Fear Of Whales

Archive for July, 2011

Bus: Final Leg

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I got on the express bus to Madison. Spent time online replying to e-mails and catching up with my friend Michael who lives in New York now. It’s striking to me how utterly unreasonable it is to travel by Greyhound. From a customer service perspective this is probably the worst trip I have ever been on, and yet if all the busses were like this one, and they arrived on time, and actually let you onto the busses you bought tickets for, it could easily compete with air travel. This ride is actually quite nice, and I don’t mind the extra time it takes.


But as nice a thought as it is, it’s not reality. My foray into comfortable convenient travel was short lived and ended abruptly when the bus got off the interstate near Madison and promptly turned in the wrong direction.


Before long we were stopped at a truck stop in the middle of flipping nowhere Wisconsin about 15-20 miles out of downtown Madison where my bus stop was supposed to be.


“I need to get to the capitol, where’s the Madison Express Bus stop?”


“It’s about 20 miles that way” said the bus driver, pointing at the horizon


“That’s my stop”


“Well you got on the wrong bus, only express buses go there”


“I got on the bus they told me to get on!”


…he didn’t respond, he just looked at me without a single care to give…


“This bus isn’t going to get any closer to downtown Madison is it?”


He shook his head “Next stop, Minneapolis”


“Thanks a million”


I started to walk.


I hung my rucksack on my back and wore my laptop bag on my shoulder, I hadn’t showered in a couple of days and I’d been sleeping in my clothes. I had 15 to 20 miles to walk along a Wisconsin state highway. So I decided to stick my thumb out and see what might happen


To my complete and total surprise I found a ride in about 10 minutes. I was picked up by an ex hippie. He said he had over 700 miles of hitching on his record, but not lately. He’s a professor now at UW Madison.

We talked for a while. He was a Catholic, and agreed with me that JP2 was way cooler that Benny16. He drove me straight up the door to my hotel and then gave me his card so I can send him an e-mail and keep him updated on the ministry I’m doing.


What an amazing cherry to top off my travel odyssey! I got to the hotel and found that rooms were not available yet, so I switched into my bathing suit and went for a swim (wouldn’t want to be the smelly guy at the nice hotel) then I changed into a fresh white shirt and headed to the thrift store. Mission accomplished… At least until the trip back!


PS: Although I was not positive at the time, I have since checked it out and Hitchhiking is legal is Wisconsin, so long as you do not stand in traffic lanes or cross any signs prohibiting pedestrians.

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Written by RyanGaffney

July 30th, 2011 at 4:06 pm

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Bus: Leg 4

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I stayed up on the internet in a UIC lounge until about 4am, ate the other half of some really good pizza, and then walked back to the bus station. People were already lining up for the 6 am bus, and an attendant told me to go stand in line 13


When I got to the end of it the ticker taker told me that my bus had just left. She pointed to a nice shiny blue express bus like the one I had ridden from Saint Louis. I guess I got comfortable here in the big city and lost track of my Survival Mode. She put me on the bus she was taking tickets for, which was headed to the same place, and told me I could transfer to the Express bus in Milwaukee


I was pretty upset when I got on the old Sans-WiFi bus to Milwaukee. I didn’t think there was any way it was going to make it in time to transfer me to a faster newer express bus that had already left.

My attitude quickly changed when the driver got on the PA system though.

“Hello passengers this here’s your captain speaking. We’ll be driving to Milwaukee Wisconsin today, it’ll be a non smoking drive, if you got any electronic devices just keep those attached to some headphones and at a volume where only you can hear it. Two of ya’ll are here on the wrong bus, you should be going to Madison, so when we get off you’re gonna talk to me and I’ll make sure you get on the right one. That’s it! If you’re in the back of the bus kick back relax kick your shoes off. If you’re in the front of the bus, relax, but leave you’re shoes on, so I can relax. This is a Nonstop trip”


Something about her sassy and self assured attitude stood in direct contrast to everything I’ve seen from Greyhound employees so far. So I relaxed and took a nap in the seat.


Before I knew it we were in Milwaukee ahead of schedule. We’d even beaten the New Blue Express bus. I’ve been waiting for it as I write this entry.

Written by RyanGaffney

July 30th, 2011 at 10:33 am

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Bus: Chicago

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So I arrived in Chicago at about 8pm. The bus leaves for Madison at 6 am. For those of you who are bad at math that’s 8 hours I have to spend alone in downtown Chicago in the middle of the night.


I’ve been in Chi once before, on a cross country road trip with my dad, when I was 18. I can’t exactly say I “know the town” but that’s okay, I’m a city boy, this may not by my jungle but it’s a jungle all the same, and I can handle it.


First order of business is to get some real deep dish pizza.


Giordianos is highest rated on Zaget.com and only a couple blocks from here


Make sure you see the sears tower while you’re here, you wouldn’t want to miss it


…Of course it’s the tallest building in the states so to accomplish that you really just have to look up



Annnd then find a place to hole up for the night. Luckily that Express Bus was comfortable enough that I don’t need to sleep, that would be conspicuous. Still, should find someplace I can relax where I won’t stick out. Preferably somewhere with power and WiFi.


Luckily it’s not my first time being homeless for the night in an inner city. When this happened in LA I caught a Rail Line to Fuller Seminary and passed out in a lounge with my laptop open.


Say where’s University of Illinois?


This is just too easy!

Written by RyanGaffney

July 30th, 2011 at 12:24 am

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Bus: Leg 3

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At some point along the road to I must have switched into survival mode. It’s like my Dad, when he goes back home to New York City, and you hear his accent get thicker and his temper get shorter as he prepares for City Mode. I put my Game Face on.


St. Louis is the first stop on the trip where I transfer buses. It didn’t matter that I got off in Kansas City, I knew I would be able to get back on, because I was sitting right back down on the same bus. At St Louis, they had the opportunity to screw with me again, and I wasn’t going to let them.


Since I wasn’t allowed onto the first bus on my itinerary, I had missed my connection to Chicago as well. Presumably I had no rights, the next connection could be any time they felt like and I would get to deal with it.


The driver looked at my ticket and directed me to the counter where I began to play Customer Service Roulette. This station was nicer, cleaner, and bigger, than the KC station, They shared it with Amtrack, who apparently have higher standards. St. Louis was using airport style consoles with computer printed boarding passes, All Junction City had given me was a piece of Carbon Paper.


I came in at Noon, they wanted to put me on a bus to Chicago at about 8pm with a connection to Madison in the morning. Also, the ticket I had been given in Junction did not cover round trip. After a bit of talking and schmoozing I managed to haggle them down to a 2pm Express Bus to Chicago, and a ride back on the day I wanted.


I was able to secure this ride back only by providing my online receipt from the Greyhound Website which I was able to procure on my SmartPhone, which had no cell reception, but could access the terminals WiFi.


I’m really starting to enjoy this now. What else you got? Huh? What’s the next challenge?


I’m on the bus to Chicago now. This one is actually nice, with the outlets and the WiFi they promised. It’s also only about half full which means I get two seats to myself that I can curl up and go to sleep in.


I’m going to do that now

Written by RyanGaffney

July 29th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

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Bus: Leg 2.5

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About halfway to Columbia Missouri I used the restroom. I’ve used restrooms on buses before. Back in California I was a part of a very large youth group and there was no way we were going to get enough 15 passenger vans to move everybody, so we used to charter buses to our camping trips. The bathrooms on those buses were much like those on airplanes. Smelling heavily of blue disinfectant fluid with a bowl tapering to an automatic metal flap. That was not the experience here. Instead this bus had something more like a PortaJohn or a campsite bathroom. Just a seat leading straight down to a box filled with human waste. I was glad to be seated near the front.


I lost track of Leo, and ended up sitting next to a older gentleman with a voice like Henry Fonda, or Sam Eliot. Deep and world wearied. He was an ex-trucker who now delivers cars for people. So if you buy a car on eBay for instance and it’s in Rhode Island, this guy will drive it to you and then take the greyhound back home for a small fee.


We talked for a long time, all the way to St. Louis. Or rather he talked, I listened. He was a Christian and went on at some length about how he came to faith, and what he did now with it. He was deeply concerned with Christian political issues like gay marriage, not so much with personal righteousness. It was clear in his mind that a lot of people were wrong, Catholics, Muslims, and Christians who were just looking for fire insurance were all equally subject to judgment in his mind. He didn’t really ask me what I thought.


I was glad to have the background noise though, as it gave me something to do and think about. The alternative was to think about the bus I was in which stalled 7 times on the way to St. Louis as it weaved through the various small towns in the Ozarks. I didn’t much want to spend the day in one of these towns waiting for Greyhound to send another bus. Luck was with me, and I got to sit listening to Mr. Fonda’s soothing voice the whole way.

Written by RyanGaffney

July 29th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

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Bus: Leg 2

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The woman sitting next to me talked about her story, how she has a black eye from when her son and one of his friends broke into her house  last week to beat her up because they were drunk and he was mad at her for abandoning him. It struck me how nonchalant about this she was “I did it, to have a life” she said and then went on to tell about how happy she is that he’s in jail now. She’s riding the bus to visit her father who she hasn’t seen in 15 years because he is dieing.


I expected when I was in Junction City and first realized that this would be a deeply cross-cultural experience, that it would help me to appreciate and empathize with the lower class people all around me. Alter all, despite the fancy clothes and Yankee upbringing I’m pretty underclass myself. I don’t have a car, I’m technically homeless, and I beg for a living.


In actuality though so far it’s done more to make me appreciate the rich Christians I know. There’s a sense I get sometimes that a lot of people are way to focused on success and getting ahead, as if that’s what matters in life, and it has often seemed idolatrous to me. Sometimes it probably is authentically idolatrous, but today I’m also learning that it’s pretty efficient!


Generational poverty is a massive, systemic, social justice issue. If you’re poor, the chances are your kids are going to be poor, and so are their kids. And with that generational poverty comes hopelessness, a sense of detachment from your own destiny that causes you to feel like stuff just happens to you independent of you. As a result we see much higher rates of crime, domestic abuse, child abuse, obesity and alcoholism.


So if you’re not poor. It’s actually a very good thing for the world if you continue to not be poor, and make sure you’re kid’s aren’t poor. Cycles are hard to break and we don’t want to start another one.

Written by RyanGaffney

July 29th, 2011 at 9:59 am

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Bus: Leg 1

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The 4am bus was late, but I got on at about 5 and sat at the last seat remaining in the very front. There was another guy Leo who got on with me, and he and the bus driver were the only folks awake on the bus. I chatted with each of them quietly for a little, I think we were all just glad to be moving


I packed two small carry-ons for the trip. I figure I’d rather stop at a Thrift Store in Madison than add the complication of checked baggage to this whole maneuver. One bag is my rucksack. It’s just a standard bag of essentials I always keep packed in case I decide to go somewhere suddenly. The other is my laptop bag, filled with stuff to keep me entertained on the road. Books, movies and the like.


The ride on I-70 towards KC is familiar enough, I saw the sun rise over the highway and then got some reading done. I don’t have the wifi access I was promised but now I’m here at the bus station catching up on blogging, maybe this won’t be so crazy after all.


This bus station is not like the one at Junction. It’s an actual depot with about 10 busses all lined up in a row and employees that actually work for the company. The building is simple, with a ticket desk, some bathrooms, a little food stand, and all surrounding a central sort of lobby with metal mesh seats and concrete slabs. Everything in the station is built to be indestructible, and the presence of some old video games and pay phones gives the whole place an early 90s feel


Some of the people here have clearly been here for a while, sprawled out on the floor. I feel distinctly out of place, but I get the sense that many others feel the same. It’s a unique crew, with some military guys, some very young white girls, and quite a few people who are clearly in generational poverty, many of them notably overweight and wearing dirty clothes, while sporting some of the most creative haircuts I’ve ever seen.


There’s some Amish folk here too. I don’t know what sect, but they are wearing blue, and riding a greyhound so I guess they are some of the “liberal” Amish. It’s interesting to me how opposite, and yet similar our experiences must be. We both feel like fish out of water, but here I am riding greyhound in an attempt to be radically counter cultural while for them this experience must feel like a dangerous compromise of their faith to be so conformist.


In the time since I’ve been here it’s begun to get very crowded


It’s 7:30 Am and my adventure is just beginning.


Written by RyanGaffney

July 29th, 2011 at 7:30 am

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Bus: Leg 0

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What the hell was I thinking?

My Bus adventure has not even started yet and I’m already beginning to think this was a bad idea. Maybe the airline industry isn’t so bad after all.

There’s a town not far from home called Junction City. It’s mostly military, and in the 6 months I’ve been in Kansas I hadn’t yet found an excuse to go there. But that’s where the bus station is, so I got a friend to drive me down there and experienced it for the first time today. It had the feel of an old Route 66 Ghost Town.

The bus stop was no stop at all, It was a store of some kind called “Junk In the Trunk”. I think it’s like a secondhand store or pawn shop but in the 3 hours I’ve been here I haven’t actually seen anybody buy anything, so I don’t really know.

What I did see is that the store was filled with crap. There is a room in the back that is stocked with DVDs  of B Movies from years ago, the sort you throw away. There’s incense burning by the bathrooms, instead of a incense stand it’s in the slot of an active power strip, which in turn is balanced on what looks like a big speaker, with a drum set piled on top of it.

In the clearing near the center of the store, there are 4 kids, one infant, a toddler, two small children. I can’t tell whose they are. Next to the counter somebody was watching a Tyler Perry movie, and then when it ended they put on a Gross-Out Horror Flick.

The shopkeep himself doesn’t work for greyhound. Apparently he’s an authorized retailer or something. And he simply could not care less about what’s going on.

The bus arrived, a half an hour late and then wouldn’t let me on. Apparently it was full, and that was my problem somehow. They said I had to come back at 4am where I could catch another bus instead of the one I bought the ticket for.

To be clear, I wasn’t bumped. I wasn’t comped anything for my troubles; I’m not even entitled to a refund. I was simply told that I would not be allowed onto the bus I had scheduled to be on because… those are the breaks. Try again in the middle of the dang night!

So now I’m sitting back at the station trying to figure out what in the world I was thinking. I’m a college educated professional, taking a reimbursable business trip and here I am stick in a chicken shack in Junk City USA waiting for a guy to take me back home, so he can take me back here at an ungodly hour of the morning, so that I can hope that they weren’t also lying to my face about this next bus!

You have to understand I was raised mostly in a very wealthy part of Southern California (as opposed to the rest of southern California which is just regular-wealthy) I have no idea what I’m doing in an environment that says “yup, we’ll take your money but we absolutely do not care about you”

Still I’m trying to be missional in it. I haven’t raised my voice, I haven’t insisted on my rights (not to them anyway just to you readers) The good news is that the adventure’s begun, and it is sizing up to be more than I bargained for. If the rest of the trip is like this it will make for a rather interesting journal.

Written by RyanGaffney

July 28th, 2011 at 6:58 pm

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Bus: Why Am I Doing This?

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Every year I go back up to Madison Wisconsin for some Continuing Education. I made the decision not to fly this year, Instead I’m going to take a Greyhound Bus

Rather then spend about 2 hours on a plane, I’ll be spending about 24 in and out of busses and bus stations.

What in the world is wrong with me you ask? Well a couple of things…

Mostly it comes down to a very strong commitment to practice what I preach. When students watch the decisions I make, It’s important that they see something consistent, otherwise I’m wasting my breath.

I tell my students to take risks, to try new things, to get out of their comfort zones, and to seize every opportunity. I need to do that myself.

I’m pretty displeased with the airline industry. Of course you’re familiar with the TSA restrictions and crackdowns, as well as the new scanners that can be used to see you naked. But if I’m being honest, I’m less offended as an American citizen who’s rights are being violated, and more offended as a Computer Geek who can’t understand how a high tech industry could be permitted to not advance in half a century.

We had much the same commercial jet travel experience in the 1960s, except that the customer service was much better, and they used an analog board rather than little TVs in the terminals to show the schedule because the idea of reprogramming TVs with unique content was still a little ”futurey”

But as I talked about in my Patronage Article. it doesn’t matter what we say with our mouths, so long as with our dollars we continue to say “Yes, give me the cheapest flight imaginable” If they continue to take things, like our checked bags, our drinks, our headphones, and our dignity and we continue to do the same things nothing will ever get better.

So I’m doing something else. Actually, Plan A was to hitchhike, or hop trains, but considering I actually need to be in Madison on time I decided to do something a little more reliable, and a little less questionably legal.

It should be fun, it should be a way to slow down and engage with the landscape of America, it should help get me out of my surburban mindset, and if nothing else, It’s slightly cheaper.

Do I think it’s necessary? Is it a Christian moral imperative that I should do this? Absolutely not, and I think that’s exactly the point. I want to be the kind of man who explores interesting moral alternatives even when not forced to. A person who does not conform to the pattern of this world.

Greyhound advertises free power and WiFi on all their busses So I’ll keep you in touch of the play by play.

Written by RyanGaffney

July 28th, 2011 at 5:38 am

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What We’re Up Against

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There’s a lunch I go to when I can at another ministry house on campus. They gather to eat mostly organic local food, and It’s free, so win/win! But the Spiritual Director had hoped it would foster just a bit more community than it does.

To use his words “it’s a drag” people come, eat and leave, without talking to anybody they don’t know. And the people who do know each other form tight and unfriendly cliques. So he and I and a couple friends sat down and brainstormed ideas about how to mix it up a bit.

“You could tape water guns under their chairs” Said one friend

“Yeah but they would have to be unloaded or they would leak”

“What about like an organized Mixer-game What’s a good game?”

Nah” I said. To formal, people won’t go for it.

“What if we just made paper airplanes and threw them at each other?”

So that’s what we did. The next morning we took a bunch of discarded newspaper (Eco-Friendly) and folded them up into airplanes, and threw them at one another at the lunch. You won’t believe what happened.


We were sure no red blooded American youth would pass up the opportunity to make a complete mess of a room while joyously chucking paper at their friends and perfect strangers but it wasn’t to be.

We folded airplanes and we threw then at one another and we ducked and dodged all around a bunch of counter-cultural hippies in cliques eating their organic rice who did their best to ignore us completely.

One man was actually began reading the old out of date newspaper rather than join the fun. I couldn’t believe it.
I mean I understand that I’m a lot more outgoing than most people are or want to be, and significantly more counter-cultural. But to sit down in the middle of an airplane war and disregard it… That takes some extraordinary level of militaristic introversion that I just can’t fathom.

I mean it’s not like this was a meeting of the Southern Baptist Men in Business here! It was everybody. Including the friendly looking college kids folks with the tie-dye shirts.

Thoreau said “most men life lives of quiet desperation” but even a quietly desperate man will respond to stimuli. Today I wonder if most men live at all.

Written by RyanGaffney

July 9th, 2011 at 12:28 am

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