Greyhound bus terminals have a way of becoming essential landmarks to the cities they serve. While residents sometimes steer clear of them, newcomers and transients often call them home.
For 25 years the Greyhound terminal in downtown Long Beach has offered pause to travelers passing through the city and convenience to residents departing for destinations throughout the United States.
On a good day at the height of the summer, according to Greyhound employees, as many as 1,000 travelers have crossed the facility's speckled cement floor at the corner of 1st Street and Long Beach Boulevard. On the slowest day in the off-season, they say, between 100 and 200 people, mostly senior citizens, minorities and Navy personnel, come through the terminal.
Beginning Saturday they will all have to make other plans. Along with 34 other Greyhound terminals across the country this one will cease operations, leaving would-be riders with at least three alternatives. They can haul their luggage aboard a city bus for the 35-minute ride across town to the tiny North Long Beach depot. They can find another carrier. Or they can buy a car.
"I sympathize with them," said Val Sainz, a ticket agent at the facility since the day it opened. "People are really upset."
'Sorry to See It Go'
Said Ralph Ast, 82, a retired postal worker who has lived in Long Beach for 53 years and frequently travels by bus to visit relatives in Iowa and Northern California: "I'm sorry to see it go. I don't know what this place is coming to."
What it's coming to, according to Greyhound officials, is a situation in which a dramatic decreas in riders nationwide has necessitated the closing of one-third of the company's terminals. While no routes are being eliminated, they say, buses in Long Beach will now stop at an independently managed depot at 6601 Atlantic Ave., near the intersection of the Long Beach and 91 freeways in suburban North Long Beach.
City Planning Director Bob Paternoster, while decrying the loss of Greyhound service to the downtown area, said that the impending closure will only hasten the inevitable demise of the terminal, which is located in a redevelopment area. A proposed $70-million project that would include office, entertainment and shopping facilities, he said, is currently in legal limbo with no projected start date in sight.
Others say the loss of the terminal will constitute only a minor inconvenience to travelers and a major boon to those wishing to lessen the number of transients and street people in the area. "The place is a cesspool," said a recent customer who wouldn't give his name. "It ought to be burned down."
"Anything that attracts transients is certainly inconsistent with (our) goal," said Roger Anderman, development bureau manager for Long Beach and assistant executive director of the city's redevelopment agency:
Sainz admits that many so-called street people bask in the shelter of the terminal during most of its daily operating hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
But the people he's most concerned about, he says, are the low-income Spanish-speaking families that regularly embark via bus for visits to Mexico; the young military personnel stationed at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard who, crowding into the place on weekends with packed duffel bags, constitute some 50% of the terminal's clientele, and especially the senior citizens on fixed incomes who live nearby and use the bus regularly for excursions to such destinations as Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.
Direct City Bus Link
While the Navy does not provide a special shuttle from its Terminal Island base to downtown Long Beach, there is direct city bus service between the two points. And many of the senior citizens who go by Greyhound, according to Sainz, live within easy walking distance of the downtown terminal.
"Just changing their pattern is a hardship," he said of the seniors.
And indeed, Sainz said, there are numerous other services that will be missed once the terminal is closed. During the annual Grand Prix and at other times, he said, the depot is one of the few places downtown where people can find a bathroom.
Passers-by frequently stop to use one of the battery of pay phones there or to get exact change for a city bus. And, said Sainz, for tourists arriving in the city for the first time, the depot's luggage lockers have been an important service. "When some people get into a strange city, the first thing they look for is a Denny's and a Greyhound bus depot," said Sainz. "They make it a home port until they venture out; it's part of Americana."
One organization especially attuned to the needs of stranded or disoriented tourists as well as of the homeless is the Travelers Aid Society of Long Beach-Orange County which has maintained a desk at the downtown terminal for nearly 20 years. Until recently, according to Olga Winkler, volunteer coordinator, the desk handled 800 to 1,000 cases a month offering everything from counseling and referrals to emergency housing and occasional financial aid. Recently, she said, the society scaled down its activities at the terminal due to the impending closure. And after Friday, she said, the would-be recipients of those services will have nowhere else to go.
Although Traveler's Aid--which operates out of a Long Beach office and also maintains desks at the Long Beach and Orange County airports--would like to move its Greyhound desk to the North Long Beach terminal, she said, the facility there is simply too small to accommodate them. So ultimately, she believes, the city will have to provide some of the services.
Not everyone, however, is unhappy about the change.
Peggy Robinson, manager of the much smaller Continental Trailways depot nearby, which handles 12 scheduled buses a day compared to Greyhound's 22, said that she can "handle anything we get" in the way of overflow from the closed terminal.
And Robert Lee, an independent agent who operates the tiny North Long Beach Greyhound depot with his daughter, Debbie, is enthusiastically anticipating an increase in traffic that he expects to quadruple the number of customers he handles daily from the present 50 to about 200.
Although the depot has only 12 chairs, a handful of lockers and one bathroom, Lee said the only immediate change he is planning is an increase in its hours of operation from the present 45 a week to between 7:30 a.m. and 8:45 p.m. every day.
"What we'll be is a large, neighborhood terminal," said Lee, adding that the facility is open only to ticketed passengers. "You just don't have people waiting around here. I don't expect any problems."
For Sainz, however, these days are emotional ones. Ever since the closing date was announced last week, he said, passengers have been saying goodby to him with cookies, cakes, and offers of sympathy. "I don't really need their sympathy because I sympathize with them ," said the agent, who, like the terminal's 11 other employees, will be transferred to Greyhound's downtown Los Angeles depot next week to replace employees with less seniority. But the parting is sad.
"It didn't really hit me until I saw so many people coming through and asking what they are going to do," said Sainz. "I didn't think it would be this way."