Two Buses to Buffalo
In 1979 I bought a three week Amtrak pass and followed the White Sox around the country. After a homestand in Chicago it was off to Detroit, Toronto and New York. After the Toronto games I took a bus from Toronto to Buffalo to get back on Amtrak because the train out of Toronto takes the long route via Montreal, whereas the train out of Buffalo gets you to NYC in a jiffy.
At the Toronto Greyhound Bus Terminal I noticed there were two buses leaving for Buffalo just minutes apart. The earliest departing one was almost full and the later departing one totally empty, so I asked that driver, “What’s up?”
“Well,” he said, “Greyhound of Canada gets to bid last for its routes and schedules, so whatever time we (the American Greyhound Company) put in for a departure, they put theirs in a half hour earlier to get all the customers.”
“But come with me,” he said, “and I’ll get you to Buffalo sooner because they always get stuck taking a long time at Customs and I usually zip through.” So I bought the American company ticket and, sure enough, an hour or so later we cleared Customs while they were still re-boarding.
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There is another quirk to our transportation system in and around Buffalo. There’s only one passenger train a day, The North Coast Limited, that goes through Buffalo heading east to NYC and only one passenger train a day that goes through Buffalo heading west – and they both happen to be in the middle of the night – so the Buffalo train station is only open from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
When I got off the bus in Buffalo it was a little past midnight. The New York City train was scheduled to depart at 3 a.m. so I had plenty of time to walk the ten blocks from the bus terminal to the train station. When I walked out the door of the bus station there was a group of men, sketchy at best, lurking in the shadows and one of them approached me to ask for the time. I was never one for wearing watches so I said, “Sorry, I don’t have the time,” and kept on walking with an occasional sideways look back to make sure I wasn’t being followed.
The train station, which sits on a hill, was totally dark when I arrived and with the clock tower silhouetted by the moon looked like the backdrop to a movie about the headless horseman. But rather soon this jaunty fellow walks up to open up the station. “Yah, I’m the station master,” he says and explains the odd hours the station is open and why.
He was very talkative and pleasant and we got along swell for the time we were alone. Eventually the station came to life with gaggles of people coming to pick up arriving passengers and drop off departing passengers – an odd sight for 3 a.m. – as if it was 3 p.m. in the station’s glory days. But before he turned all the lights on it was odder yet in darkness with high ceilings, terra cotta walls, empty benches, closed counters, and pitch black corridors, but our station master was a very jovial fellow so everything was cheery enough.
Then, out of the darkness, this couple started walking towards us. Bedraggled and woebegone they had a very sad tale to tell us. They are on their honeymoon, heading for Florida. They had taken the bus from Toronto with tickets for the train to New York City and then Florida. When they walked out of the bus station in Buffalo this guy approached them and asked what time it was. When our honeymooner pushed up his sleeve to glance at his watch, the guy pulled a gun on him and demanded the watch and his wallet. Well, not only did they lose all their money and credit cards, the train tickets were in the wallet and now they were stuck without any money or anyway to get to Florida.
“Aww, this happens all the time,” my friendly station master says, “I can fix you up with some new tickets. We’ll call the credit card company, and by the time you get to New York there’ll be a new credit card you can use on your honeymoon.” He then went to work, opened-up his station, turned on the lights, made the calls for the honeymoon couple, issued them new tickets, and had everybody in good spirits. Quite a station master.