By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
"Now," he concludes, "you're gonna see a lot of hitchhiking."
The Shop and Hop is a whistle-stop, a blink-and-you-miss-it potty break only for drivers, and seldom then. Kim Marshall, the very young woman behind the counter, sees a lot of buses, but never meets their occupants.
"I hear it's going to be an inconvenience around here," she says. "Like if you don't have a car. Which I don't." Last winter she commuted by all-terrain vehicle to an early-morning job cleaning a bar. "It was cold," she remembers, "but if you can stand it, hitchhiking is a lot faster than the bus."
One bus regular is a little young for that. "A little girl, maybe thirteen, riding back and forth between her mother and father," Marshall says. "A custody deal. Kind of depressing."
"My kid did it by plane, and it was still depressing," comments a man at the back of the store. "It's depressing no matter how you do it."
Fletcher Stumph treats layovers in Steamboat like small vacations. During his ten hours of downtime, he watches movies, catches up on newspapers and walks by the river, which affords more opportunities for the kind of people-watching and -analyzing he enjoys on the bus.
"The contact is important to me," he says. "After all, I was a hairdresser for years."
In fact, Stumph put himself through Brigham Young University by working at his father's barber shop, then took his journalism degree to work as a newspaper editor in the small town of Patterson, California. "It didn't seem to suit me," he recalls. "I covered everything, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. So I went back to hairdressing, and I ended up doing the Osmonds, their original show. Donny and Marie and the rest of 'em. For about fourteen years. They were nice people, but I decided to be a lawyer, so I went to law school in San Diego, but I failed the bar. And I ended up driving a truck, then a bus. And I like it."
His law background comes in handy when the occasional customer complains that Stumph's edict against profanity violates freedom-of-speech guarantees. "And I'm able to say that I don't believe the court really does uphold profanity in a public place," Stumph says. "That was not the intention of the First Amendment."
With only five years of seniority, Stumph doesn't think he'll have many options when Greyhound's route cuts take effect. When they announced the impending closures in June, Greyhound managers said they were the first in a series of nationwide moves designed to make the company more profitable. Stumph would like to keep his base in Salt Lake, near the wife he married and the house he owns, but he's put in for runs out of Portland and Las Vegas, just in case. Any feeling of security would just be an illusion, he says. For a long time, things at Greyhound have seemed dicey.
"It's a major mechanical mess," Stumph opines. "Tremendous things are wrong with our buses -- the air conditioning shuts off, the alternators go out. I get the impression the mechanics barely have time to barely keep them running. When we break down, it takes hours to get another driver out there with another bus -- and it's well known on our run that we're getting junk buses. We're going over 11,000-foot passes with the Œcheck engine' light on. And it's not just eighty driving jobs we're losing; it's all the mechanics, all the people at the stops. Renee up in Wyoming, and Laura in Steamboat Springs."
Laura DeBowes, who manages the Steamboat Transportation Center, will man her station until August 18. After that, anyone arriving at the center looking for a bathroom, a map or one of the free buses that circle the town will have to find it without help from a human.
"We had a half-dozen people a day get on the Greyhound," DeBowes says. "Actually more in recent months. It stops for about thirty minutes for the facilities and the phone. The city built a little park by the river for kids to play in, and they get off the bus and play. By now I know some of them. An older lady who goes down to Denver for college once a week. It leaves people like her with absolutely nothing. The older population, especially."
"It's generally the lower economic rung that needs the bus," agrees her boss, George Krawzoff. "It's not like they can just go to Hayden and jump on a plane. And can you imagine what it costs to take Alpine Taxi to Denver?"
Krawzoff isn't objective about the bus, and even admits to a slight emotional attachment. In his late teens, he rode the Greyhound from Chicago to northern Michigan and had a "state-of-the-art subterranean experience," he remembers. "At that age, you have to ride the Greyhound. It builds character. Now what?"
Sunny Rolando is head bookkeeper at the Coop gas station, where the bus stops. But not in recent memory. "I've never had to catch it," she says. "I don't know anyone who's had to catch it, and I've been here eight years."