Monday, June 4, 2007
This November I'll present an essay about Greyhound bus terminals and advertisements from the 1930s and 1940s at the National Communication Association's annual conference in Chicago. Here's an excerpt:
Most folks needing to drive long distances on a limited budget have a story of “riding the dog” somewhere in their past. And the stories of hours spent waiting in the Greyhound terminal, particularly those in the centers of large cities, are almost invariably tinged with bitter recollections of foul odors, lousy food, and forced interactions with fellow-travelers whose physical and mental challenges inspire both pity and dread. Travel over sufficient distance would almost inevitably require a late-night stop in a cavernous enclosure, requiring a wait for a connecting bus that offered no guarantee of available seats. As experienced Greyhound riders know, a ticket guarantees a trip but not always a chair. Given the frequency of their locations in urban cores that have suffered profound decay over the past decades, Greyhound terminals justifiably earn their reputations as being nodes of an underclass network that is not sought through glitzy advertising campaigns. Thus one almost never hears the slogan, “Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us,” if one hears it at all, without some derision.
Despite the nostalgia woven by preservationists, bus terminals were always simple, practical places; any romance found within their confines was surely of an illicit nature. The terminals were designed around the comings and goings of large numbers of people waiting to start, continue, or conclude their journeys, as well as purchase tickets, buy newspapers, consume meals, and welcome visitors (occasionally with less than friendly purposes). These places could easily be viewed as examples of Marc Augé’s non-places, manifestations of text with no personal or social context. One might visit the “Cleveland” or “Cincinnati” or “Chicago.” But one could hardly expect to be in a place imbued with time and character. At a bus terminal, one is always just passing through. Like manner similar places built around the purpose of transit, these terminals were not intended to be remembered as much as be used.
Bus Depot Modern: a site I maintain to share postcard images of Greyhound terminals.