Monday, March 10, 2008


In Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s amazing book, Random Family, when the drug dealers and partiers stay up until dawn they call it “breaking night.”

I love that description; I broke night last night, not partying, but rolling into Toronto just as the sun was rising over a city gleaming and steaming: 14 degrees F; Lake Ontario a solid sheet of ice; three feet of snow piled along the streets and sidewalks; plumes of white rising from the city’s buildings and vents against a hard blue sky.

We were 11 hours by Greyhound from Manhattan. “Guess I’ll just freshen up,” said my seatmate, Deirdre, “and then it’ll be “Good Morning! Air Canada, How may I help you?” The irony: she works for Air Canada, flies for free, and got stuck in New York by bad weather gumming up the system. “Unscheduled events,” they’re called, she said. People are on the move. “They’ve gotta be at a wedding. A funeral. A business meeting. I’m a fast talker and I average 11 calls an hour.” That’s eight and a half hours a day. Twenty five thousand calls a year. “Planes are so full, you get one unscheduled event – doesn’t matter where – Chicago, Toronto, New York – and people get stuck for days.” Hill had to be taking calls this morning so she had no choice: Greyhound. “Haven’t been on a bus in 30 years,” she said.

It snowed off and on all night; the bus was full and she was nervous. On February 25th a Greyhound on the same route, from NY to Toronto, swerved off the road, flipped, and landed upside down on the median strip. Forty-one were hurt. Buses are pretty safe, though – over your lifetime you’ve got a one in 94,242 chance of dying in one, according to the National Safety Council. That’s compared to the odds of one in 80 in a car; one in 200 just falling; one in 180 of accidental poisoning (doesn’t quite sound right, does it?) or one in 552 on an airplane. That’s just in America. A bus in Bolivia, an airline in Africa, and I wager the odds get worse. Speaking of which, tomorrow I’m flying to Havana on one of the world’s most dangerous airlines: Cubana…

It was yesterday morning, on the China Bus from DC to NY, that it hit me: the Lunatic Express is standing travel on its head. The destination really is the journey. The moment I arrive I’m coughed up on shore, a fish slapping its tail and gagging for breath. I’m homeless and burdened with too much stuff. But on a bus, a train, a plane, a train, well, I’m home, where I’m supposed to be. The bus mysteriously stopped twice; we were an hour and a half late. Babies were crying and people checking their watches (almost all Chinese, I might add). Not me, though. I didn’t care; I was already there.

I suspect there are going to be a lot of breaking nights ahead…