The old Trailways Bus depot on Fayette Street was crowded, dingy, filled with a dubious clientele and gruff bus drivers. But as it is torn down, I'm sentimental about it. I became inured to its gritty but essentially harmless nature. In time, it became a symbol of non-expense account, third-class travel, the kind that fits a Baltimorean's pocketbook.
And now, at the beginning of the vacation season, I think of all the times I bailed out of town via a cheap ticket aboard a Trailways coach. I recently walked by the place, nearly half-demolished, shorn of its 1950s motel-style metal windows and much of it a pile of concrete rubble. It will soon be a vacant lot and is to be redeveloped as apartments in the west-side Superblock.
I confess a secret admiration for the way the drivers could maneuver around the urban obstacle course of very tight back streets to approach the station. An alley called Marion Street runs behind the terminal, and buses used it to get to the loading platforms. It was a squeeze around a lean-to that housed the Kesmodel cutlery shop.
I often thought it curious that the city's largest knife store stood beside the bus terminal, but the cutlery business was legitimate. My grandmother and her sister bought their dressmaking shears there. Only under protest, however, did they use Trailways to get to Rehoboth Beach in the summer.
Inching along Marion Street, the drivers narrowly passed the walls of the Howard Theatre and the loading docks of the Brager-Gutman department store and Woolworth's. The route was improbable but it worked, in the same way that all downtown Baltimore worked well in the 1960s as a regional center of employment, medical care, shopping and maritime activities.
Bus terminals get no respect. There are at the bottom rung of the transportation ladder, and I think the Bolt and Megabus companies are right to go without a station and just load from the street.
The Trailways station never changed because of what appeared to be a strictly enforced policy of deferred maintenance. Its durable interior was classic late-1950s modern. It could have been used as the set of "Hairspray."
I never patronized the Trailways restaurant because there were better places nearby. There was a Nedick's orange juice and hot dog establishment up the street, and not far away, in the 1980s, was a Chicken George's. Curiously, the station had no newsstand, but there was a well-run adult bookstore across Fayette where you could buy this and other daily newspapers, as well as the Daily Racing Form, essential reading for some Trailways riders.
For years in the 1960s and 1970s I boarded a Carolina Trailways bus there. It went over the Bay Bridge and left you at a greasy spoon at Queenstown, where you transferred to other buses. The drivers never seemed to take the same route through Queen Anne's, Caroline and Sussex counties. But the coach got you there, somehow. And got you home.
After a bus trip slowed by weekend traffic delays at the old Kent Narrows Bridge, you were ready for home. City cabdrivers knew this. They lined up along Fayette Street, a stretch of downtown that was never inviting after dark.
Some cabbies were speed artists; my favorite was a driver who had a master's knowledge of Baltimore alleys and employed them to outwit traffic lights. After spending what seemed like three days winding through Eastern Shore cornfields, the sight of your porch light on a hot July night looked pretty good.