I am in Montreal, Quebec. It’s a Saturday, it’s 8pm, and it’s crazy hot outside. There’s a big festival in town and the streets are packed. My brother and I arrive at the station, which looks more like a nightclub right now. The music coming from the scene set up in the park nearby fills the air and the melody invades every corner of the station. It’s hard to think that we’ll be so far away from this place in a few hours. Around us people are chilling and dancing and laughing. Everybody’s having a good time and so are we. But something weird is happening to me. My body is here, but my mind’s already gone. And I also have this feeling, which I like, of having nothing but my daypack in my possession. I feel free, and at the same time very vulnerable. It’s just awesome.
At the station, we buy the tickets. Something convenient for travelers like me is that in North America, whether you buy your tickets 4 months in advance or 1 hour before departure, it’s the same price, and it’s first-come, first served. You don’t have to worry about planning journeys, you just show up at the station at the right time. Back home, the sooner you buy the tickets the cheaper they are, but it also costs your freedom. Anyway, once we have our tickets, we go to gate 1. I know I’m tired, but I don’t feel it. We’ve spent the day moving everywhere to sort out my brother’s stuff, returning his Chevrolet, the keys of his flat, and then went to Costco to eat their fatty hotdogs one last time.
Now, there’s a long line of people in front of the gate. It’s 1032 and the boarding has just started. The bus driver is pretty obnoxious. We get in the bus and find two seats in the front. Soon, the bus is filled. I’m looking thru the window as we leave Montreal. I have a last view on the magnificent Cartier bridge and the city center as we cross the Victoria bridge. I’m sad to leave this city, but happy to go towards the unknown. My brother and I heard a lot of stories about going thru the US customs and we’re a bit tense. A guy sitting next to us already had an unfortunate experience in the past, and he’s telling us every single detail with delight.
‘Nevermind. If they ask us why we’re coming to the US, we’ll tell ’em we’re gonna have a hardcore shopping session, and they’ll let us go’, my brother says.
After an hour, we arrive at the border checkpoint. Everything goes well, thanks to customs officer Bauer. We quickly get our passports stamped and get back in the bus. A 7 hour journey begins. I hardly have the time to fall asleep that we’re already at Albany, the capital city of the state of New York. After a break of an hour, we’re back on the road, now going straight to New York City, and I eventually get some sleep.
When I woke up, we were in Jersey City. We were about to go through the Holland tunnel when I had this amazing view on Manhattan at dawn. Soon, we were off the bus, walking freely on the streets of the Big Apple. The air was fresh and the streets were desert on this Sunday morning. We didn’t waste our time and rushed to the Penn Station to catch our next bus to D.C. We left at 9am on a Megabus double-decker and we took the US Interstate 95 towards the South.
I was thrilled! It was like in a dream. Everything around me was so different from back home. I was amazed by even the most insignificant differences with Europe. We bypassed Trenton, Philadelphia, Baltimore. I was so happy : I could now put a picture on cities I had only been able to imagine so far. It was real!
Along the way, I saw many things that really caught my attention. Firstly, I was surprised by the speed limits. I knew they were lower than in Europe. But come on, how are we supposed to reach our destination with these huge 55mph sections? It’s weird that the
speed limit is so low in such a huge country. But that’s how it is, and I respect that. By the way, it’s a good thing that there are so many highway patrols. It prevents people from going Fast & Furious. Secondly, I was impressed by the number of American flags proudly fluttering in the wind. It’s probably comparable with Canada. I admire this patriotism. Back home, I would be categorized as an extremist if I hanged a flag above my front door. Thirdly, I saw a lot of things you’d never see in France, like that big religious cross standing next to a farm, with “Jesus loves you” written on it. Fourthly (and I’ll stop there), the names of the towns were exciting to read. They’re so interesting. Like, there are a bunch of places whose names are the same as those of cities in Europe.
Anyway, we arrived in D.C around 1pm. We had been freezing for more than 4 hours in the bus. Now, we were melting. There was no cloud in the sky, and the temperature was above 100°F.
Usually people avoid traveling by bus. I personally think that it’s the best kind of transportation when you don’t have a car. Of course, it’s not comfortable at all. You’ve got to sit in this tiny space – space which depends on the person sitting next to you – for hours. You can’t really sleep because your head gets smashed against the window every time the bus turns or because the sitting position is just not natural and you can’t adjust your seat. If you do fall asleep, you’re lucky if you don’t wake up with a hell of a neck ache. But even with all these things it’d still be possible to take a nap if they didn’t add the ultimate problem: the abuse of the AC by bus drivers! At least, when there’s no AC, we may be boiling, but we know that’s no one’s fault.
When I travel by bus, it’s almost as if I’m taking a road trip. I feel closer to the places and the people around me. When the bus goes through a village or stops at a gas station or a rest area, I can have a look around, feel the atmosphere and see how people live and what they do. I can meet local folks. I don’t think I can experience this in the tourist traps and the city centers. For instance, if I had taken the train in Ireland, I don’t think I would’ve seen how poor people were in the countryside, nor heard their real accent. This ride from Dublin to Galway wasn’t relaxing, but I’ve learned so much from this journey. Because in a bus, things happen. Like, when I was between Toronto and Ottawa, Ontario, the bus was literally cramped and this poor guy had to sit on the floor for more than 2 or 3 hours. It was funny because he sarcastically described how buses worked in Canada and it was hilarious. Or that another time, when I had to wait for more than 2 hours in a tiny village of Scotland because it had started to snow and the bus wasn’t coming. When it finally arrived, it was like a catastrophic movie. Everyone was worried and the driver told us that we could remain stuck in the middle of the mountains!
– August 2011
Here is a selection of photos taken on the roads of Canada and the USA