San Diego, CA, July 27th, 2014-Crossing the country on a bus is something everyone should try to do more often. It’s a reasonably affordable way to actually see things. I rode the Greyhound from Wilmington, NC to Los Angeles, CA with a slight layover for Bonnaroo and a little Salem, VA vacation. You read about the festival previously and leaving the farm in Coffee County and the campsite was a pretty bittersweet moment for me. It was so much fun, you just wanted to go back and start over. Unfortunately, if you stick around after the music stops, it’s time to clean. I briefly considered trying to hitch a ride to LA or Denver from the festival but jumped into the air conditioned SUV back to VA, instead. Gwen departed for the Keys and the rest of us headed to Roanoke. It had the feeling of drudgery because we’d all just partied for 4 days. Collectively, I’m sure everyone would have done it over again but we were all grateful for indoor plumbing. I decompressed for a few days and found myself back on the Greyhound at the station I had come into from Wilmington.
I bummed out a couple of cigarettes to the gentlemen who were sitting around outside and we laughed at some bad jokes and smiled about the women in South Florida. No matter where you go, have a couple of good-bad jokes that you can fall back on. Most strangers in this world are just like you or I and are worried about their own lives but can easily appreciate a laugh, when timed right. Some strangers are idiots but that comes later in the bus trip. These two guys were a trip. I couldn’t really understand one and the other had been a Marine in Vietnam. He knew of Camp Lejeune but had never been. My bus boarded and I started the longest ride I’ve had so far. Most of that first day and night were a blur of stops, cigarette breaks, gas stations, fast food joints, bad sci-fi movies (I scored a 50 movie set from a five dollar bin at a store in Arvada, CO) and free wi-fi.
I watched some blatant racism and bigotry that night. The young man I was sitting next to was talking on his Bluetooth in a language that I didn’t recognize. I was playing chess on my phone, so it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I tuned him out and started taking pawns. The older lady seated across the aisle from us was pretty hot and bothered by it, though. Before it was all said and done, she was cursing at him and basically calling him a terrorist. The bus driver told her to pipe down and everything was fine but it did help me see how stressful travel can be for people. I can’t imagine being either one of them in those moments, her lashing out in fear and ignorance or him being verbally assaulted by what looked like someone’s sweet, tiny grandmother. Needless to say, it was a quiet ride for some time after that.
Just before dawn, we stopped in Memphis, TN. The Greyhound Terminal was packed with people. Crowd watching in a bus station is a great way to pass time. So is reading, for that matter. Since I enjoyed both, the layover didn’t bother me much but I definitely wasn’t sleeping in the bus station. I was going through my books at an alarming rate so I put a halt to them for the time being. People put on a show for me when I start to watch a crowd. I can see what’s happening. It’s crazy, the kind of stuff you see and pick up on. They’re always in such a huge hurry to begin with but then you dump them into a building for a few hours and you’ll see some pretty uncomfortable people. Kids sprawl over their parents’ luggage, people are sitting on floors because they have an outlet and need to charge their phones or laptops. It doesn’t have the smell of a festival but you do get used to seeing the similarity between people and livestock. I met a young lady outside who had her Chihuahua with her. She’d smuggled the dog onboard in her carry-on bag and been busted and kicked off the bus. They take their rules pretty seriously.
The sun came up and I was in Arkansas. By this point, I had finished a book, a whole mess of movies and was getting pretty tired. The whole ride has a kind of filmy haze over it from lack of sleep. In fact, by the time it was all said and done, I was in a zombie state. I get lucky with public and mass transportation because nobody wants to sit next to a big dude with a beard apparently, so more often than not, I get a seat to myself. I started to doze off and on. It’s tough for me to sleep when I’m actually eating up miles. The constant hum and movement of a car, bus, train or plane don’t lull me to sleep that easily, so an hour or two was about as much as I would get. Put me on a boat or a campsite and I’m out like a light. Gimme a bed or a couch and I can get some of the best sleep known to humanity. Put me on or in a moving object and I’ll fight sleep for as long as possible.
About the same time that I started to doze, we got into Texas and I had my first meal on the road. I had bought some snacks to take on the trip and had munched my way through half the nation on gas station food. The bus terminal had a snack booth (I hesitate to call it a kitchen) with a sign that proudly declared “Fritopie” as the manager’s daily special. It was 7 dollars and I was curious about what a “Fritopie” actually was. I watched the entire process, fascinated by how slop of this nature continues to get sold. I was debating the finer points of GMOs with the hippies the week before at Bonnaroo and I was watching processed garbage get prepared for me that morning. “Fritopie” was Fritos, the chips, hot dog chili that had been microwaved and topped with nacho cheese sauce. It was served in a Styrofoam bowl that may serve well for kindergarten snack-time but not for a grown man who wanted some sort of breakfast. I ate it nonetheless. I also got a breakfast sandwich out of their cooler and a cup of coffee to wash it all down with. I will never forget my disappointment with that morning. My food budget wasn’t huge so I couldn’t afford to make costly mistakes so I stocked up on some water, some sweets and some salties and resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to be impressed with the food offerings that the road was going to give me.
We made Dallas by the middle of the day. The Dallas Greyhound terminal is a pretty busy place. There’s a small gated smoking area that I beat feet to pretty soon after arriving. As I stood there, I was approached several times by people looking to buy or sell drugs of one sort or another. I hope they found whatever it was that they needed but I wasn’t the guy to talk to. I spent about four hours in Dallas, mostly reading, playing chess and people watching. Once we boarded the next bus I found that one of my fellow passengers, Courtney, was from NC and headed to CA. It was cool to meet someone from the old neighborhood. I was seated next to a young lady who didn’t speak any English and had a young boy with her. My rudimentary Spanish was embarrassing but I wound up finding out that they were Johanna and her brother Antonio and they were on their way to family in Salinas.
While you’re in Texas, it seems that Texas will never end. The landscape changes though, which is pretty great. It goes from a rolling prairie to mountains and deserts. The sunsets are not believable, even from a bus. Because the sun sets in the west, if you’re traveling west, you have an unimpeded view of it. Watching the sun go down on Texas, I was hit with a color palette that I hadn’t ever experienced. All the reds, pinks, blues and purples settle in for a little while and it seems almost like a natural light show.
We had a two hour layover in El Paso where I saw the sun come back up. It’s as close as I’ve ever been to Mexico. I was exhausted and needed to charge my phone and myself so, just like the folks I wrote about previously, I picked a spot on the floor near an outlet and started to juice up. I ate some trail mix, a honey bun and some coffee. I wandered around outside for a little while and before you know it, we were loading back into the bus. It’s incredible how much Mexican culture has embedded itself in the culture of America. You don’t really get to notice it until you get to the southwest but once you’re there, it’s everywhere.
Johanna was nice but I don’t think she was used to dealing with her two year old brother for extended periods of time. He became an unholy terror on the bus, wandering the aisles, accepting sugary treats from the grandmothers onboard. Before the afternoon was out he had been climbing all over me and hanging from my beard for hours. He was loud and full of sugar. He actually opened the emergency window and hung outside the bus for a minute or so before he was handled. I wound up grabbing the seat next to my fellow North Carolinian for most of the rest of the trip. We had a language in common and both enjoyed talking about music so it was a lot easier to handle than the gremlin.
By this point in time, I was severely sleep deprived. I had left Salem in the early afternoon and gotten through two full days before I napped in any way, shape or form. By the time we hit El Paso, it was day three with only a few hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I had another full day and most of an evening left on the bus. Things started to get kind of weird. I remember that I would sleep for 10 to 15 minutes and then be jarred awake by a noise or the bus lurching and most of that day is a jumble of reading, napping and also just kind of zoning out and watching out the windows. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so tired in my life. I had turned into a zombie for all intents and purposes.
Between El Paso and Los Angeles, we made stops in Los Cruces, New Mexico and Phoenix, Arizona. There is very little that jumps out about that last leg of the trip other than the conversation and the view. Seeing the desert for the first time is something I won’t soon forget and as I mentioned earlier, the sunsets were incredible. As the sun went down in California on that final day, I was hit again with desert colors during dusk.
We were almost to Los Angeles when things got a little out of hand. A man on the bus had smuggled in some liquor and had gotten trashed along the way. He was bragging about the fact that he was a “killer and a murderer,” and started to threaten several of the ladies on the bus. The driver mentioned that it would be taken care of in San Bernardino, which was only about ten minutes away. When we got to the bus terminal, security was waiting to take him off of the bus. He made a fight out of it and they had to wrestle him down to the ground. He was very verbal the entire time and it seemed as if he had volume modulation control problems and a vocabulary that consisted of four letter words. In other words, he screamed and cussed the whole way.
I was pretty perturbed by it because we were so close to my final stop and I needed to sleep, badly. We watched all of this go down and then another traveler just decided to randomly start insulting the police officers. We’d already burned up 45 minutes getting the first guy arrested and off the bus and now this guy wanted to go too, apparently. He continued being an idiot and promptly got himself arrested as well. We burned another half hour or so taking care of that.
Courtney, my new travel buddy and I had gotten to chatting during my waking moments. As it turns out, she hadn’t ever been to CA but living there had been her dream for as long as she could remember. It was neat to share her first sight of LA. Since she was 12 years old, she had dreamed of being in California, specifically in Los Angeles. Anytime a city would appear once we got into California, she was anxious for it to be LA. It helped put some of my travels into perspective for me and really went on to show me how lucky I am that I get to do what I do.
We pulled into the bus station in downtown Los Angeles and I caught a ride out to my Uncle Mickey’s place in San Pedro. I had dinner and crashed. I had added 2,633 miles to what I had already traveled and I needed sleep worse that I’d ever known. When I got to LA, I had one dollar left to my name and about a month’s worth of adventures ahead. The next day was my first in one of the biggest cities in the world and on the other side of the country.