mate was a lovely old lady of about 70. She was making the 5-day cross country trip from Los Angeles to Maine to visit her 95-year-old father. We quickly became friends and she explained the scenery we were seeing, the stories behind the vegetation and many of the changes she had seen in the USA during her life. She gave me the most wonderful description of how to get maple syrup from the trees in Vermont.
At about 2pm we rolled into Buffalo bus station. This one was a massive complex for both the long distance and local buses. It was very spacious, modern and clean. I was reunited with my Scottish friends and we all headed to the Burger King in the bus station for a Whopper. They waited for a bus to take them to their lodgings in Buffalo. I headed to catch the 3:30pm to Niagara.
It took about an hour to get out to Niagara and there was only myself and two Germans on the bus. I trudged down to the youth hostel and checked in. I met Brian, a 24 year old Physics teacher from Enfield, sitting in the common room. He had just arrived from the airport and he was doing a brief 48 hour stopover to see the falls and possibly even Toronto as well before heading west to Seattle on TWA.
It was already about 5pm so we decided to team up and see as much as we could. We headed out, down 11th street, Ferry Street and into the Rainbow Mall. The food court contained 8 different outlets and a central seating area. There were shops selling burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, spaghetti and bagels but Brian and I opted for one selling salad.
We ate our salads quickly and went out of the mall, through the winter gardens and into the little park outside. A quick walk brought us to the Niagara Falls viewing area. They really were pretty spectacular.
We headed down the escalator and paid $4.75 to board the little “Maid of the Mist” boat. They provided us with blue sou’westers and the little boat chugged over to first the American falls, which were spectacular, and then to the Canadian falls, which were even more spectacular. We got a good soaking but considering I hadn’t really slept much, it was quite refreshing.
After the boat trip we went back to the Rainbow mall to have muffins and coffees. Then we walked out through US customs and out over the Niagara Bridge and into Canada. We stayed in Canada just long enough to go to the Ontario bus station to check the times of the buses to Toronto the next day. We agreed we would aim to catch the one at 7:25am
By the time we had re-entered the USA and walked back to the hostel it was already dark.
I headed off to bed and set the alarm for 6:20am.