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:
PEOPLE OF GREYHOUND
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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