Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rivers and Roads, rivers till i meet you.

I have seen so much of America this year. No, in the past two months. Go me.

I guess I finally did what I have always wanted to do; travel greyhound. This of course means I was willing to forgive the giant bus all of its quirky, weird little flaws and embrace the adventure. Which I did. Until Denver, where I pretty much lost my cookies.

The start of the trip was fine; I hadn't had much sleep that day due to waking up early (for me) and watching Glee with Amanda and then doing laundry and packing hardcore, so I spent about an hour at the weird bus stop/truck stop darting my eyes anxiously back and forth, being terrified of somehow missing my bus or a connection or doing something moronic. But the bus was right on time, commanded by a sassy (yes, it's true) lady driver. We pulled out at about 12:45 AM and cruised through North Dakota through the night and made Fargo by morning. I slept a little bit and had the seat to myself until partway through the night when I woke up to see a pudgy Hispanic dude sitting next to me. Still, the sunrise was beautiful and we made it into Fargo just as the sky turned pink. I did not see any wood chippers there, however I'm certain the Coens were hanging out there somewhere. The next leg of the trip was cramped, the bus was smaller and the seats closer together, and the pudgy due followed me and sat next to me again since he seemed to feel comfortable. He did offer to share his Funyuns with me, but I was feeling the need for distance at that point. After a bit we made it into Minneapolis, Minnesota, which I only got to see fleetingly but which I adored. It's nice to know there is a great city in the white North. It's very clean-- like Seattle that way, and the buildings are HUGE and uniform but there is a sense of culture there that's the first I've seen in the North. After that I made another transfer to a bus driven by a cranky lady bus driver who basically screamed at everyone on the bus ad infinitum, except me, because I was quiet, only got off the bus once, and slept for a good deal of the day. Minnesota is a beautiful place. Very green right now.

Iowa is also green, but strange. I'm not sure why I didn't particularly like it, but the towns we passed through gave me such a weird vibe, and the agriculture is just different from ND and MN. The people we picked up there were weird, too. Anyway, I'm sure it has its charms, but it's not one of my favorite states so far. From a bus window anyway. That night we made it into Kansas City, MO, which is like... crime capital or something. Around this time I also started to see many Amish people, which I have to admit made me very happy. They were a nice contrast to the white trash that mainly seemed to populate the bus stations. The KC bus terminal was admittedly sketchy, and not located in a savory part of town. I also found out here that greyhound had double-charged me for my last purchase, leaving my bank account in the negatives. Cue freak out. Also cue freak out as the line formed for my bus-- it was long. Greyhound is now known for its really crappy way of doing business which is to overbook their buses completely, therefore regardless of whether or not you paid full price for a ticket or bought it early or whatever, it is a first come first served world. So even though we made it to the terminal early, the line was already quite long. As we piled out to the bus (the Amish, three silent people dressed in blue, being the first on), progress began to slow and I became panicked. A bus can only hold 55. There were far more than that in this line. As I moved up to fifth in line, the crowd stopped moving. The bus driver vanished for a few minutes, then returned. "Okay, we have room for six more," he said, and counted us with his finger. I slipped by, second-to-last, and slithered to a seat, murmuring grateful prayers all the way. I sat next to a chubby, helplessly cute Asian tourist (this whole post is going to make me sound very racist, however I ask that you try riding the bus for two weeks and see what happens). He was apparently part of a group of fellow Asian tourists... or students or whatnot, led by an American lady.

When we got to St. Louis, the bus driver announced what gates we should flee to in order to find our next connections. My neighbor looked confused, I doubted he understood much English. The American lady segregated her flock, telling most of them that they had to be at a certain gate. "Except for you," she said to my little friend. "You're going to the other gate. Gate 5, ok? But don't get on the first one, get on the second one.." He blinked at her, trying to repeat what she said. The young, bearded (somewhat attractive, incidentally) Amish man, sitting across the aisle from us, looked up and smiled at the confused student. "That's my gate too," he said. "You can come with me and we'll get on the bus together." The American looked relieved. "Yes! Go with him!" She buzzed off in a flurry, helping her other group with their suitcases. The Amish man smiled at the Asian and waited patiently while he gathered his things, gesturing again for the student to follow. I just sat in my chair, smiling. It WOULD take an Amish person to be nice to a stranger.

After about four hours in the bus terminal (during which I ate, changed, brushed my hair and teeth and rearranged my luggage), I hopped the last bus to Canton. As the bus was waiting to pull out, a random middle aged guy took a picture of me. Weird. Anyway. I gazed out at gorgeous Missouri as we cruised on through, and actually got to see a bit of Hannibal, Mark Twain's town, before I got to Quincy, where Emily picked me up. We toddled around the town, I got to see the Mississippi River and all of Emily's favorite haunts for the past four years. It's a strange feeling, getting to peek in on someone's life like that, someone you know well but whom you just may not know until you've seen everything. We crossed the river to return to her school and I stayed in her Sorority House (yeah.), attended her baccalaureate and consumed enough caffeine to stay up until 2 with her as she talked about her plans and life and all the existential things that one thinks of at such a time. The next morning we got up early, prepped, and had graduation time. The graduation was lovely, though inside and therefore a bit stuffy and packed with people. Thank goodness the school is teeny. Afterwards Emily and I singlehandedly packed up her Canton existence, waved goodbye to the school, and hit the road to Taylorville, where her boyfriend and his family live. The drive there was about three hours, and we were both so exhausted and punchy that we knew the only way to make it was... to sing. We loudly played all of our old favorite songs and sang incessantly in an effort to stay awake. I'm not sure how we did it, though I do know that we collapsed in hysterical laughter by the time Aaron's mom opened the door to let us in.

We hung out there, went into St. Louis on one day and Springfield (Land O Lincoln) the next. Both wonderful cities. The buildings in St. Louis are just amazing, they make me wish I knew more about architecture. We went there the day after the Joplin tornadoes, and had a little adventure as we explored the Botanical Gardens-- a scary rainstorm suddenly hit with impressive winds, so we darted for the basement of an old church, smoked pink cigarettes, and discussed which of us would survive a zombie apocalypse. I got to sample toasted ravioli, Indonesian food, Horseshoes, custard... yes, hail the midwest. I got to go to the Lincoln Museum, to see his pre-Whitehouse house. I wound up at the sketchiest, darkest bus stop known to man and continued my sojourn through America by encountering southern Missouri, Oklahoma (of the strange sky), the tip of Texas, the old familiar New Mexico (which I still love) and Arizona (which is interesting, but the towns still weird me out. Phoenix... is one of the weirdest cities in the world. I have never liked it), the lame California desert and finally, finally, finally Los Angeles. That ride did exhaust me, towards the end especially, mostly because I was on more packed buses and the people seemed to grow progressively less savory. The LA bus stop is a heinous trap for all who enter.

I got to go to my friend Jon's graduation the next day, which he was unprepared for, so that was satisfactory. And crazy, considering we graduated from highschool together in 2006. Things can change so much in five years (yes, five. he is a late bloomer, which secretly gives me great joy). I drove back with two other friends from LA to Ventura and started to feel a nagging "blue" feeling. I'm sure it was mostly exhaustion but it was nagging nonetheless. The next day was my friend's little sister's high school graduation, which was a pleasure and a joy to attend, especially because afterwards many of their good friends came over (some of whom are my good friends as well) and the party went late into the night with good food and laughter and the general coziness that I miss. That house always seemed to have that coziness. Later I took up residence at another friend's house and mostly followed my friend Kate around with a staple gun as she prepared the set for the play, but after awhile my efforts proved to be futile so I mostly just spent the week musing at the efforts of others. The play that all of this hard work produced was absolutely terrific, and any doubt as to why on earth I had stayed the whole week completely vanished as I clapped with violent pride. I highly suggest "The Dining Room" by A.R. Guerney to anyone. I have read it and seen two productions of it now, and it is an enriching experience.

After snagging what visits I could with Venturan people near and far (not enough! not enough time!), I was thrown back into the jaws of the LA greyhound where my bus was an hour late. It was probably not a good sign that as the bus pulled out, giving me a perfect view of LA, looking surprisingly beautiful in all of its dusky glory, I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry the whole damn trip. When the people from Brooklyn overtook the bus by demanding and mediating conversation (one of them literally stood for most of the ride, talking to people and attempting to entertain. fail. leave me to my book and my sleep and my crying, crazy man from Brooklyn), when the lesbian baby momma from Vegas started cursing out the bus driver (who called security), when the crazy old woman told me smoking was good for me and gave me a weird blessing from god, when the bus driver had us all de-board the bus so that he could go help another greyhound in need, when I was so squished by the obese man sitting next to me that I couldn't move, when I realized I had no hairbrush, when I realized I have no idea what the HELL I am doing right now (on every level), I wanted to cry. But I kept it together. Until Denver. Until we arrived in the dirtiest, most crowded terminal in the sketchiest part of Colorado and the bus driver sadly told us that we had missed our connections by two hours.

Worst Part of the Trip

I got off the bus. Got my bags. Slumped into the line with alot of other tired, dirty, angry people. The old lady who had been on the bus with us toddled in line next to me. She was old, and I knew from the ride that she had very bad feet and could not stand for long. She waited a bit and then had to sit down. The line moved forward. The tall Hispanic man behind me was apparently that type that believes that if the line shifts by a fraction of a centimeter, that one had better catch up or one is going to be left behind. He spent the entire wait literally pressed up against my back. I tried to give subtle hints-- moving my elbow back, leaning back, coughing, but he would not budge. I never quite knew what the feeling of someone "breathing down your neck" was until then. As the line inched forward-- a very long wait-- the little old lady would get up, hop back in line for a bit, then sit back down. I let her do this because she had been in line when I was, she was not trying to cut but she simply had to sit. No big deal. Well. When the zig zag line finally made it to the last turn (with three people in front of me), the old lady toddled back. An anxious, crazy girl who had been on the bus with us and who had been talking with pressing-up-against-me-guy behind me began to whisper all crazily something along the lines of "Nononono, don't let her, don't let her do that, no, i don't care if she's old, nononono i need to get home, i'm shaking! i'm shaking like a humanleaf! a humanleaf!!" I ignored this till the line moved a bit and I got directly behind the old woman. The anxious girl lept out of line and up to me and said: "ARE YOU IN LINE?" Me (thinking of a million mean sarcastic responses: "..Yes." Her: "WELL YOU CAN'T LET HER CUT IN FRONT OF YOU SHE CUT IN FRONT OF YOU YOU CAN'T LET HER DO THAT!!!" Me: "She was in the line when I got in line, she has bad feet so she's been sitting down. She didn't cut. It's ok." Her: "OH." She returns to her place. Two seconds later, the old lady shifts, and I, trying to get this asshole off of me, shift a bit forward too, just so he can feel a little bit better. But does he? no.

He taps my shoulder.
He: "You can move. There's room. You can move up now."

...... I could not believe it. The line had not even progressed and I was moving-- just for him-- as forward as I possibly could and I felt like such a misplaced raggamuffin and so alone and why doesn't anyone care how alone I am and how dirty I am now and how matted my hair is and YOU FUCKING WANT ME TO MOVE INTO THE AIR?

I gestured, grandly, in front of me, and stepped aside just so he could see the GREAT EXPANSE OF NOTHING that he wished me to move into.

Me: "Where exactly would you like me to move to, sir?"
Him: "Oh, I figured there was more room than that."
Me: "Well. There's not."

Cue big, fat, obnoxious tear. Heck, cue a few of 'em. I couldn't do anything about 'em, they were there. Thankfully I didn't burst into sobs or anything, just a restrained, lip-quivering red face. The line shifted awkwardly. The three homeboys in front of me darted their eyes around as if to say, awesome. Now we have a crying girl. The man behind me hung his head in shame (or so I imagine, I never looked at him), the anxious girl started murmuring apologies under her breath. And the old lady I was trying to help? The old lady looks at me and says "Well, you can go in front of me, I'm no crybaby."


At the counter I learned that I was stranded for twenty-four hours because my bus only came once an evening. Twenty-four hours. I accepted my meager meal vouchers (For what would prove to be the nastiest sandwiches west of the Pecos) and slumped into a corner where the tile, like the rest of the place, looked like it hadn't been mopped or even swept with the toe of a shoe in months. I looked at the broken, used q-tip next to me. I stretched my leg out over all of my bags so that no one would attempt to steal them. And then I cried so hard I think I strained a stomach muscle.


Thankfully, that is all over now. I am home-- or something like it-- I had to work the very day I got back (an overnight after many days involving greyhound = not the soundest idea). But I survived. I slept this morning. I feel better. I feel like an adventurer. I don't feel sad anymore, except for this strange longing for a huge hug from someone who can at least pretend to know that everything's fine. It's time now, then, for a plan.


Sonja said...

Denver sounds absolutely horrid! I'm so sorry. :( And what the old lady said when you stood up for her -- grrr, people suck.


Katrina said...

UGH IT WAS. I suppose it would not have been so bad if it weren't the end of the trip and if I weren't just SO exhausted already. Timing is everything. But seriously. Standing in that line, looking a the most annoying side of humanity... one can understand how people go mad....

that old lady.... just needs to be dropkicked.