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Go Greyhound

Downtown Boise's other bus station

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At five minutes to 10 on a recent rainy Thursday morning, a handful of people slowly passed time in Boise's Greyhound terminal, a squat rectangle on the west side of downtown, across Bannock Street from Summers Funeral Home.

The old Greyhound station is one long block from the parking lot on 11th Street, where transit officials would like to build a new multi-modal transit center. It also sits just two blocks from 10th Street, where business owners rose up in February after the city and its redevelopment agency briefly suggested relocating the bus terminal in the middle of the street fronting their shops.

Studied disengagement at Boise's downtown Greyhound terminal. - JOSHUA ROPER
  • Joshua Roper
  • Studied disengagement at Boise's downtown Greyhound terminal.

Yet no one seemed to notice the quiet Greyhound terminal just down the street, within sight of both proposals, where it has been a centralized transit fixture for decades.

At the station, a short man in low-slung jeans and a fitted baseball cap leaned on the front desk, engaged in a conversation with an employee that hovered somewhere between plea and complaint.

Another man in a crisply ironed shirt sat in one of the terminal's 30 or so reddish plastic chairs. A bookmarked Bible rested on the chair next to him, but the man stared into space, a familiar sight here, where travelers make an effort not to look at anyone else, not to overly engage one's surroundings.

There is reading material in the station—two newspapers in a rack opposite the desk. The first one, Idaho Senior News, runs a large-type story headlined "Crime on the Rise" with clip-art of a burglar. The other, Just Horses, runs a picture (somewhat confusing, in light of the title) of an older couple riding two horses. But no one is reading.

The two front-desk employees pulled on yellow safety vests, including the manager, who is none too happy that I'm here with a notebook, but who has to suck it up because, unlike yesterday, I arrive with the blessings of Greyhound corporate communications. The 10:05 from Portland, Ore., is due in and running a few minutes early.

This area in western downtown could be home to all manner of mass transit in the future, including the new transit station and a trolley line just a block south. At one point, transit officials considered building a station to serve both local and Greyhound buses. But that ended last year when Valley Regional Transit selected the 11th Street site.

The site is too small to serve both long-distance and regional buses, said VRT spokesman Mark Carnopis.

"Logistically, it would be practically impossible," he said.

This business is all about logistics.

The bus from Portland pulled in and disgorged passengers; roughly 30 people entered the terminal, a clear majority of them bleary eyed from the nine-hour night ride. A college student in a green and white jacket sat down and immediately began texting on his cell phone. A secondary group of passengers broke off from the larger group and headed past the counter, past the lockers, and directly out the opposite door to the sidewalk on Bannock Street for a much-needed smoke.

Six days prior, the U.S. Department of Labor showed that the nation's unemployment rate had climbed to 8.5 percent in March, and Greyhound hasn't been immune to an economy that has been brutal to the travel sector. Greyhound spokesperson Abby Wambaugh confirmed that the company's ridership has fallen in the last year, though she declined to give specifics. Its fleet size, though, has remained the same, an indication that while struggling, the national bus company has yet to feel the need for any drastic business model changes.

And even as the bad economy siphons ridership, jobs and the search for employment seem to be the common thread for the majority of the riders of this bus.

Shawn Greg stood outside, stretching his legs after the trip from Portland. A burly 25-year-old, tall and beefy, he was on his way to Clarksville, Tenn., where he'll look for a job. He looks like he's swung a hammer more than once in his life. He says he'd like to work construction or get a job at Subway, making sandwiches. It's his first time on Greyhound.

"He's funny," said the woman who walked outside with him. Dressed in a pink sweatshirt and camo pants, she shifts from foot to foot in kind of a jaunty way, trying to work out the kinks from a nine-hour ride. Headphones hang around her neck next to her sunglasses—unnecessary today—tucked into the top of her shirt.

"He's led a sheltered life. He's got a lot to learn," she said.

At this, Greg made a noise in his throat close to a laugh or a sound of surprise, then agreed with the woman.

"I seen one of them electrical ... uh ... thingys yesterday," he said by way of explaining his bright-eyedness at the world.

"Escalators," said the woman. "He saw an escalator for the first time."

"Uh-huh, yeah," he answered, the word on the tip of his tongue now found. "They're kind of cool."

It's difficult to tell if the two are serious or just sharing a sleep-deprivation joke. Greg, though, seems the type to let you in on a joke at the end, good-hearted if a little new to it all.

Eddie Harris leans up against the front window outside the terminal, taking in some fresh air. He watched Danny Allred, a slight man with a thin goatee, pass out the last of his cigarettes, waving a man away when he balks at taking his second-to-last.

Allred is moving back to Utah from Oregon, where his wife is ("I left her," he says with no apparent malice or regret). He plans to look for a job once he arrives.

Harris, though, already has a job. He's on his way back to Kansas City, Mo., to resume his work as an electrician. He used to remodel condos, but that market, well ...

"It's gotten kind of iffy. Not a whole lot of people who've got $180,000 for a two-bedroom apartment," said Harris. "But the guy I work for, he's pretty well off. He's got Wal-Marts and Home Depots."

Next to Harris stood Maurice, the short man who has apparently ended his argument at the counter and joined Harris outside. Maurice is a chef, finished culinary school, and is trying to wrangle a ticket to Portland, where he says his cousin has a job for him in a kitchen in a town just outside the city, though he doesn't know the name of the town or the restaurant. It's a plan, in fact, that's generally lacking in specifics.

The smokers thinned out just about the time a PA voice called out the departure time for the Salt Lake City bus. A line formed at the door. In a few minutes, everyone will be gone except the texting college student and Maurice, on the phone with a relative who is wiring him enough money for a ticket to Portland. But for now a woman and a man stand in line, faces inches from each other's, in their last moments together before he walks through the door to his bus.

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