By Jim Buchanan
A common worry for travelers and commuters is being late for the bus. A thousand sight gags have played out in movies and on TV of a hobo or businessman chasing down a bus pulling away from a stop.
A story that appeared in the Oct. 6, 1943 Sylva Herald tells quite a different tale, not of a boy who missed a bus but of a bus who wouldn’t let a boy go. The story carried no byline, so the author is lost in time. But it’s a tale that is worth sharing in its entirety.
The man who writes advertisements for the bus companies, playing up the ease and comfort which one can travel via bus should interview a Waynesville high school boy, who proved recently, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that busses afford every comfort a traveler could desire, and most of all, one travel hundreds of miles for a few cents, if the tactics of this Waynesville boy are followed.
This most unusual travel incident took place late in August. It was also late in the afternoon. The young man was anxious to get to Sylva. He bought the 44-cent ticket for the 35-minute ride, and impatiently paced the station floor waiting for the bus. He was tired and worn from his day’s activities, but was anxiously awaiting to start his 20-mile trip.
As soon as the bus rolled to a stop, he hopped on, threw open the window, and settled down in the deep leather cushioned seat. The bus eased out of the station, and on towards Sylva. As the bus crossed the crest of Balsam Mountain, our traveler began to breathe deeply of the cool Balsam-scented air, and in a few minutes he was off in a sound sleep, dreaming of arriving in Sylva in just a few short minutes. Time passed while the traveler slept undisturbed. The bus stopped to pick up a passenger standing on the edge of the highway, and the sound sleeper roused. He remembered he was going to Sylva, and giving a short stretch, and looking straight ahead, he saw the glowing lights of a town.
He gave himself a pat on the back for being able to get such a good nap, and wake up in the nick of time to get off at his destination. He made his way up to the driver, and with an air of a seasoned traveler said: “Sylva certainly looks pretty at night, doesn’t it?” The driver ventured a quick glance toward his passenger, not sure whether he was being kidded or the passenger was on the tipsy side. “You, you mean Sylva back in North Carolina?” the surprised driver queried. “Yep, the county seat of Jackson County. You know, the place I bought a 44-cent ticket for before leaving Waynesville a while ago,” the slightly confused passenger replied.
“Gee whiz, man,” the driver spurted, as the circumstances began to dawn on him. “Where were you three hours ago when we made a 15-minute stop in Sylva?” “Must have been asleep,” came the sheepish reply. “This town just ahead of us is Commerce, Georgia, and we are about 100 miles from Sylva,” the driver continued as the Waynesville boy listened and began to see the predicament he was in. To make a long story short, the driver conferred at length with the passenger during the stop at Commerce. It was decided that the Waynesville boy go on to Atlanta, and there catch a bus back to Greenville, and then on into Asheville and back to Waynesville.
Of course, it meant riding all night, but that seemed to be the best and quickest way home. The boy was given the proper transfer, and the driver saw that he was aboard the bus for Greenville. Many other people were also going to Greenville and the Waynesville boy found that all the seats were occupied when he got aboard, and instead of getting a leather cushioned seat, he had to stand on leather soled shoes. He stood all the way from Atlanta to Greenville.
At Greenville he hurried to the waiting Asheville bus, hoping against hope that his standing was over, but lo and behold, some 10 or 12 other passengers had the same thought. He stood first on one tired foot, then the other until he got to Hendersonville where he saw the sun peep over the Blue Ridge Mountains. At Asheville he boarded the bus for Waynesville, and found one seat left. Needless to say, he flopped down quickly. He was determined to stay awake and get off at the home station he had left some 11 hours earlier. But even if he had wanted to sleep, his tired burning feet, aching legs and hurting back would not have let him. He was worn out. He had heard the steady purr of the bus motor until it grew louder and louder in his ears. He was just too tired to sleep, or even close his eyes for a short catnap. Up the steep Canton hill groaned the bus and when it stopped in Canton, the person occupying the other part of the seat got off. This gave him a whole seat and he turned and twisted until he was curled up like a kitten before an open fire, and was just about as comfortable.
The bus stopped at Clyde, and the young man gave a sigh of relief: only 7 more miles, and I’ll be home, he thought. But then something happened. The position he was in was too much comfort for him after the long standing trip from Atlanta to Hendersonville. He swooned off into dream land. The bus continued to make all scheduled stops, and when the weary traveler woke up he looked out as the bus was slowing down for a station. He blinked once, twice and three times as he read and re-read the sign just a few feet from his window: SYLVA, N. C.
He could stand no more. He quickly got off the bus, and walking around a bit, made sure he was in Sylva. Yes, sir, the very spot he had wanted to get off 13 hours earlier, and now he was there. The dazzled young man walked up to the ticket window, and with hurting pride, said: “When does the next bus go to Waynesville?” “Due in a few minutes” came the answer. “Well, please give me a ticket,” he said as he shoved 44 cents towards the ticket agent.
When the Waynesville bus rolled in he was the last to get aboard. While there were vacant seats in the back, the young man preferred to stand right near the door and watch the mountain scenery. The driver thought he was a vacationist from the lowlands on his way back home and wanted to get everything possible in the way of scenery. The traveler, however, wasn’t interested in scenery. He was interested in staying awake and getting off at Waynesville. And this time he made good his intentions. He got off the bus at the Waynesville station, and just as he stepped from the bus, a friend happened to pass and yelled: “Hey, there fellow. Where have you been?” “Asleep,” he yelled back to his friend, who failed to understand the truthfulness in the answer.
The traveler had covered 611 miles on 88 cents. He had intended going 20 miles.
To this day he will walk around the block, rather than meet or see a bus.