There we were, just two hours into a daylong Greyhound journey across the Great Plains, and one of my sons, Zach already had a story to tell.
We'd had to take separate seats as the journey began, and it seems that his seatmate, a scruffy man in his 20s, told him about the time an M-80 firecracker blasted a June bug through his shirt.
"He showed me the scar!" Zach said.
Why travel from Minneapolis to Dickinson, N.D., by bus? If not for the tales, then certainly by necessity. For a parent with two children, air fare is outrageously expensive, the only passenger train misses the mark by a full 130 miles, and a rental car? That just seems too unadventurous for a trip to Teddy Roosevelt's beloved Rough Rider Country.
The only remaining choice: Greyhound.
I told myself that since 12-year-old Zach and 10-year-old Kurt had winningly managed several nine-hour car and train trips, a 14-hour bus ride could be manageable and even prove memorable, especially considering the rich mix of people one often encounters on a Greyhound.
I was not disappointed.
Since we couldn't find seats together, we stared out our respective windows and watched the two lanes of Highway 10 unfold, even though everyone knows Interstate Highway 94 is faster. But Greyhound isn't about speed, I reminded myself. Enjoy your book and stop fretting. I did, until suddenly Kurt wanted to switch places with me. I had been enjoying the company of a snoozing 3-year-old girl, and now he wanted me to move?
We exchanged seats, and within minutes I was trapped by an elderly woman who shared the depths of her life story. Would I be like this someday, rambling inanely to strangers? No wonder the boy slipped away.
After 1 p.m., the driver found his way to the designated meal stop at Fargo, N.D. I'd skipped breakfast, so hunger was gnawing at the corners of my stomach. Knowing that we only had 30 minutes to eat, I whisked the boys through the lonely red-white-and-blue depot in search of a diner with steaming soup, fresh sandwiches and homemade pie.
What we found was an adult bookstore and a sea of vacant lots. I couldn't believe it -- no restaurant. "Dad, there's vending machines inside," one child consoled. I felt like crying but stood outside the depot, staring at the porn emporium's sign instead.
I resigned myself to a vend-o-meal of salami and cheese on a rumored "croissant," corn chips and milk. The children seemed not to notice the appalling lack of culinary choices.
We lumbered back on board, and I quickly discovered the pleasure of listening to Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" while watching the prairie roll by. The boys bonded with another young man who was the proud owner of portable Sega and Nintendo games. Happiness reigned for hours.
As the miles clicked past and the bus eased into such ports of call as the Shamrock Bar in Casselton and Valley City's Farm Kitchen, a real sense of community began to develop. Video boy's mom shared crumbled Oreo cookies, while we offered a bag of Skittles. At one point, I looked up from my book to find Zach cradling (someone else's) 2-year-old in his arms.
Back in the bus, we hummed along on full stomachs passing the capital city of Bismarck and gaping at the World's Largest Holstein cow just outside New Salem. And after 14 hours, 523 miles and 29 stops we arrived at our destination sooner than expected: Paragon Lanes bowling alley in Dickinson, N.D.
Our cookies-and-video friends were bound for Oregon, so we said goodbye. As we ducked into my sister's car, I waved, but the bus windows were tinted and I couldn't be sure they saw me.
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