We all have romantic notions of travel. Often it’s best to keep them this way. Reality can pinprick those dreams. Mine was a Greyhound tour of the States. For years I’d thought about it; the interesting characters I’d meet along the way, a smeary window on America.

Last year, I had to change planes in Atlanta, so I stopped for a week and joined the Greyhound squad. It was hugely lacking in romance. In a country ruled by the car, those who travel by Greyhound do it through necessity. It’s obvious, but my romantic notions didn’t factor in economic reality. The buses are often dirty and late and the terminals are in the scummy part of town, full of tired and irritable folk. I saw a fair amount of aimless aggression.

The redeeming feature of Greyhound travel is Pac-Man. Every terminal has one. I scored 50,000 in Athens, beat it in Augusta and by the time I got to Macon I had a crowd of impressed onlookers. I also had repetitive strain injury.
As for the characters, well it wasn’t what I expected. There’s a kind of social bubble on the journey which you wouldn’t get on our more prissy isle. Much Chatter across aisles and lots of head swiveling as the conversations gain impetus and expand in numbers.

Two people spring to mind. A 19 year old Army kid struck up a conversation. He was proud of his country and wanted to tell me about it. He asked me what currency we used in England. I showed him a five pound note and he recognized the Queen. “Cool.” He was like a blank canvas.

The other memory is Eric. Now, Eric seemed an intelligent man. Our taste in books was similar even if our taste in music was polls apart. What can you say when someone says they like Carcass? We swapped e-mail addresses. I wish I hadn’t. I read the first three thousand word e-mail he wrote about his whole life. But not the second one a day later. Nor the one that started I HATE THE WORLD.

I stopped in Athens, Georgia for a while. I was heading for Savannah, but you can’t get there from here. It was in Athens that I hit the magic ton on Pac-Man and realised I was enjoying the stopovers more than the journeys.