Last month, I decided I’d take the bus to Erie, PA to visit my sister.  When I shared this plan with my husband and sister, both offered to ferry me there and back rather than allow me to throw myself to the ‘Hounds.  I shushed them and bought a ticket, determined to have an adventure.  C’mon, how bad could it be?  For a very reasonable price, they do all the driving, and you get a comfy seat, a generous baggage allowance, an electrical outlet, complimentary WiFi, and a restroom.
I had tight connections to make in both Columbus and Cleveland, so things got off to a rocky start when the bus failed to show up at the designated pick-up point in Springfield.  The Greyhound rep checked the online tracker.  The bus was running late.  Like, over an hour late.  Hubby drove me to Columbus, I made my connection, and everything went smoothly from there.  On some legs, the bus was less than half full and every rider got a row to him or herself.  On the more crowded legs, I was quick to offer up the empty seat beside me.  Most people kept to themselves; they read novels, listened to music, or texted on their cell phones.  The nap-takers came prepared with C-shaped neck pillows and eye masks.  Others were eager to strike up a conversation.  If my seatmate wanted to chat, I obliged.  These dialogues were eye-opening.  Humans are complex beings, not always what they seem:


The bus driver arrives carrying a coffee
in each hand and fills us in on the rules.
“Be considerate of others around you.
No loud music or yakking on the phone.
Hold onto the overhead safety ropes
on your way to and from the restroom.
Weapons and smoking are prohibited.
Sit when you pee.  And there’s no maid
onboard, so pick up after yourselves.”

My first seatmate is a clean-cut dude
carrying nothing but a brown paper sack.
He’s 35 with kids by three “baby mamas.”
After he got out of “the joint,”
he started reading.  All those new ideas
“shifted his paradigm” and changed his life.
He channels Maya Angelou saying,
“When you know better, you gotta do better.”
Young black ex-cons can surprise you.

In line in Cleveland, a chocolate Adonis
with shined shoes and a swank iPhone says
he’s heading back to rehab after a day pass.
“Think that vending machine takes fives?”
“Probably,” I reply.
He returns holding a bottle of lemonade
and I ask how much they ganked him for.
He snorts.  “Did you just say ganked?”
Old white ladies can surprise you, too.

My next seatmate is a pasty redhead
in faded Levis with more holes than denim.
She’ll be riding all night to get to Nashville.
She opens her shiny copper-colored handbag,
withdraws a can of Pringles,
and allows herself one diminutive handful.
I envy her restraint.
When she nods off, her head slumps forward
like a flower on a broken stem.

Within earshot, jagged snores saw through
the feather-light laughter of a guy sporting
Elton John sunglasses and bedazzled jeans.
A Barbie doll-shaped brunette is on her way
to an exam that will determine her worthiness
for a slot in a speech pathology program.
A plain-clothes nun silently prays the rosary.
An afroed teenager bobs his head in time
to the pumping bass overspilling his earbuds.

On the final leg, I meet a dark foreigner
with a gold front tooth and wicked breath.
I offer him a box of wintergreen TicTacs.
He accepts them with a gracious “Merci.”
He asks if I have children.  When I say no,
he nods gravely and replies, “God’s will.”
He teaches me a few French basics:
Bonjour.  Comment vas-tu?  Bien, merci.
“Au revoir, ami,” he grins when we part.

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29 thoughts on “TALKING TO STRANGERS

  1. C June 16, 2019 / 2:24 am

    This is a great article that captures the flavour of your day and conveys it so well to us. The images are rich yet succinct. I feel I was on that bus! Many thanks for sharing it. C

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan June 16, 2019 / 8:50 am

      Thanks, C. The people on the bus were not scary at all, just ordinary folks trying to get somewhere, each with a story to tell. Some were going to a funeral or graduation, others were eager to see their grandkids or visit Niagara Falls, a few were ironing out wrinkles in their lives or heading home. Glad I could take you along for the ride. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 16, 2019 / 10:32 am

      Thanks, Churchmousie. We are terribly sheltered, living in our cozy bubbles. We have no idea what other people are struggling with. Wheelchairs, walkers, blindness, abuse, addiction, incarceration, driver’s license suspension, broken marriages, being shunned for coming out of the closet, having to flee a war-torn country, having to start over, having to learn a new language, living in poverty, having no home to return to… I can’t fix anyone. All I can do is be present and listen, allow them to tell their story. 🙂


  2. Tippy Gnu June 16, 2019 / 10:48 am

    I love these little vignettes about your bus ride. They remind me of my younger, penurious days when this was the only long-distance transportation I could afford. I posted about one of my bus rides, a few years ago.

    I learned not to quickly judge, as a 19-year-old on a Greyhound. I boarded a bus that was very crowded. The only available seat was covered by a middle-aged lady laying across it, sleeping. I figured she was a drunk. After much effort, and over her slurring protests, the bus driver got her to sit up, so that I could sit down.

    After about a hundred miles or so, she woke up and we began to converse. That’s when I discovered that she wasn’t a drunk. She had an advanced case of diabetes and heart disease, and was going to visit her daughter for one last time before she died. Her ankles were very dropsical. First time I’d ever seen swollen ankles, and it shocked the hell out of me.

    She had a beautiful, cranky, and sardonic personality, and made for a wonderful seatmate for about a thousand miles, before she reached her destination and got off. I’ll never forget her.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just Joan June 16, 2019 / 11:19 am

      What a great story, Tippy! We’ve all had our penurious periods, and with age, dropsicality is almost a given. As are vocabulary lessons in every comment that cometh from the keyboard of Tippy Gnu. Fantastic that you two hit it off and conversed for so many miles; it certainly makes the time go faster. No doubt, your perspective on the elderly was forever changed. It reminds me of a favorite meme: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” If kindness was our default position, what a beautiful world this would be! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tippy Gnu June 16, 2019 / 12:51 pm

        I like the thought of kindness as a default position. If not a beautiful world, then one can have a beautiful life, at least, by following such advice.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. colinandray June 16, 2019 / 1:08 pm

    An interesting perspective on a bus ride! Below (from my book of poetic verse “Just Thinking”) is also based around a bus ride (albeit a fictitious one) …

    The Bus Ride

    Waiting for the 34A bus,
    I hoped it would arrive on time.
    Then… I clearly saw it coming.
    A relief to all who were there
    And standing patiently in line.
    I walked down the aisle
    And found a window seat.
    I settled in for the ride,
    When a young lady sat next to me
    With a smile… so sweet.
    The next stop was hers,
    So I thought a fond “Farewell”
    As she got off and walked away,
    Smiling to all around her,
    Clearly she had many stories to tell.
    An elderly man then got on the bus
    And took her still warm seat.
    He had just smoked,
    Which was rather unpleasant,
    And my senses just wanted to retreat.
    So I turned and looked out the window
    And saw a couple clearly in a dispute.
    They seemed a rather odd pair.
    She was very badly dressed.
    He was in a smart business suit.
    Behind them a man was opening shop,
    And bringing his flowers out for display.
    He was carefully mixing the colors,
    But the couple were oblivious to it all.
    Sad… it may have brightened their day.
    The smell of stale tobacco left the bus.
    The seat next to me was empty once more…
    But not for long.
    A large man with backpack, guitar case and books,
    Sat down and put them all on the floor.
    I was pushed up against the side.
    There was little room for my feet.
    Then he started to talk,
    About his life, and his music.
    What a gentle soul to meet!
    When he left, the seat was empty.
    With two stops (for me) to go,
    She got on. An angelic vision.
    An image of beauty indeed.
    She sat down… turned… and said “Hello!”
    My heart skipped a beat.
    I looked at her face.
    My temperature was rising.
    I fidgeted around on my seat
    While my pulse was starting to race.
    Such gentleness; Such warmth;
    Such an angel and so near.
    What could I say to this vision of loveliness?
    The bus started braking for my stop.
    “Excuse me please. I have to get off here!”
    I watched the bus pull away.
    She waved to me through the glass.
    If only she had got on earlier. If only…
    But “If only” never serves a purpose.
    Life… is what actually comes to pass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 16, 2019 / 3:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing this, Colin. I liked the unusual style (5-line stanzas) and the rhymes. Great character sketches and observations, too, both on and off the bus. You must have been riding for a while, all those different people coming and going right next to you. I loved the ending. Life is about what IS, not what IF, but still, we wonder. 🙂


      • colinandray June 16, 2019 / 4:44 pm

        I think wondering can be a good creative process, but we should not let it dictate our lives. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sharon S Garwig June 16, 2019 / 8:14 pm

    You completely left out the part where the guy (with the gold tooth and bad breath who didn’t speak English) hit on you and asked if you wanted his phone number!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 18, 2019 / 9:45 am

      That was a misunderstanding, dear. I asked if he had a cell phone, thinking Google Translator or a similar app might be helpful. He said, “Oh, you want my phone number?” Ummm, nope. 🙂


  5. snoozing on the sofa June 17, 2019 / 8:48 am

    When I was in college I rode the bus from Michigan to Arizona and back. I’ve never been tempted to do it again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 18, 2019 / 9:50 am

      That’s a long ride, Snoozin. I hope you had a neck pillow. Of course, a lot has changed since you were in college. There is this stuff called WiFi that works with these gadgets called cell phones, so you can text, play games, watch movies, etc, if you want to ignore your seatmate. 🙂


  6. Alison June 18, 2019 / 9:27 pm

    That was amazing. I love your observations of human nature, culture, introverts/extroverts, and just general good will toward your fellow man. Bravo. Just read a book by David Sedaris recounting his times on ye ol Greyhound. His adventures were scarier than yours! I rode one once from Sacramento to Los Angeles with my mom and five or six of my siblings. All I remember is the cigarette smoke.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 19, 2019 / 10:34 am

      Glad you enjoyed it, Alison. I love David Sedaris, one of my favorite authors. Can’t believe I’ve never read his Greyhound story. Smoking is not allowed now. Peeing standing up is likewise prohibited, so the onboard restroom stays a lot cleaner. I loved the variety of the riders and general friendliness of the atmosphere. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alison June 19, 2019 / 10:46 am

        Just finished Sedaris’ book, Naked, and the Greyhound story is part of it. He is one of my favorite humorists as well. Have a great day, Joan!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan June 19, 2019 / 12:13 pm

        My favorite Sedaris story is from Holidays on Ice, about his adventures as an elf in Macy’s SantaLand. That one was hilarious, a real pants-wetter. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alison June 19, 2019 / 12:52 pm

        I can only imagine! Naked had him at a nudist camp which had some pretty funny segments.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. kutchie Kender June 20, 2019 / 2:28 pm

    ​That was the BESTEST read I have had in a long time.. I know bestest isn’t a word,BUT!
    Thanks for writing fun things.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 20, 2019 / 2:41 pm

      Thanks, Ursula. It’s one of the bestest things I’ve written, I think. Is bestest a word? No, but who cares? This ain’t Scrabble. (For the record, ain’t ain’t a word either.) Adventures = fodder for good poems. This week’s adventure was getting a new cell phone–RIP, Samsung S-6. Today’s was checking prices on Amazon’s Prime Pantry to see if I would save money by buying my non-perishable groceries online. (Answer: some yes, some no.) Hope you and hubby are doing well and staying out of trouble. 🙂


  8. judyrutrider June 26, 2019 / 1:01 am

    Isn’t it fun to step outside of your comfort zone occasionally! I almost never have occasion to use public transportation unless traveling abroad where I refuse to drive. It always makes the senses come alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 26, 2019 / 3:05 pm

      I think we all NEED to step outside our comfort zone once in a while. The older I get, the less I like driving, especially on the interstate. Five hours behind the wheel would have made me a nervous wreck. The Greyhound seemed to be the most convenient option for everyone involved. Meeting some interesting people was the icing on the cake. When you’re driving, your senses must be concentrated on the task at hand. When you’re not, your senses are free to explore your surroundings. Everything you see, hear, feel, smell, or taste is a revelation! 🙂


  9. circumstance227 July 21, 2019 / 6:03 pm

    Love the way you live in the moment during the ride – taking cues from your fellow riders for how much conversation is desired. I tend to me completely inside my head while riding in trains or planes or buses, hardly even aware of the people around me. On the flight over to the States this year, though, I got into lovely alternating conversations with the two women on either side of me. Time just flew by (literally). Shortest overseas flight ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. saintvi April 21, 2022 / 11:00 am

    I love this! You brought the readers along for the ride. I haven’t ridden the Greyhound since 1977. The rules have changed, but the people are just as diverse and interesting as ever

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 21, 2022 / 11:41 am

      Thanks, Saintvi. I hate long-distance driving. I could have hidden in a book or popped in my earbuds but what fun would that have been? Most of us get too few chances to have an intimate hour-long convo with someone from a different walk of life.


  11. murisopsis April 21, 2022 / 2:02 pm

    I don’t know how I missed this one! Wonderful metamorphosis from experience to verse! My last trip (airplane that Sparky booked with 3 stop overs!) had some interesting seat mates – one young man regaled me with the photos of his bride and the house they are renovating. Another was a woman who didn’t speak much English and who was very afraid of flying…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan April 21, 2022 / 4:58 pm

      Worthwhile to step into someone else’s world and shoes for an hour or two. The people who fly are a wealthier lot than those who ride the bus. The gal riding to Nashville was going to be on the bus for over 12 hours. (No wonder she was rationing her Pringles.) There had been a death in the family and she wanted to go to the funeral. She owned a car, but it was a hoopty, not in good enough shape to drive further than to work and back. She was one of the “lucky” ones. Hope the young man and his bride have finished renovating, and the lady was able to relax when the flight landed safely.


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