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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

The Many Walks Of Life On A Greyhound Bus

Katie Finlon

The line goes from Chicago to Davenport, Iowa each day. 

I was curious what the experience was like for those riders. So I took a little round trip from DeKalb to Davenport.

I didn't even board the westbound 8:30 a.m. bus before two women shared their reasons for their trips.

Lebena Varghese is a doctoral student at NIU from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. She was heading to Davenport to visit a friend.

Varghese says she does not own a car, mainly because she never needed one when she was living near Dubai and in the United Kingdom.

“It was always so feasible,” Varghese said. “Like I only lived at home until I was 17, and then I moved to India to do my undergrad. And, again, I lived in one of the most metropolitan cities … I did not have to drive. And then I moved to England, and their transportation system is spiffy…I didn’t have to drive there, either. And then I came here…oh my God, everything’s so spread-out.’”

But her experience with NIU's public transportation system? Not nearly as good.

“University students are already taking out so many loans and stuff,” Varghese said. “They shouldn’t be burdened with more things like … buying a car, taking care of a car … you should be able to have a transportation system that connects you from the campus to the main areas, and I think … yeah, number 7 goes to Target and places like that, but it’s once every hour.”

But Angelic Bowie, a sociology and political science student at NIU, has not had as big of a problem with the university bus system. She says she's been able to get around NIU and DeKalb with relative ease.

After talking with her a little bit more, she started to tell me why she came to NIU in the first place.

“Two days before I came to school, me and my kids slept in an abandoned apartment,” Bowie said. “So…yeah, school is my way out.”

Bowie now lives in an apartment, but she was not able to keep important documents of her kids while they were homeless -- which was why she was heading to Chicago on the Greyhound bus. 

Before I knew it, it was time to board the bus to Davenport. 

The ride took about three hours one way. It was a pretty quiet ride with just Varghese and me … and I have to be honest; I drifted in and out of sleep before reaching our last stop in the Quad Cities.

The way back was a little more active. A group of released prisoners from the East Moline Correctional Center boarded the afternoon bus to Chicago.

Bus driver Fredrick Lawrence says the men are usually not looking to cause trouble literally hours after they're released. 

“You know what I’m saying? They’re nice guys,” Lawrence said. “They [have] done their time, they wanna get home to their families…trust me, they got plenty of time after this ride to go and get wild or whatever they wanna do.”

Lawrence says in his 27 years as a Greyhound bus driver, he's never had a problem with the ex-convicts...and he's never seen the same face twice.

Jeff Lepacek says he was released after three years in prison for heroin possession. With that in mind, he actually turned the tables and asked me how I felt about riding this bus with these men.

Finlon: “I figured you wouldn’t necessarily get trouble from the prisoners that come onto this bus, because they’re non-violent, or they come from non-violent prisons.” Lepacek: “Yeah, they wouldn’t put us on the bus if there was some kind of problem.” Finlon: “Right.” Lepacek: “Oh yeah, there’s a stigma in that!”


Lepacek says he mostly kept to himself for those three years. He learned Latin and journaled extensively. After he has dinner with his mother in downtown Chicago, Lepacek says he is going to take life as it comes.

“I’d like to experience the dirt again. You know, go out and hang out and see leaves and everything happening like it’s supposed to,” Lepacek said. “It’s been a while since I got to be with all that.”

Which led to our conversation ending like this:

Finlon: “And I do have to start getting packed up, because my stop is DeKalb, but is there anything you would like to add?” Lepacek: “Thank you.” Finlon: “Why thank you?” Lepacek: “You talked to somebody that was in prison.” Finlon: “That really that out of the ordinary?” Lepacek: [laughs] “I dunno. You’re the first real person I’ve talked to in a long time.”

Not because no one visited him, he says. He's had opportunities. It's just he didn't want to be visited, because he didn’t want to see those visitors go. He has some ideas about where his next stop takes him, whether brushing up on Latin or learning a new skill. 

So, what’s next for these riders? Who knows. But it was definitely remarkable for me to see a single bus line carrying different walks of life in different directions.


Numbers At A Glance:

June Ridership Total: 391

Got Off At NIU: 37

Got On At NIU: 25

July Ridership Total: 476

Got Off At NIU: 60

Got On At NIU: 40

August Ridership Total: Not Available