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Bus buff has drive to ride all U.S. routes, checks Hermiston Hopper off list

A travel agent from New Hampshire is working on riding every public bus system in the United States.
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on June 5, 2017 8:02PM

Loring Lawrence stopped by the Hermiston Conference Center late Friday afternoon.

Staff photo by Jade McDowell

Loring Lawrence stopped by the Hermiston Conference Center late Friday afternoon.

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Staff photo by Jade McDowell. Loring Lawrence stopped by the Hermiston Conference Center late Friday afternoon.

Staff photo by Jade McDowell. Loring Lawrence stopped by the Hermiston Conference Center late Friday afternoon.

Buy this photo

It would be hard to find anyone who loves buses more than Loring Lawrence.

When he boarded the Hermiston Hopper on Friday, he was adding it to the hundreds of bus systems he has ridden all over the world.

“My long range goal is to ride every city bus system in the United States,” he said.

Lawrence, a travel agent from Manchester, New Hampshire, estimates he is about three fourths of the way to his goal, which he started pursuing in earnest about 15 years ago. He plans his vacations around hitting bus systems he has never tested out before, and only travels by air if he is going overseas.

“Some states I’ve done completely, like North Dakota. They only have four systems,” he said. “I only have three left to do in Florida. Usually I travel by bus or train, but if there is no service between cities I have to rent a car.”

Perpetually brimming with enthusiasm about every aspect of bus travel, Lawrence is the editor in chief of the Bus History Association’s quarterly magazine about buses. He was sampling Kayak Public Transit’s offerings on his way to the association’s national convention in Vancouver, Washington.

When he arrived in Stanfield via Greyhound bus he had just finished traversing a number of Idaho bus systems, including Boise and Caldwell. Before his three and a half week journey is through he plans to loop up through Washington cities like Spokane and Yakima, and then travel south to hit Bend for a total of 38 bus systems this trip.

Lawrence said his obsession with buses started with a fascination with trolleys when he was young and went from there. Over the years he has developed three key things he looks for in a good bus system: buses that are clean and well-maintained, friendly drivers, and an efficient route that incorporates a good number of stops without causing the buses to perpetually run late.

“The schedules need to be very carefully planned out so they can drive the speed limit and still get there on time,” he said.

Lawrence’s favorite bus lines tend to be the more luxurious rides offered by private companies such as Indian Trails in Michigan. He enjoys finding bus systems with unique naming systems, like Peter Pan Bus Lines in Massachusetts, which names each bus after a different character or place in the iconic play. He also pays attention to how state and municipal governments prioritize public transit, and said Oregon’s Department of Transportation “in particular needs to be commended” for the grants it gives to support cities in having their own bus systems.

He said riding buses and trains tends to be more comfortable than air travel and driving, and he gets to meet a lot of interesting people like the New Zealand couple he got to know on his train ride out west.

“Some of the politicians in Washington (D.C.) think Amtrak is losing money and we should get rid of it, but they don’t realize how many foreigners it draws in,” he said. “They don’t want to see America from 30,000 feet and they don’t feel up to driving across a foreign country. Almost every train trip I take I meet travelers from another country.”

Every ride that Lawrence rides, he takes pictures with his 1970s-era Mamiya C330 camera. It’s hard to find someone able to develop the film, but that hasn’t stopped him from collecting what he estimates is over 35,000 photos of buses and trains.

After the buses in Hermiston stopped for the day, Lawrence stopped by the visitor center in the Hermiston Conference Center. He chatted with the staff inside, then studied the kiosk of information in the corner of the parking lot. He was interested to know that Hermiston’s name came from a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, as he once visited Stevenson’s estate in Samoa.

“When you visit systems in cities you learn things you didn’t know,” he said.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.



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