If you live or work in downtown Bakersfield, you've seen them: Weary souls dragging their rolling suitcases past the Padre Hotel or sitting on the sidewalk leaning against overstuffed backpacks.
They're Greyhound Bus riders, most of them, passing the time during a layover or hoofing it toward some other mode of public transportation for their journey's next leg.
More than once I've wondered if they might be better served at a new, more modern Greyhound station that's part of an intermodal transportation center. Some place that's better situated for travelers than the corner of 18th and F streets, on the fringe of the city's compact but growing restaurant and entertainment district.
Like ... a mile to the southeast, next door to the city's Amtrak station.
I'm not the only one who has considered the possibility.
"It's an idea that emerges from time to time," Bakersfield City Manager Alan Tandy told me last week.
The idea may have emerged recently at Greyhound Central, too. The company's corporate communications department says Greyhound does not have any plans to move into a new terminal and the 18th Street property is not for sale, but someone at the Dallas-based bus line broached the subject with Bakersfield city government officials in just the past week or so.
The bus terminal, owned by Greyhound and built in 1958, occupies half a city block — 16,238 square feet, according to the company. Its assessed value is $1.8 million. (The assessor, for reasons not clear, puts the building at 20,850 square feet.) Local employees say the actual bus operation uses only 30 percent of the building.
A substantial cafeteria on the building's west side, separated from the rest of the station by a closed steel-mesh gate, shut down three or four years ago. Business was slow and, as one employee put it, "Who wants to pay $3 for a corn dog?" A Pall Mall-and-Schlitz-era cocktail lounge, which occupied the building's east side, is decades gone, relegated now to auxiliary storage.
Somehow appropriately, a rerun of "Bonanza" droned on from a high-mounted TV well out of the hearing range of the two dozen glassy-eyed travelers who were waiting for the bus to Las Vegas on the afternoon I visited.
The outdoor boarding area, which sits on the north half of the 30,580-square foot lot, looks big enough to accommodate a dozen buses at once, maybe more, but it's usually empty except for two or three employees' cars. Twenty-six buses cycle through the passenger loading area each day, around the clock, so there's rarely more than one bus here at any time.
The building is clean and reasonably well kept, but it's 30 years past its glory days — if bus travel can have glory days. (Hey, Evel Knievel and his motorcycle jumped a row of 14 Greyhound coaches in 1975 — maybe that was it.)
In another era, the Bakersfield Greyhound station was appropriately situated. Amid office machine stores, bicycle shops and pay-by-the week hotels, it fit in as well as anything else. Now, two or three blocks from downtown's entertainment hub of restaurants, bars and galleries, it's out of place.
And it fails to serve its clients as well as it might.
Greyhound and Amtrak make sense as neighbors. Travelers could theoretically walk across a plaza from one company's terminal to the other's, a convenience that would make each carrier a more versatile and desirable transportation option than it would have been by itself.
All of this has occurred as well to city officials, who've made overtures about it to Amtrak on behalf of Greyhound. They haven't heard back yet — not because they're being ignored but because the inquiry was made so recently. Obviously, the proposed cohabitation is something that Amtrak and Greyhound would have to agree on.
The Amtrak station, on Truxtun just east of S Street, wouldn't have room for a Greyhound terminal anywhere near as big as the bus line's current station, but it wouldn't need to be.
It remains to be seen what such a move would mean for the small, unaffiliated bus line and taxicab station that reside right across 18th Street, within easy jaywalking distance of the Greyhound terminal, but they would presumably have time to figure it out.
Some might say that any proposal to move Greyhound and its less affluent clientele out of the 18th Street corridor, paving the way for more downtown gentrification, smacks of classism. It shouldn't. This is about placing businesses and their customers in locations that make the most sense for those businesses and their customers.
I think of cities like Denver that have converged their city bus line, regional bus line, light rail system and free downtown shuttle into one place — Union Station, in the city's LoDo district, near Coors Field and the Pepsi Center, home of the city's major league baseball, basketball and hockey teams.
I know the comparison to Bakersfield doesn't stand up particularly well — hey, we've got Rabobank Arena, home of the hockey-playing Condors, a quarter-mile to the west — but the principle is the same.
Jeff Andrew, a commercial real estate specialist with Cushman & Wakefield, says the downtown market is flat but that the Greyhound building has potential as entertainment, retail or office space. He, too, says it would make sense for Greyhound to move closer to other transportation facilities — although he suggests a different option.
"Something freeway-oriented," he said, "maybe near the new (high-speed rail) terminal, where there's access right there to (State Route) 204."
Wherever it might go, whenever it might go, all parties will be better off.