By Teresa Gomes
Published on January 23, 2017
My mother’s entire side of the family lives in Maryland. Nearly every other summer and on special occasions since I was five years old, my mother and I have traveled from Toronto to Maryland using the Greyhound Bus because my mother does not drive, and for most of my life, we could not afford to travel by plane. We would leave the Toronto bus terminal around eight o’clock at night and by the time I would finally fall asleep, we would have to wake up, drag our suitcases off the bus, and wait in a long line at the Canada-US Border in Buffalo. After many more stops throughout the night, we would finally arrive at the New York City bus terminal around six o’clock in the morning. We would then wait for another bus to Baltimore, Maryland, which was another five-hour journey from there.
As a child who frequently became carsick, I remember puking on the bus and dreading the long-distance journey there and back. I remember observing the other passengers sitting across from us on the bus, curious about where they were going and why. I remember snacking on potato chips and listening to my mother’s stories. I remember waiting uncomfortably for the next stop because the toilet on the bus was nowhere near sanitary. I remember sitting on our suitcases for many hours at the New York City bus terminal in the frigid winter because there were no other seats. Over the years, I stopped complaining about small annoyances and became more used to the journey. I told myself, “as long as we get there safely, that’s all that matters.”
Last summer was the first time we flew to Maryland because my mother’s friend who works for a flight agency was able to give us free plane tickets. Not only was this journey comfortable, but it only took one hour. One hour in flight compared to the 15+ hours on the bus.
Thousands of people use the Greyhound Bus all the time. It’s not a terrible mode of transportation, but it is certainly different from flying. Watching the documentary film The Last Train Home and discussing transportation infrastructure in my cultural geography class on spaces of travel, I was reminded that the experience of travel can be a much longer and more difficult journey for people who do not have the economic means to choose otherwise. Comfort, convenience, and safety in mobility are all forms of privilege in travel, a luxury that only some people can afford. Social inequality can be reproduced through mobility systems. Built environments of mobility such as waiting areas, buses, and airports can all potentially polarize mobility between those who have little to no access to privilege and those who embody an idealized mobile subject.
The Last Train Home showed the painstaking ways in which millions of migrant workers in China travel by train every year from the city to their rural homes to reunite with family and celebrate the Lunar New Year. What about the people who fly home? How different is their process of purchasing an airline ticket and experiencing the journey home? Do travel infrastructures always segregate and divide people according to social and economic class, like the Greyhound Bus does? Should safety in mobility also depend on class privilege? Inequality certainly seems inseparable from mobility.
- Brown, Barry. 2004. Hotdeskers and Tourists: Geography as an Everyday Practical Concern in Work and Leisure. Geography, 89(1), 71-77.
- Kim, Esther C. 2012. Nonsocial transient behavior: Social disengagement on the greyhound bus. Symbolic Interaction, 35(3), 267-283.
- Last Train Home. 2011. 90 minutes. Film by Lixin Fan.
- Richardson, Tim and Ole B. Jensen. 2008. How mobility systems produce inequality: Making mobile subject types on the Bangkok Sky Train. Built Environment, 34(2), 218-231.
Teresa Gomes is in her fifth year at UTSC, studying environmentally induced migration and displacement. She enjoys hiking, teaching yoga classes, running, attending film festivals, and visiting art exhibitions. Teresa is passionate about community work, solidarity networks, and social justice efforts. She hopes to attend law school and organize spaces of creative collaboration in the future.