Greyhound bus ride

Bus seats afford a good view of Pyramid Lake, near Castaic, on a Greyhound trip in California. (Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times)

"We can definitely afford to fly and the best of everything, but I go Greyhound and stay in hostels," she says. "It's an adventure."

What am I going to do, argue? Allen is one of the most amazing people ever. (Weeks later, we still chat by phone.)

Besides, I'm about to meet an ex-hooker and a computer visionary-rascal. Not the same person, but they share the same seat, within moments of each other.

Yep, this Greyhound is an adventure all right.

"I went into a chili joint and the waitress was Mexican and beautiful. I ate, and then I wrote her a little love note on the back of the bill.... She read it and laughed. It was a little poem about how I wanted her to come and see the night with me."

— Jack Kerouac, "On the Road"

Kerouac saw the days and nights of America from the open road, sometimes hitching, often catching the Greyhound. From this he explored a forgotten side of the American soul, describing California fields "the color of love and Spanish mysteries."

You don't spot that from 30,000 feet.

Trips like this are also a reminder that we hurry too much when we travel, stare too much at clouds, worry ourselves to the airport three hours before flights just so we can be hassled by security.

If airports are like big cities, buses feel more like small towns. You don't see so many faces that they become inconsequential. There is a sense of place.

And I'm speaking specifically to you, Alec Baldwin: You can play your cellphone games from start to finish aboard a Greyhound bus.

Mercifully, no one does.

On the return trip from Sacramento, the 50-passenger bus is nearly full except for the adjoining seat, and I'm wishing — please God, please — that the spot stays empty for the half-day journey back, when the cutest blue-eyed former hooker you ever saw plops down next to me.

"It's my birthday," she says.

"Lucky you," I say.

"Thanks," she says.

"Twenty-one?"

"Twenty-two," she says brightly.

We won't get into how she chose her former line of work, or the two weeks she once spent in an L.A. jail. The important thing is that my seatmate is turning her life around, has a steady boyfriend and a job as a receptionist, and a baby on the way.

Redemption is in the air. And probably the ghost of Kerouac himself.