Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1432
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, even though she admits that she would have liked to.’’
The narrator provides a small amount of information about herself: she lives in San Francisco and works in a government office there but has been temporarily assigned to duty in a Sacramento office. That is why she is commuting between the two cities. He husband has just recently told her that he was in love with a woman of Japanese descent who works as a nurse. The narrator allowed her husband to keep their apartment because she does not like to argue.
As new passengers board the bus in Vallejo, the narrator notices an extremely large woman walking down the aisle. The woman is big enough to fill two seats, the narrator states, but there are no double seats vacant. The narrator assumes that the woman heads her way because she is very thin and does not therefore take up much room. The woman apologizes for her size and the amount of room she takes up when she sits next to the narrator. They strike up a conversation, one of the few in the whole story.
The bus finally arrives in San Francisco; and as she imagined, the narrator must face her very worried roommate, Hortense. Hortense has insisted on picking up the narrator because the bus station is located in a very seamy part of the city. But she has been waiting for a long time for her late partner. Feelings amended, the two women go home to a lackluster dinner—a chef salad—because Hortense is trying to lose weight.
One morning, the narrator shares a seat with a young woman who is going to Sacramento to work. The narrator suspects that that the woman is from upstate New York, the birthplace of the narrator. When the young woman confirms that this is indeed where she is from, the narrator does not share with the girl that the narrator herself is from the same place. She also hopes that the girl does not provide any more personal information about herself. The narrator would rather keep the relationship on the surface.
Once she arrives in Sacramento, the narrator describes the bus station there. Since it is in Sacramento and many people catch buses to Reno, the narrator comments on the people waiting for the Reno bus, what she refers to as ‘‘lines of gamblers.’’
When she catches the wrong bus for a second time, the narrator knows that Hortense will never believe it was a mistake. The narrator starts to make up excuses to ease Hortense’s potential anger but realizes how childish that was. At this moment, the narrator senses the consequences of being so dependent on Hortense. We are both ‘‘grown up,’’ she thinks, suggesting that she is beginning to gain some confidence.
As she travels, the narrator notices a young man sleeping across the aisle from her. He stirs her memories of her husband. She then recounts how her marriage fell apart, the signs of which she is just now recognizing. When her bus finally arrives in San Francisco, Hortense is furious and does not allow the narrator to soothe her in any way. When they arrive home, the narrator refers to herself and Hortense as ‘‘the odd couple.’’
The narrator bumps into the young girl from upstate New York again. The girl tells the narrator about a bus pass that she can buy that would allow her not only to go from San Francisco to Sacramento but to anywhere in California. The narrator decides to buy the ticket, which according to her made California seem ‘‘limitless.’’ Then the narrator admits that she really does understand how the Greyhound bus station worked. In other words, she knew where she had to go in order to catch the bus she intended to catch, and if she got on the wrong bus at that point, it would be on purpose. She is tempted to go into a restaurant and order a milkshake. However, since Hortense has put both of them on a diet, the narrator feels a bit guilty about having the ice cream drink. The narrator realizes that her feelings are ridiculous, since she does not need to lose weight and can actually afford to gain some. So she orders the milkshake. While she is drinking it, the black man, who had ordered her (rather gruffly) to vacate his seat on the bus at the beginning of the story, walks up to her table and asks how she is doing. With these three events (buying the All-California bus pass, drinking the milkshake, and being recognized by a man), the narrator says ‘‘something remarkable’’ has happened. She is beginning to think for herself, understand her emotions, and open up to the people around her.