Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Nothing extraordinary happens on the first or any of the subsequent bus rides that the narrator takes between her home in San Francisco and her job in Sacramento, a fact that makes her attitude toward buses and the people on them even more puzzling and interesting. She is never accosted or threatened. Her worst experience is being asked, on her first ride, to move out of a seat claimed by a burly black man: She moves, and the incident is over.
However, the narrator is a study in paranoia. In the first of the eleven unnumbered sections of the story, the narrator is afraid that she has gotten on the wrong bus. Her fellow passengers look strange, intimidating. She puts her briefcase on the adjoining seat so that no one can sit next to her. The bus driver apparently takes the incorrect number of coupons from her ticket book, a circumstance she regards as “mysterious”; a mentally disabled boy makes a “senseless” racket in the back; and so on. However, the narrator’s exposure to this apparently hostile environment seems to work a healthy change in her, noticeable even by the end of the first section, where she “yearns to,” but does not, join in the general applause for the black woman who has the last word in an argument.
In the second and very brief section of the story, the narrator describes her “situation.” She is recently divorced and living with an older woman, Hortense. She lives with Hortense not because of any lesbian tendency, she assures the reader, but out of “sheer dependency.” After this brief meditation, the narrator is back on the bus completing the journey to San Francisco. On one leg of the trip she makes friends with a young black woman who works with mentally challenged children. The narrator feels guilty about siding with the black woman against the...
(The entire section is 741 words.)
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Adams begins her story ‘‘Greyhound People’’ as she typically begins most of her stories—by immediately stating the problem or the challenge that the protagonist is facing. In the first sentence of the story, the narrator relates: ‘‘As soon as I got on the bus, in the Greyhound station in Sacramento, I had a frightened sense of being in the wrong place.’’ With this fear looming over her, she takes the closest seat to the driver that she can find. Unfortunately, as soon as she settles into it, a man angrily claims the seat as his own. The narrator relinquishes the seat to him and steps back a few paces to find a substitute.
Once settled, the narrator focuses on the people and the conversations around her. She notices that the anger of the man who made her change seats has subsided. He talks to two women across the aisle from him as if he were a friend of theirs, happy to see them. Meanwhile the narrator sits alone. She wonders, again, if she has taken the wrong bus but does not take any action to find out. Rather, she watches the bus driver enter the bus and take his seat. Instead of questioning him, she wonders why he does not collect tickets.
As the bus pulls out of the station, a child with a very loud voice begins asking a lot of nonsensical questions. ‘‘Mom is that a river we’re crossing? Mom do you see that tree?’’ The questions are not only loud, they are non-stop. And eventually a black woman in the front of the bus becomes irritated by them. She tells the little boy to be quiet. The boy has a startled look on his face when he starts to add new questions to his repertoire. ‘‘Mom does she mean me? Mom who is that?’’ The narrator admits that she silently applauded the woman who told the boy to be quiet. Then a white woman walks down the aisle and confronts the black woman, telling her that her son was ‘‘retarded’’ and his constant questioning was the way ‘‘he tests reality.’’ The mother then adds: ‘‘You mustn’t make fun of him like that.’’ When the mother returns to her son, his questions begin again.
The narrator, although somewhat embarrassed by her lack of sensitivity about the boy, found the taunting by the black woman to be a bit appealing. She liked the sound of defiance in the black woman’s voice. This is when the narrator turns around to observe the people on the bus and notices that she, a white woman, was in a definite minority. Most of the passengers were black, which surprises her.
In the next section of the story, the narrator provides a glimpse of the scenery that is passing her by through the window. She describes the rolling hills and farmland and a view of the distant bay of water. In the middle of her description, the bus turns off the freeway, making the narrator fully realize that her fears were true. She was not on the San Francisco express bus. The bus would be making three stops: Vallejo, Oakland, and lastly San Francisco. The narrator sighs. At least the bus was going to San Francisco. The worst of her mistake was that she would be late. Her roommate, Hortense, who had volunteered to pick her up, would probably be worried about her. But that could be easily mended.
When the bus pulls into the station in Vallejo, the seat partner of the black woman who told the young boy with all the questions to be quiet stands up and turns to the back. ‘‘And you, you just shut up!’’ she tells the boy. Many people in the bus applaud her. But the narrator does not,...
(The entire section is 1432 words.)