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Despite the less than desirable condition of the Los Angeles hostel, Jennifer, who relates her story sunburned and smiling, reports that she had an excellent time.

“It was a dive of a place, but we had so much fun,” she says, laughing. “Because it was so small and everyone was so shocked by the dirtiness that we all kind of…We all went out on the back patio, and we got on really well, so we made a few friends up there. We met two girls from Dublin who were working there, and they decided to quit their jobs and come traveling with us.”

All in all, she finds San Diego more relaxed than Los Angeles.

“I don’t think people are as pretentious as they were up in L.A.,” she says. “I’m not so happy that all the bars and clubs close at two. Like, literally, two o’clock, you’re gone. They take your drinks off you, and you’re pushed out the door. It’s the same around here. I was in New York two summers ago, on Long Island, and you’d go out and it was great. At home the clubs close at half two or three.”

She pauses.

“After New York [I went] to Miami, and things only really started getting going at four,” she says. “And then, [I got the] shock of my life because I thought, L.A., it would be crazier over here and people would be going out the whole time, but it so wasn’t what I expected.”

Matthias had some high hopes for Los Angeles as well.

“I was so looking forward to L.A., and it was a bit disappointing,” he says. “The city center does not have a lot of charm. For example, if you go to London, it’s there. I think it’s got a strong flavor to it. In L.A. I didn’t get it. It’s so spread out. That’s what makes it very difficult.”

Matthias reached Los Angeles from the Grand Canyon via Greyhound bus. He has traveled throughout America exclusively via Greyhound and explains that his trip — which includes many national parks — is costing “hundreds and hundreds of dollars.”

For many travelers, buses — Greyhound specifically — have been the choice of transportation for reaching destinations within America, at least for those visiting the West Coast. Some find it cheaper, others easier, and for more than a few, it becomes the source of interesting encounters with fellow passengers.

“Greyhound is an interesting experience,” says Peter, over a plate of pancakes at the Hostelling International hostel downtown, where he is staying.

The walls of the hostel’s dining area are colorfully painted in purples and blues, and Peter sits on a bench at one of two large tables that make up the center of the room. To the left is the kitchen, where travelers cook their own pancakes over a hot griddle; to the right is a lounge space, complete with couches and armchairs, a haven for laptop users catching up on email during their stay. Beds range from $19 to $82, depending on the room.

“On the way to Las Vegas I met this quote-unquote ‘millionaire,’ but it was all a bit dubious because she’s on the Greyhound,” Peter continues, brushing a lock of sandy hair from his face. “I [also] met some guy who’d been touring Iraq and had come home. [It was] kind of interesting to get his perspective.”

Peter, who is 20 and clad in a Franz Ferdinand band T-shirt, hails from Somerset, England, and is part of an exchange program between Cambridge University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where he is spending a year studying chemical engineering. He and a friend he met at the college drove halfway across the country together, parting in Dallas, Texas; since then, Peter has been busing solo. He and his friend are set to meet in Los Angeles.

Ian, Gillian, Sinead, Elaine, Jen, and Scarlett, all from Dublin, Ireland, are also traveling by Greyhound as a group.

“Each one of us knows at least one of the others,” Ian, 21, explains.

They sit at one of the patio picnic tables out back at the OB International Hostel, a hubbub of activity in the early evening. Christmas lights twinkle along the upper perimeter of the room, and the smell of marinara sauce is in the air. Those in the group who are of age drink Wyder’s ciders, the others making do with soft drinks, and wait for a dinner of pasta and salad to be ready.

“The Greyhound bus from L.A. to here was crazy,” says Gillian, who is 20. “The bus was all right, but the people were crazy. We met a prisoner, an ex-con.”

“And a very angry father and daughter,” Ian adds.

“And a man in a hospital mask,” chimes in Scarlett, who is 21.

The prices for a Greyhound ride vary. From Los Angeles to San Diego it averages out to about $35 a person one way, according to the Greyhound ticket booking website; from Las Vegas to San Diego it’s just under $60. From San Francisco, another popular destination, it’s just under $74. Nonrefundable tickets are slightly less and with discounts can be even more inexpensive.

Matthias, at Java Jones, breaks it down.

“Well, from San Francisco to Yosemite was 60-something dollars,” he says. “And the shuttles in between are also expensive because the Greyhound never goes to the [exact] location. So then I had to take the shuttle.”

Over his coffee, Matthias explains how he is planning on staying in San Diego for the entire month of July, after which a friend of his will join him in his travels.

“I need to live as cheap as possible,” he says. “I won’t have as much spending money to travel with [my friend], and I wanted to kill the time, which is one month, and I wanted to have a warm place. San Francisco was just not warm enough, and I thought maybe I can get some kind of job, like helping out in the hostel, to cut the expenses, so I needed to be in a city.”

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Ollie Sept. 20, 2008 @ 10:33 p.m.

I've got one in the pipe. Don't know when it's comin' out. You gotta ask HMF Editor Grimm.


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