Jogging along


Not much fairy dust on this Peter Pan bus

The Peter Pan Bus service halts in Fall River, Massachusetts on its way to New York City. The bus terminal is around the corner from the site of a sensational 19th-century murder. There’s a famous nursery rhyme about the prime suspect: Lizzie Borden took an axe/And gave her mother forty whacks/When he saw what she had done/She gave her father forty-one. The young woman was acquitted but Peter Pan bus drivers sometimes point the site out to tourists; “She was let off,” they say, with a dark leer, “but the murderer was never found!”

The terminal is a transit point for local buses as well as long-distance services. I have a half-hour wait before boarding the next bus. Senior students from a local high school slouch in. The boys wear baggy jeans, the girls wear cut-away shorts and four-inch heels. One girl’s t-shirt is covered in neon green cheetah-prints, another wears a red-brick wall covered in graffiti. The station empties out when their bus arrives. A handful of men wearing dirty denim overalls remain. A Chinese grandmother sits in dignified silence on a bench beside twin girls dressed in identical pink tiger-stripe pyjama suits.

Peter Pan takes five hours to get from Fall River to New York’s Port Authority Bus Station. The building is neon bright on the inside, raucous with music, shops and restaurants. Shoals of travellers mill about, looking for somewhere to sit, for a bite to eat, for misplaced tickets. The air smells of caramel, burnt coffee and stale bubble gum. It’s all very familiar. I’ve passed this way many times before. My next bus, a Greyhound, is at 2.30pm. It is now just after one. I hurry down three floors. All around me there are children carrying backpacks that look like furry animals, old men wheezing while standing stationary on the escalator, young women dressed in sequined straps, their skins shiny black or dead-pan white, eyelashes two inches long, hair hanging down in cascades of brassy curls.

Yes! There’s Gate 28. Yes, it’s to Binghamton. Twelve other passengers are already in line. I ask the tired Cuban mother with three sleeping children plastered to her to please hold my spot so that I can go buy a coffee. When I offer to get one for her too, she smiles but shakes her head. By the time I’m back four minutes later, the queue has already grown to 20 people. This is a popular route. At 2.25 the driver opens the door and we begin filing through, slinging our bags into the luggage-hold under the bus, before climbing in. I settle into a window seat and am soon joined by a red-haired girl juggling her backpack, a latte and an open laptop in one hand, while texting on her cellphone with the other.

Five-and-a-half hours later, we pull into Binghamton. I spot my sister waiting for me and begin waving even though she can’t yet see me. Then we’re in her sleek, moss-green BMW, speeding away from buses, rest-stops and the cheerful chaos of other people’s lives.

Published on May 16, 2014

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