Shenanigans, Chicanery, & Plain Out Tomfoolery
By Tom Poland
For two years I worked as a ticket agent for Southeastern Stages and Greyhound while going to graduate school at the University of Georgia. It was the most entertaining job I’ve ever had. I worked with a great group of ticket agents and baggage handlers. We came from all over Georgia. I was a wide-eyed innocent seeing things I’d only heard about. It was in the bus station lobby that I saw for the first time a man passing himself off as a woman and there that I saw a man shoot himself. As he approached the ticket counter, he dropped a gun, which fired upon hitting the floor. He limped out trailing blood. I found the crumpled bullet in a corner of the lobby.
I saw drug dealings and other crimes. One cold December night before Christmas, agent M.E. Geer and I were closing the station. It was late and we had all the cash from the afternoon’s ticket sales and shipping fees, $7,000 or so, ready to go into the safe below the shipping counter. The safe was open and we were about to put several zippered money pouches into it. Seven feet away was the back door we’d failed to lock.
The door flew open and a wild-eyed hippie burst through. He had both hands thrust menacingly in the pockets of his army field jacket and slammed them on the countertop right at us.
“Give me the bread, man. C’mon, give me the bread, I’m in a hurry.”
What seemed an eternity passed, then M.E. said, “What?”
“C’mon man, give me the dough.”
M.E. and I looked at each other. Without saying a word, we each were about to hand over the money when this desperado said, “We’ve got a shipment of pizza dough here.”
There were moments of laughter too. Back then, before computers, we used a thick catalog-like book, Russell’s Official Bus Guide, a 1,000-page collection of all bus stops, times, and routes in the USA and Canada to plan cross-country trips. We lived in fear of that one call where someone wanted to go, say, from Athens to Maple Bay, Washington. The accursed agent who took the call would be tied up for an hour or more, plotting and making notes while the traveler waited on the line. And if he was the only agent on duty, it meant trying to serve passengers and answer other phones as he plotted the route.
During moments of boredom, we’d plot the most difficult routes and when we found the perfect route for tormenting a fellow agent, we’d get a friend to call in. Just as the call came in (we knew it was coming) we all got busy making sure the mark picked up the phone, “Hello, bus station.” Shielding the phone with his hand, he’d look at us for pity. “Damn, this guy wants to go to Maple Bay, Washington.”
“Ah man, you’re screwed,” we’d say. He thumbed through the guide muttering.
Back then, guys grew their hair long. A dress code, however, prohibited long hair. One agent, Tony Gay, had the kind of hair Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page would have envied. Gay refused to cut his hair, so he tucked it into a hairnet and clamped a shorthaired wig over that to comply with the dress code. With his Roy Orbison-like glasses, Gene Shalit moustache, and wig he was a sight for sore eyes.
One cold, windy March afternoon, the station manager sent Tony up the street to deposit the morning’s take. An off-duty agent got to witness a spectacle. As Tony turned the corner, a blast of wind knocked off his wig, which scooted down the street like a muskrat running from a bobcat. Tony fell in hot pursuit of his wig. A policeman, seeing this strange guy running with a pouch of money, fell into the chase as well. It ended with a big laugh for all.
The bus station. My best job ever. The pay was low but the work was fun. It was my last job as a blue-collar kind of guy, and I still miss its blue-collar cast of characters. Seeing all manner of humanity was an education for sure. To this day, I’d work there again. Things were looser then, and folks weren’t as uptight as they are today. Having fun was not yet against the rules.
Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. The University of South Carolina Press released his book, Georgialina, A Southland As We Knew It, in November 2015 and his and Robert Clark’s Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II in 2014. The History Press of Charleston published Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia in 2014. He writes a weekly column for newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia, “Georgialina.” Find more of Tom’s writing at www.tompoland.net.