The Wheels on the Bus
The boarding process has barely begun and Larry Hoon has already taken over the back seats. It’s a C678 service from Beechnut to Bellaire in Houston, Texas.
It’s an afternoon jaunt that will slingshot him across the greater Houston Metropolitan area, back to the city’s terminus in a little under three hours. He’ll rarely leave bus stations, and when he does, he’ll rest his head only in two star motels.
A dozen jowly faces cast a stony gaze at Larry – another drifter hobo kid they’ve judged, living off his parents’ lack of largesse. But Hoon has a job. This is his job.
Hoon, 25, is one of the smallest stars among a non-eilte group of obsessive bus riders whose mission it it to outwit the bus companies. They have one objective: ride for free, as much as they can, without getting caught.
Hoon owes a small slice of his fame to his blog: “Partially Visible Transfer Ticket”, the diary of a young man living the life of the world’s least plausible bus ad. He metes out meticulous advice on the art of bus hacking – known in this world as The Bustle.
"I'm very fortunate in that I do what I love," says Hoon, stretching out on a plastic back seat as we reach 25mph and just before the bum next to us starts yelling. In the past year, since ditching the Houston apartment he shared with his ex-boyfriend, he's ridden more than 400 miles, enough to circumnavigate Greater Houston twice. It's been two exhausting weeks since he slept in a bed that wasn't in a motel, and he spends an average of sixteen hours daily on the road. He has a freewheeling itinerary, often planning his next destination upon hitting the Bus Station.
Last week, he trundled through Greenspoint, Northside and Westchase. Yet for all his bus travel, the moment he whiffs the malodorous ambience of a bus cabin, he’s home.
"A bus is my daytime bedroom," he says, stretching to reach a complimentary coupons catalogue. "It's my office, and it's my playroom." The privilege of reclining in this seat costs around $1.75. Hoon rides for free, due to his Partially Visible Transfer Ticket.
Welcome to The Bustle. He shows it to me. It’s a Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority Transfer Ticket, issued two weeks ago, but with the portion with the date on it torn off. “I wait for a bus. I get on, flash them the transfer ticket real quick, and they never check,” says Hoon. “I just get on and ride the bus network all day. It’s like I’m gaming the system.”
He swaps tips on a Bustle website called BusTalk. "When a system can easily be exploited, it's tempting to push it to its limits, for the game of it alone," Hoon says. "Especially combined with the arrogant confidence only a twenty-something can have."
The authorities are baffled, helpless in his wake. “Uh, I guess we don’t really care that much,” said one Head of Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority who refused to be named.
Hoon remains cocky. "There's not a single day where I didn't hear at one point or another, 'This is coming to an end.' But every day, I find new opportunities.”
Passing the time in the bus station contrasts starkly with the most cherished thrill of his life in the back seats of buses: After the concealed beer bottles are empty, he'll be struck with the sudden urge to return to the terminus. There, he'll find a perch and study the bus station.
"You see a whole family, 20 people, picking up someone at the bus station," he says. "People arguing about money they owe to a prostitute, people eating fast food clumsily, people laughing to themselves hysterically for no apparent reason. There's something beautiful about that." He'll watch for a few hours, pondering the stories behind the people that come with each new journey. But he still can't decide if what he's just seen is a vision of his past or the future.
"The city is so big, I can keep running," Hoon says. "At the same time, it makes you realize the city is so small." After a long pause, he continues, "I want what I can't have. There's nothing gratifying about that. It's crazy, and it's messed up. I'd still like to think I'm a reasonably happy person." He grins. "Despite all that."
I stop understanding what he means, and get off the bus.
Back to GOING ANYWHERE NICE?