The Greyhound Diaries: Portraits of American Bus Passengers, Filtered Through the Lens and Lyrics of Doug Levitt

In 2004, Doug Levitt bought a 6-week bus pass. He was a singer-songwriter, looking for musical inspiration. But he was also a journalist, hoping for deeper insights into the American experience of economic hardship. Stirred by haunting Depression-era photos taken by federally-funded WPA artists, he rode the American highways collecting his own poignant images, songs, and stories for “The Greyhound Diaries“.

He could not have known that this 6-week experiment would turn into a 10-year journey and become the focus of his life.

Doug Levitt was born and raised in Washington D.C., the son of former D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz. Through her, he says he acquired a sense of civic-mindedness and responsibility. Levitt was a Fulbright Scholar and attended college at Cornell University and the London School of Economics.

After college, he worked in London as a foreign news correspondent, covering battlegrounds in the Middle East, Rwanda, and the Balkans and sending his stories to outlets like CNN, ABC, and NBC. While still in London, he made the pivotal decision to pursue a music career.

Upon returning to the states, he packed up his Gibson J-100 guitar and set out to see America from a new vantage point. In an interview with Martin Austermuhle in DCist, Levitt described the bus as a “depoliticized environment.” The riders were so diverse – rural, urban, young, old, veterans, tradesmen, artists, ex-cons.

And yet long-distance bus trips were strangely unifying; they were a collective journey born of shared financial circumstances. Lengthy physical proximity with few electronic distractions (most bus riders cannot afford a laptop or smart phone) yielded a “commonality of experience” that cut across other differences.

Levitt ended up riding the bus more than 100,000 miles. Along the way, he composed folk songs. He wrote stories about his own experiences, and told stories of fellow riders. He captured mesmerizing images: one where a whirling child looks blurred, like chalk; another where a stoic man leans on a garbage can reading a paperback; yet another where the glare is so blinding that the people standing on the sidewalk look like angels.

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