I picked my way down the aisle of the Greyhound, avoiding that guy hacking like Ratzo Rizzo, and discovered two empty seats near the back. Could it be that—in spite of the Easter rush, in spite of the packed bus from Florence, in spite of the 2 1/2-hour delay in Fayetteville, in spite of the run of lousy luck that had brought me here in the first place—I would actually be able to stretch out and grab some Zs between here and Richmond?

Pull away, Bus, I prayed. Now.

The Largest Man in the World lurched up the aisle. Eight feet, 600 pounds. Taco Bell bag clutched to his chest, wrapped in the stench of tired chimichangas.

He halted at my seat. Hunkered in.

There is no god.

**

I had just finished an author gig at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. The students were courteous and intelligent; my hosts, English professor Jon Tuttle and his lovely wife Cheryl, were great fun. There was sunshine; there was laughter; there were insightful questions. There was even a decent paycheck.

It was good.

Then I tried to get home.

I’d bought my tickets from Spirit Air two months earlier on line. I had never flown Spirit, but it flew non-stop to Myrtle Beach, an hour from Florence. My tickets were for April 1, returning April 3.

The flight to Florence was uneventful.

However, on April 3—the day before Easter—I arrived at the Myrtle Beach airport to discover that my return flight was canceled. Explanations were vague and unsatisfactory, and spirits in the Spirit ticket line were not high.

There were many of us. We inched to the counter, one by one, where the clerk told us she could get us to NYC late tomorrow, Easter night. Spirit could not book or reimburse for hotels.

When my turn came, she shook her head at my ticket information. “This says MAY third. There’s nothing I can do.”

I’m a night owl; I confess I made my reservations at 2 a.m. I routinely make reservations at 2 a.m. Done it for years; never screwed up. But the Spirit Air website was tricky; it not only flipped the month on me, but because I didn’t un-check a box, it sold me “optional” cancellation insurance.

Unfortunately, it was for Spirit’s cancellation. Which had not yet happened to my MAY 3 flight.

Not yet.

I sat on the floor—there were no seats—and called Amtrak. Their only train before Easter was full.

So I called Greyhound.

Last month, I traveled Greyhound for the first time since the ‘60s. Paul and I were on a complicated vacation; we booked a bus for one short leg to avoid a steep rental-car drop-off fee. The bus had left five hours late.

So I had reason to fear the Dog. But what could I do? Renting a car would be expensive and laborious. If I got a flight—not likely, since Spirit was serving APRIL 3 passengers first—I would miss Easter dinner with the family.

Greyhound’s phone guy said the bus would leave Florence at 7:30 p.m. and arrive in NYC at 10 a.m. I was to come an hour early.

Jon and Cheryl Tuttle gamely ferried me back to Florence to catch my bus.

**

I showed up, as ordered, an hour early. The station was locked.

“They open it at 7,” a fellow rider informed me.

A kid wandered up with a tray of saran-wrapped brownies. “Best Brownies in the World,” he announced. “One dollar each.”

“How do you know they’re the best in the world?” I asked him.

“I tasted ‘em,” he said. Michelle had made them, and she was the Best Baker in the World.

A paint-peeling old Chevy ground through the lot, driven by a madwoman in silver cat’s-eye shades. She rolled down the window, blasting us with Michael Jackson, and waved. Michelle.

I bought a brownie.

The Greyhound agent unlocked the door at seven. At 7:30, the bus pulled in. All of us managed to get aboard, even those who had not been able to get on the earlier bus because Greyhound sells far more tickets than they have seats.

The first leg of the trip, from Florence to Fayetteville, ran on time. I sat beside a good-looking, smart young woman. She worked in a fast-food joint, and it was wearing on her. Didn’t know what she wanted to be; didn’t have the money to be it. Was on her way to sign up for the Army. “My sister’s already in the Air Force,” she said, “but they met their quota for new recruits.”

I offered her the Best Brownie in the World, but she said she wasn’t hungry.

**

We were to change buses in Fayetteville, but our new bus was being fixed because it couldn’t go over 55 miles per hour. So we all stood in line. One hour passed. Two. The young man ahead of me had three bus switches to get to Pittsburgh, where he was a junior in college. “I’ll never make my connections,” he said.

He drew out a benefits sheet from his Army recruiter. He was fielding three part-time jobs, but he still had loan debts of $65,000. The Army would cover it all for him if he joined for three years and waived some of his GI Bill benefits. “I don’t want to leave the US,” he said. “Especially to go to Iraq or Afghanistan. But this debt is killing me; I don’t know how else I’ll ever pay it off.”

I offered him the Best Brownie in the World. He took it eagerly.

At last, after 2 1/2 hours of sitting on our bags, we were called to our—repaired, we hoped—bus.

I found my seat. That’s when the Largest Man in the World arrived, bearing Taco Bell.

**

It is not easy to sleep when you share a seat with the Largest Man in the World. Especially when he snores. A snork-snork-snork that halts abruptly, leaving you panicked that he’s died–My god, I’ll be trapped here forever—then, snork-snork-snork.

And then there was the Taco Bell issue. I sure you get my…er…drift.

Somehow, in time, I managed to doze. And woke, squashed and cranky, as we pulled into Richmond.

**

The bus disappeared. To be repaired. Same problem. We were running late already, and our 45-minute rest stop stretched to an hour, then two.

We reboarded at last. The Largest Man in the World welcomed me back. “Nothing personal,” I said, as I walked on by.

Another, smaller man sat next to me and I fell asleep. I woke at 9 a.m.; the sun beamed on the Washington Monument, the Capitol dome, the bikepaths of DC. The driver revised our New York ETA to 2 p.m.

Baltimore. Up front, Ratzo Hacked. The Largest Man in the World belched. The man behind me phone-talked three women—his kids’ mom, the girlfriend who was picking him up in NYC, and somebody called Sugar, as in “Oh, Sugar, you know I wanna, but I’m stuck here in DC for a week with my old friend Lionel, remember him?” Little kids stirred; they’d been so quiet all night I’d forgotten they were there. Michael Jackson leaked from the earphones of the woman in front of me.

And the Dog lumbered on, on, on.