The afternoon of March 7th, 2010, I sat on a bus from Salinas to Monterey, California. I was on week three of my trip to California, short on money, still unsure of when I was going home, and tired from a long day of transferring from bus to train to bus. Plus, the driver had mild road rage, yelling at anybody who cut him off.
I knew nothing about Monterey except that it had a hostel and an aquarium. I was headed to the former. As we pulled into town, I stared at the long line of homeless people squatting at the perimeter of a parking garage with brightly-colored sleeping bags. A couple minutes later the bus stopped at the main transit center, a cheerful-looking town square with potted flowers and a pavilion or two. I hopped out into the warm sun and looked around till I spotted a respectable-looking older couple who were probably locals.
Walking up to them, I asked, “Excuse me, I’m trying to get to 778 Hawthorne Street. Do you know how far that is?”
“Oh sure,” the husband said, and told me which bus to get on.
“Thanks,” I said, “but do you think it’s close enough to walk?” I had allotted a couple dollars for dinner, and I didn’t want to use that money on a bus fare if the distance was only a mile or so.
The husband and wife both looked startled. “Oh, no, no,” they said, interrupting each other to give new information. “Definitely too far to walk. And you wouldn’t want to walk, anyway! My cousin had her purse stolen once, and on the news there was that person who got mugged! Take the bus, you’ll regret it if you don’t.”
A little rattled, I thanked them and wandered to my bus stop, glancing around nervously. Monterey looked like a nice normal tourist town, but now I was feeling paranoid.
A minute later, a guy about my age walked by, his arm slung over his girlfriend’s shoulders. Suddenly I heard a screeching voice scream, “Hey! HEY!” A middle-aged woman strode toward the couple, and the guy frowned, clearly recognizing her. The older woman flew off into a rage like a jealous lover, screaming at him for two-timing her. The young couple just gazed at her with glazed-over eyes until she finished her rant and stormed off. Then the couple continued walking, frowning.
Now I was hopping from foot to foot in anticipation of the bus. What kind of a weirdo town was this?
At last the bus pulled up and I hopped on, sitting down in my seat with a sigh. I hoped the hostel had a good “free leftover food” bin.
Two minutes later, the bus driver pulled to a stop and called, “Monterey International Hostel.”
I don’t usually swear, but I thought about it at that moment.
As usual, everything turned out okay: the hostel was fantastic (and the front desk guy was awesome), and I was able to scrounge up a nice meal from the other guests’ leftovers. Monterey itself turned out to be a lovely tourist town with all sorts of beautiful things to explore. When I left, I hoofed it to the transit center without once feeling even a little unsafe.
That day, I learned to figure out directions beforehand… and never trust non-walkers to tell me how far it is to anywhere.