bus stories

middle of the night, middle of a month on the greyhound. they used to let anyone buy a monthlong pass, get on anything you like-but it was mostly germans and australians that would think it was a good idea. they were used to eurail passes, I guess. I was blinded by speed and a romanticism for jack keroauc (that will still broadside me sometimes, if I relax my gypsy ways for too long,) so I thought it was brilliant. but yeah, early '80's/early 20's thinking $300 for unlimited greyhound time for 31 days was the coolest thing ever. (I did get from los angeles to the rest of the country, so I still believe I got my money's worth.) middle of another night-I slept on the bus to save motel money-passing through baltimore, md. one of the problems with sleeping on buses instead of in motels (or even quiet places out of the way around bus stations....) is the driver always turned on the lights and announced each stop, even if he's the only one who wanted to get down and stretch his legs. (they used to let people smoke in the back couple of rows of the bus, so they stopped a lot less. and maybe I'm wrong about this, but I think it didn't used to matter as much of you nipped at your bottle, so long as you didn't act up.) Baltimore-the birthplace of Pink Flamingoes! Not Richmond by a long rich shot, not anything like DC that was despicable in those reagan years (and again, as the pendulum swings....) Baltimore, where the accents are very weird. Only three people got on-a dark, troubled man, smoking even as he marched up the aisle to the back where smokers sat, and his wife, with a kerchief on her head, and their son, the prodigy. He, sonprodigy, was very intense-looking, and craddling his violin case, maybe 12, 13. I would make an educated guess that they were pakistani, but maybe my educated is flat out racist and wrong. The wifemother clucked and fussed at the son-all the way to New York the father spoke to neither of them. I'd been to New York at this time, but only once, and never with the onus/honorific of a violin case, and a mother/father chaperone. The prodigy looked nervous and anxious, but more relaxed than his elders. father chainsmoked at the back, and I sat awake to see what would happen. they got off at port authority like everyone else. carnegie hall isn't far from there, is it?
and then, getting toward the end of my 31 days of greyhound-induced freedom, in new mexico. It rained early, dawn, then we pulled into Hidalgo, about breakfast. The doors pnuematically opened, and the smell of rain on the desert hit my nostrils like the sweetest smell ever. The town was one street, but the station had a real diner attached instead of a burger king, and there was a snack machine like the automat, that actually dispensed 50cent apples, red or gold. I hadn't had a real piece of food in ages, so opted for an apple, and ate it on the curb out front. Hidalgo, a royal name. The apple tasted amazing, then a creature keroauc couldn't have written approached me. He was ancient by my standards (could've been 40! just kidding....) wizened and weathered, with perfect blue eyes, assessing me. "You traveling?" he asked. what did it look like, old man?! Maybe I deigned to nod as I munched. "You been some places?" of course. "Well... I've done some traveling" says he " and I've been some places...." uh huh. yeah, so? "And I can go again anytime I like." I think I wrote some letters about this guy back then, and I think I said he had "rheumy eyes." As I was starting this retelling I'd forgotten about the man with the rheumy eyes. I remember every day of my life about the smell of the desert after rain and the taste of the apple, but I forgot the whole fucking point, of the guy who looked like a drunk and bum, who pulled open his wallet to show me the stack of cash in there "just in case I feel the need to go on." who didn't mistrust me enough to hide his riches, but wanted to make sure I knew what real bums lived like.

- Gwen Carter