“God bless the United States and God bless New York City” proclaimed a sign as the bus rolled through a small Indiana town. In October 2001, author Bill Markley was traveling by public bus from Pierre, South Dakota, to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, for a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity celebration. The day Markley left South Dakota began simply enough, but soon tragedy unfolded when a deranged man of Croatian descent slit the throat of a Greyhound bus driver causing an accident and throwing the nation’s bus system into disarray. American Pilgrim is an honest account of life on the bus, the characters on the bus, bus culture, and the mood of the American people—reflective, patriotic, and upbeat. In those challenging days after the attacks on 9/11, everyone struggled to make sense of the world; as Markley worked on this story; it grew beyond the story of a simple 3,000-mile bus trip. He recalls many of his life’s detours, recounting past events at locations the bus traveled through and people associated with those locations—a rambling personal history of people, places, and things. The trip took on new meaning and became a spiritual journey into the country’s past and Markley’s past.
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American PilgrimA Post-September 11th Bus Trip and Other Tales of the Road
By Bill Markley
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Bill Markley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBeginning with a Crash, October 3, 2001, Wednesday
Obnoxious buzzing pierced my brain. More asleep than awake, I reached toward the nightstand fumbling to turn off the alarm clock. "6:00 a.m." glowed its digital face.
"Liz," I mumbled, "Radio." My wife reached toward the nightstand on her side of the bed and flicked on the radio's switch. This was our standard morning wakeup routine.
"... Greyhound bus ..." the news announcer's voice spoke as I faded in and out of consciousness, "... driver's throat slashed ... accident ... ten people killed."
"What!" I asked Liz, "What did he say?"
"Something about a bus accident."
Fully awake I listened intently; but the announcer had moved on to other news. It was hard to get up after returning to Pierre, South Dakota, at 1:00 a.m. from Governor Bill Janklow's Terrorism Task Force meeting in Rapid City, South Dakota. After a shave and shower, I went to the kitchen, turned on the morning television news, and ate oatmeal while rapidly clicking the remote flipping from station to station trying to find the latest on the bus accident.
A Croatian had attacked a Greyhound bus driver in Tennessee. He had slashed the driver's throat causing the bus to veer off the road and crash. The wounded driver was able to climb out of the bus, struggle up onto the road, and find help for the people on the bus. The accident killed ten persons including the Croatian. The bus companies suspended all travel until further notice.
Great! I thought.
I sat at the computer checking airline flights, hoping fares had dropped or something had opened on frequent flier seating—nothing. In fact, the cost of flying had climbed even higher. The airline companies were complaining they were hurting for passengers. Then why not reduce fares to fill the seats? Apparently, that did not make sense to the airlines.
Here I was, ready to take a 3,000-mile round trip bus ride to Blacksburg, Virginia. The authorities had canceled all bus travel indefinitely until they could determine if the attack on the bus driver was an isolated incident or a coordinated terrorist attack on the United States. How was I going to get to my fraternity reunion? As I stared at the computer screen, I thought back through the events that had brought me to this point.
I have lived in Pierre, South Dakota, since 1976. Liz, my wife, is from Selby ninety miles to the north. Liz and I met in Pierre where we married and raised our two children, Becky and Christopher. My parents, Bill and Gloria, raised Doug, my younger brother, and me on a small farm at Fairview Village, in southeastern Pennsylvania. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Environmental Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Since 1976, I have worked for the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
South Dakotans pronounce Pierre, South Dakota's state capital, as "Pier" or "Peer." Pierre is located in the center of the state, along the east bank of the Missouri River in the middle of the Great Plains. According to the 2000 United States census, 15,867 people live in the Pierre area including Fort Pierre across the Missouri River. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the United States Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River in 1804, and first encountered the Lakota people, whom Lewis and Clark called the Teton Sioux, at the mouth of Bad River, in present-day Fort Pierre. In 1832, Pierre Chouteau, Jr. with the American Fur Company established a fort named after him near the Bad River. People dropped the "Chouteau Jr." so it became Fort Pierre. "Pierre" stuck for the name of the small town across the Missouri River founded in 1878.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University also known as VPI or Virginia Tech is located at Blacksburg in Virginia's Appalachian Mountains. Virginia Tech began as a small college in 1872 and now is a university with eight colleges and graduate schools. Over twenty-five thousand students attend Virginia Tech, which is one of the top research institutions in the country. Virginia Tech's mascot is a turkey—Virginia Tech, home of the Fightin' Gobblers. You have to fight if your mascot is a turkey. The other Virginia Tech nickname is Hokie. If you want to know more about the Fightin' Gobblers and what a Hokie is see Appendix D.
On June 22, 1844, fifteen Yale sophomores formed the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (DKE). DKE brothers, also known as Dekes, combine "in equal proportions the gentleman, the scholar, and the jolly good fellow." Five Presidents have been Dekes: Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Admiral Robert Peary, the first man to reach the North Pole, was a Deke. Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the Moon carried the DKE flag there.
Four underclassmen founded the Sigma Alpha Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon at Virginia Tech as an independent fraternity, Delta Kappa Sigma (DKS) on April 21, 1941. The father of one of the brothers, Billy Vinyard, in 1968 backed a loan so DKS could buy its current off-campus residence at 302 East Roanoke Street. On February 6, 1971, Delta Kappa Sigma became the Sigma Alpha Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon. Spring of 1970, I pledged and became a brother.
Sunday, September 23, 2001.
After talking it over with Liz, I decided to attend the DKE sixty-year celebration which was to be held October 5 through 7, 2001. It was a last minute decision since the celebration was less than two weeks away. Many factors contributed to my decision to go. Our daughter, Becky, had settled in for her first year of college at South Dakota State University in Brookings. Our son, Chris, was doing well as a sophomore in high school. I was fifty years old, and not getting any younger—okay; call it mid-life crisis. My dad had died from a brain tumor when he was fifty years old. I thought about that a lot. I had now lived longer than he had. How much time did I have left? Finally, fraternity brothers were bombarding me with e-mail such as:
We're expecting you to FINALLY make an appearance in Blacksburg, like the weekend of Oct. 5-7th!—Hank Mattox
Just heard from Charlie Lloyd, who is coming to the 60th. He said you were on the fence, so I thought I might give you a push. Have you seen the list of folks who are coming? I think you will see a very healthy turnout from the brothers from the early 70's.—Theta Bowden
My preferred mode of travel to Blacksburg was to take a commercial airline flight to Roanoke, Virginia, rent a car, and drive west through the mountains to Blacksburg. I checked the Internet travel web sites. To my dismay, airline flights were expensive—the lowest airfare was over nine hundred dollars.
I checked the railroads, but there were no passenger trains through South Dakota. The closest train was in Omaha, Nebraska. There were no passenger trains to Blacksburg, so travel by rail was out.
"Dad, why don't you drive?" Chris suggested. Nice idea; but Liz was not going to go along because Becky was coming home for the Native American Day (Columbus Day) weekend. I was not excited about driving solo cross-country. I would have to stop at least once, get a motel room, and sleep.
However, I had a deeper, darker problem with driving solo. I have a driving-over-long-high-arching-bridges phobia. This is not good when crossing rivers such as the Missouri and Mississippi.
I am okay if I am riding. In fact, I enjoy riding across a bridge; but if driving, I tense up, break into a cold sweat, my heart races, and my brain seems as if it is shutting down. I shout at those in the car "Talk to me! ... No! Don't talk! ... Rub my back! ... No! Don't rub my back! ... Put on some music! ... Turn the radio off!" When I reach the other side of the bridge, I let out a sigh, smile at everyone, and say, "Well that wasn't that bad was it?" as they stare at me as if I am a madman.
Monday, September 24, 2001.
As I was taking a shower, slowly waking up to face the new workweek, a revelation came to me. Take the bus! A bus line passed through Pierre and there was a station in town.
I dressed, grabbed some breakfast, and fired up the computer. Staring at the screen while gobbling down cereal, I searched the Internet for the Greyhound Bus Line.
The Greyhound website had a trip planner. I plugged in the point of origin and departure date then the destination and return date. The trip planner calculated and showed departure and arrival times. It gave the bus transfers, and the cost of the trip. If I bought a supersaver ticket, I could take the bus from Pierre to Christiansburg, Virginia, for $138 dollars round trip. Christiansburg was eight miles from Blacksburg. I could not drive from Pierre to Christiansburg for that price. I surely could find someone to pick me up at the terminal and drive me to Blacksburg. Theta Bowden, good friend and fraternity brother, instantly came to mind.
Over lunch, I rushed home and called the local travel agency. They confirmed there were no cheaper airline tickets. I tried using my frequent flyer travel miles for a free ticket. I could fly free as far as Detroit, Michigan. Then I would have to pay for a ticket from there to Roanoke, Virginia. It cost five hundred dollars round trip and it was not the most direct or quickest way to get there. That did it. I would try to take the bus.
I dialed Greyhound Bus Line's toll free number. The woman who took my call said if I wanted the supersaver ticket, I did not have enough time to buy it over the telephone with my credit card and have the ticket arrive in the mail before the bus left. She said I still had time to buy it at the local bus terminal. I could get the ticket right away; but I would have to pay for it with cash.
That sounded like a good deal. I made my decision. I would ride the bus. My excitement grew as I mentally transformed the trip into an adventure. Although it would take almost two days travel out and two days travel back, I had visions of a relaxing trip. I imagined sitting back in a comfortable reclining seat, leisurely watching the countryside flash by, reading, writing, or sleeping as the spirit moved me—a traveling mini-vacation on the bus.
Tuesday, September 25, 2001.
Over lunch, I called the Pierre bus station about buying tickets. I asked if I could stop by today at 5:00 p.m. after work. The man who answered the telephone said the bus station was only open for several hours each day and closed by 3:30 p.m. I would have to buy the ticket during my lunch hour tomorrow. I sent Theta Bowden an e-mail:
Okay! Okay! I'll come, but on one condition—you pick me up at the Christiansburg bus station.
Fantastic! I can certainly pick you up. There is a Greyhound Bus Lines phone number listed in the yellow pages with a street address of 2140 Roanoke Street, Christiansburg. Let me know the schedule and I'll plan accordingly. Wow, a cross-country bus ride! Send me the details ...
Thanks Theta, I'll take you up on your offer. I get in at 8:15 a.m. Friday morning. I'm sure I will be ripe after one day, 15 hours, and 25 minutes of riding buses. I have to leave Saturday at 5:10 p.m. in order to get home at 2:10 p.m. on Monday! Ah, the great bus trip across the heart of America.
If you get a chance, send me your complete bus itinerary ... it'll kinda be interesting to know just how many buses it takes to get from Pierre to Christiansburg ...
... go to Greyhound's website where you can create the trip and see the schedule. If I get delayed, I'll try to call ...
... if I have put together the correct schedule from greyhound. com, your departure is at 3:50 p.m., and then you go on a scenic tour of approximately 20 cities of South Dakota, finally arrive in Sioux Falls at 9:05 p.m. From there you transfer for a trip to Omaha; transferring in Omaha for Kansas City; transferring in Kansas City for St. Louis, Nashville; and then riding all the way to Christiansburg. Almost 50 stops in 41 hours?
You have the correct itinerary. I have this feeling you're going to have a big wall map and stick in pins when you see I've reached a town.
Wednesday, September 26, 2001.
Over lunch, I drove to the bus station located at C.J.'s 66 gas station on Sioux Avenue, the main road through Pierre. The station was deserted except for the manager and me. He wrote by hand each bus ticket for each leg of the trip to Christiansburg and back to Pierre. I thought the bus lines would have had computerized ticketing by now. The station was quiet. A man walked in to buy cigarettes and a lighter. Travel items were for sale on the shelves and walls. I leafed through the pages of a special edition of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper devoted to the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. When the man finished writing the tickets, I paid him $138 in cash.
Thursday, September 27, 2001.
During lunch, I visited the AAA office. I love their maps and travel books. I picked up maps of every state and major city I would be traveling through and travel books on all the states too. Once I arrived home, I spread the maps on the floor and traced the bus route.
Sunday afternoon, September 30, 2001.
I called my mother-in-law, Helen Swift, who lived in a nearby apartment complex.
"I was just thinking, I'm going to have a layover in St. Louis for about an hour. Is there anything you want to send along with me for Ron like sunflower seeds?" I asked. "He might want to drive up for a short visit."
"Well let me see and get back to you."
Helen's son, Ron, lived with Tanya, his wife, and children, Stuart and Hailey, south of St. Louis in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Ron was a connoisseur of sunflower seeds. He could crack the seed, eat it, and spit out the shells with the best of them.
A flash of inspiration—"Hey! Why don't you come along with me on the bus?" I asked. "You could spend the weekend with Ron, Tanya, and the kids and then return with me when I come back from Virginia."
There was a long pause.
"Well, I'll think about it. Let me call Ron and see what he thinks and I'll get back to you."
I was contacting people I knew along the route where I would have layovers. I e-mailed Karl Böhmer, a South African, who had been a vicar at Faith Lutheran Church in Pierre this past year and had just returned to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Karl was happy to hear from me and would be able to meet me at the bus station. I e-mailed Faith Lutheran Church to see if they wanted to send anything with me for Karl. Betty Leidholt, the church secretary, replied, "I think we'll want to put a box together to send to him."
I contacted Terry Pool who lived in Omaha, Nebraska. Terry had been the associate pastor many years ago at Faith Lutheran Church. Terry and I enjoyed hunting and discussing history and theology. Terry was instrumental in involving me with Civil War reenacting. He was now leaving the ministry and about to start truck driver school. I would be arriving in Omaha late at night; but Terry planned to visit me at the bus station.
Excerpted from American Pilgrim by Bill Markley Copyright © 2011 by Bill Markley. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Maps....................xi
Chapter 1: Beginning with a Crash, October 3, 2001, Wednesday....................1
Chapter 2: Pre-Boarding....................3
Chapter 3: Pierre Departure, October 3, 2001, Wednesday....................13
Chapter 4: Pierre to Sioux Falls....................18
Chapter 5: Sioux Falls Transfer....................38
Chapter 6: Sioux Falls to Omaha....................44
Chapter 7: Omaha Transfer....................49
Chapter 8: Omaha to Kansas City....................52
Chapter 9: Kansas City Transfer....................60
Chapter 10: Kansas City to St. Louis....................64
Chapter 11: St. Louis Transfer....................77
Chapter 12: St. Louis to Nashville....................86
Chapter 13: Nashville Transfer....................101
Chapter 14: Nashville to Christiansburg, Virginia....................107
Chapter 15: Virginia Tech Destination....................121
Chapter 16: Christiansburg to Nashville....................149
Chapter 17: Nashville Transfer....................160
Chapter 18: Nashville to St. Louis....................165
Chapter 19: St. Louis Transfer....................169
Chapter 20: St. Louis to Kansas City....................172
Chapter 21: Kansas City Transfer....................175
Chapter 22: Kansas City to Sioux Falls....................177
Chapter 23: Sioux Falls Transfer....................181
Chapter 24: Sioux Falls to Pierre....................184
Chapter 25: Afterward....................187
Chapter 26: Final Observations....................189
About The Author....................205
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bill Markley takes the reader on a ride across America in the aftermath of 9/11. He introduces us to off-beat characters and an alternate universe of transportation few of us experience. In this age of high-flying jets and fast trains, Bill reminds us of the pleasures and insights to be gained from making the journey itself the destination. Lucia Robson New York Times Best Selling Author of Ride The Wind Like Bill Markley’s cross-country bus trip guided by its own internal logic, American Pilgrim wends its way from history to memoir to travelogue and back after the September 11 attacks, collecting artifacts along the way. Markley contemplates the state of the nation and of travel offering advice to aid any journey: “Don’t panic.” Julianne Couch Author, Jukeboxes & Jackalopes: A Wyoming Bar Journey