"If you ever plan to lower West…" take Greyhound, not exactly the best.
From Charlottesville, Virginia across to Sacramento. Blame it on Trump. I flew east mto Dulles, DC and wanted to slow-celebrate Hillary's victory back across those bus stops of America.
Well, we know how that turned out. But I decided to do something that was less than just flying on back home after a large dose of American life in DC, Virginia and New York — something less then more easy living in a time of luxury for us lucky enough to have more than enough. Get in there with those who may not count on a Democrat or a Republican in their daily lives.
The Charlottesville Greyhound station is busted brick and shabby, worn out, right beside the grand statue of Thomas Jefferson's Lewis and Clarke with Sacajawea clutching at Rogers Clark's leg on her knees beside him — degrading to the great woman as is the state of bus and rail travel in our now Trump world.
A near toothless, skinny woman with a West Virginia voice asks me for change of a dollar. Let the journey begin, predominately African and Mexican-American, sad and broken folks, the black bus driver more cop than coachman, orders given, destination Memphis, Tennessee. Sounds good to me.
The bus is shabby, my overhead air vent and reading light are not there, replaced with a slice of cardboard, no seatmate for right now, out in the afternoon daylight for Roanoke, Virginia.
Already trouble — young black guy won't turn down his cellphone player. I'd forgotten that everyone has one, hearing them ring and folks talking as the farm fields and forests and Blue Ridge Mountains float by.
It's an American Saturday, November 19, tractors and hay bales, fast food and slow meandering horses, sunset over the Blue Ridge coming on all pinkish and purple, lesser mountain majesty.
Coming into Wytheville, Virginia, one of the pony express stops for a bus, a layover of 45 minutes, always a fast food joint close by, all of us off in the way station, early darkness and an environment to match, bare necessities but on time and reboard line and please don't sit beside me, a skinny meth head in camouflage gear is behind me on his cell phone talking about he and Bodine were innocent in a drug bust, just out after six months behind bars. I'd like to put up some bars. He sounds like the southerner cliche comedy but he is really real.
Real tired in the darkness but sleep is nodding and dozing and almost going in, playing musical seat to find the perfect one, quiet and confined to me. The restroom on board is a portapotty at a concert, a total mess, but what else?
It's onto Knoxville, Tennessee in the dark. I'm already counting off states, fast food neon the road signs of America, the bus basically quiet, the driver behind, inside his plastic bubble, Spanish being spoken all around.
Knoxville is just streets in the dark, one hour layover, cigarette smokers like drug addicts outside the bare terminal, luggage and stacks of stuff, security guards, forlorn guard dogs all in black, most of the Greyhound staff are blacks, the usual crap as food, terminal full, holiday turkey I guess.
The boarding line monitors are definitely in charge, yelling their commands, lost souls finding their gates, babies and teenagers, no proposed border fence high enough to prevent this.
Now it's Nashville in the 3am, a seatmate all the way from Knoxville on his handheld device — earplugs, silence, nodding off sideways with my sweatshirt as a window pillow. Wish I'd flown back, thinking lit up Nashville skyline by Bob Dylan because that's all there is to see, wishing I'd brought some headphones. Laying over. Come on, come on, let's get going like asking your jet to go faster.
Memphis, Tennessee as the sun is coming up. Crossing the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee is worth the distance behind and up ahead. Elvis is not in this building, changing the bus, my bag at my feet, Dallas, Los Angeles and Sacramento tag, the only thing missing from the re-boarding and new riders are live chickens. The move to the new bus driver looking like Cedric the Entertainer and he does try some humor in his intercom instructions with the ever present warning that "you will be left in the middle of nowhere if…"
People on, people off at the in betweens, all sort of the same as before, heading on for Arkansas, again glad of that, saying I'm crossing Arkansas, the Mexican woman sitting behind me on her cellphone, continuous Spanish, and I do mean continuous, for miles and miles, wondering how anyone could talk so much for so long. Long, flat, empty brown fields, everybody in this America is a farmer.
Bill Clinton and the Arkansas River; been here before to check out the Clinton Library, not inside, just the architecture, rusty bridges across the river, subdued skyline in the light of day, river barge like Mark Twain.
Only 15 minutes in Little Rock, like a country song, the smell of big bus tires and exhaust fumes in the docking bays.
On to Texarkana. Never thought I'd say that but across that is Texas, another state left behind.
Left alone in my seat like the flat, empty countryside, about three hours to Texarkana, not much happening, cattle and junkyards, my fellow travelers almost silent, one big guy snoring like a cough with a tea kettle whistle.
Texarkana station like a large doublewide trailer and my first just-released prisoner, tall and head shaved like a pro wrestler. He sits behind me. He and his lady seatmate begin to discuss his and her son's innocence, on his stolen merchandise and I don't know what for her son, but he's been in for over six years. Find me a seat up front with a normal guy almost too big for you see, rubbing on each other. Oh, brother.
Coming into Dallas, Texas and the last of the daylight, too big for its britches, buildings with no Texas reminders, too modern and sterile, the bus station a big one, Dallas police outside, blue lights flashing, security guards like pit bulls, two hour layover, wandering over to a faded McDonald's, what else, blackbirds screeching in the trees, thinking on my last visit to "the" Book Depository where Lee Harvey acted alone. Still a bone of my contention.
An army of the night on the move, nowhere near one good-looking woman, really. Back in line to get on, back on board, next short stop Fort Worth in the dark, some big concert event stalling traffic. If you get the chance though, stop in Fort Worth — one of my favorite cities from a time ago — the best of Texas, art and stockyards.
Unstuck from traffic and off we go to Abilene, Texas — thought Abilene was in Kansas, with a stop in Odessa before or after Abilene, I'm not so sure, wanting now to get off but after the Lone Star State only New Mexico and Arizona to Los Angeles.
Left alone to sleep a bit. Had books to read but just can't, including turning on the glaring reading light like a searchlight in the prison yard. The sleeping woman across from me has left her light on. Take a breath, reach across the aisle and turn it off.
Night, in Abilene, Texas, the routine of the dark adventure, get off for half an hour, some orange juice from somewhere, zombieland.
Big Spring, Texas next, where it's 15 minutes in the Texas vastness, two guys almost missing the bus, running across the gas station parking lot — funny, sad.
Oh man, Van Horn, Texas, where I've been, James Dean and Marva, Texas for his Giant nearby when I, once upon a time, rode with James Dean. We are way west of Eden, not much to recommend it, all fixed in place now, routine rooted in the American road.
Now the sun is out and it's El Paso, Texas, where they invented dusty dry and across the border fence to dustier-drier Juarez, Mexico, a main event on the border, lots of folks getting on, Spanish en todo, me the minority.
One and a half hours to absorb the bus station in El Paso. What a country, Monticello to El Paso. The British told their colonials not to go beyond the Appalachians. Not. Nada.
Vamos New Mexico. Not quite yet, border patrol at the state border, getting on, checking ID, taking two young guys off. No se, neither do they, have a nice day and off we go to Fordsburg, New Mexico, desert and dry mountains, young bus driver who speaks Spanish, DC to Santa Fe, Fordsburg for 20 minutes, jumpers off for a smoke, the young Mexican kid beside me breathing sighs of relief from his manila folder of papers being in order at the border. Next stop, Tucson, Arizona.
Now I'm all so what, numb, the humdrum steady beat, Arizona meaning California is next but not quite yet, three hours to Phoenix.
"By the Time I Get to Phoenix" I was three sheets/seats to the wind, Phoenix a big pile of stuff in the desert, Trump/Pence signs in yer face, people piling on the bus, one loudmouth young guy right nearby. Big-city traffic and this young guy isn't going to shut up until Los Angeles with a stop in beautiful Blythe, California. Ah, California at last, like a pioneer or a Joad.
The young guy just won't shut up or turn down his video game, ringing like an entire midway carnival but I've given up, big bright Palm Springs in the dark like a lunar colony, the loudmouth thinking its Los Angeles. No guardian angels to my rescue.
Los Angeles take shape in the darkness, remembering the flight east that first flew to Los Angeles in the dark, an impossible firefly colony below, the giant jet plane landing like a giant bird on its concrete nest.
The rest is ordered chaos in the Los Angeles terminal, all parts California ready for boarding, knowing now it's boring I-5 all the way to seven hours away Sacramento, minor stops, hamburger villages, gas station towns, motel communities, daybreak old foggy and farm fields familiar now and then Stockton and only 20 minutes out.
Sacramento in the gray daylight, our Greyhound an architectural original, dragging myself out at 8am on Tuesday, November 22.
Not done yet. Two city buses to South and Jay.
"If you ever plan to motor west…"