I’m sitting in a Greyhound bus station in Cleveland, OH with my new friend, a young woman I’ll call Katie, who is six months pregnant and super friendly, despite the early hour. I’m on my way back to New Jersey from Oberlin, OH, after visiting my best friend at college. Katie is on her way back home to Akron. She’s on the last leg of a Greyhound journey that began the day before at 4:00 pm, when she left her cousins’ house in Kentucky. Her eyes are sleepy and her eyeliner is smudged. Now it’s 8:30 in the morning and she just wants to get home to Akron and see her partner and her baby boy.
When I first saw Katie across the room with her dufflebag, Uggs, sweatpants and sweatshirt, I pegged her for a college sophomore, and indeed she’s 19 years old, though she’s not in college. She tells me this is her second child. She’s got a toddler now, whom she adores, and she shows me pictures on her cracked tablet, including some of her brand-new son on the day of his birth, with his bleary-eyed face covered in bodily effluvia, and it is so intimate and incredible, these images of the first moments of a person’s life.
Katie looks familiar to me, like a reality TV star, an everyday, American girl kind of look. She has long black dyed hair and an easy laugh, and she speaks with a twang. Meanwhile, I look like a freaking dyke, with a military high-and-tight, hipster glasses, and unremarkable (if Jewish-inflected) mid-Atlantic accent. My queerness goes unmentioned, possibly even unnoticed, by Katie, but I am acutely aware of how different we are, and how improbable our meeting is. She is a midwestern teen mom with a purse full of loose change, and I am a queer East Coast Jew with a prestigious diploma and a copy of Foucault in my bag, yet here we are, friends of necessity – just two young (seemingly) white girls in a near-empty Greyhound bus station on a Wednesday morning in a mid-sized city, who just need each other to watch our stuff.
I’d initiated the interaction, just walked right up and asked her if she’d watch my stuff while I went to the bathroom, and she said yes, if I’d return the favor, and of course I agreed. As I headed to the bathroom, CNN flashed the top of the hour on the waiting room TV screen with a segment on Trump’s Russia scandal, and I heard Katie laugh.
“Oh man, I can’t wait to see this.”
I laughed too and told her to hold that thought and scurried away, relieved to have an inexhaustible topic of conversation to come back to.
When we’re both back from the bathroom, sitting front row center before the waiting room TV, Trump’s stupid squinty lying face appears. I immediately begin proclaiming my hate for him and every word he says, and then Katie starts insulting every aspect of Sean Spicer’s physical appearance and behavior and I feel like we’re simpatico. We agree that they both fucking suck, but then Katie says something that makes it seem like she supports Trump and I have to stop and reconsider.
First, she says something about how it would be good if we were “friends with Russia” since they have “the best nukes.” I say we have pretty good nukes ourselves. She suggests that “the media” around Trump is what’s truly the cause of this craziness on TV, a point seemingly straight from Fox news. I’m still figuring out her beliefs, not sure how much she believes in Trump and not wanting to offend her, so I suggest as mildly as I can that I’m pretty sure it’s Trump that’s acting crazy; I mean, the President of the United States is tweeting about a former president wiretapping him, with no evidence, when has a president ever done anything like that, etc. and Katie has to agree because literally, what the fuck.
Despite these little moments of conflict, we find common ground in humor and amuse ourselves as we wait for our buses. The laughter helps the hours go by in our Greyhound limbo. Katie mostly sticks to joking about appearances rather than beliefs, e.g. how alarmingly orange Trump is, how his hair looks like “a peeled banana”, and how Spicer’s entire face “looks like an asshole.” I’m cracking up, because Trump’s hair really does lay like a limp banana peel and Spicer’s tight little mouth – it’s uncanny. Katie and I sit in our cushionless chairs in the Greyhound waiting area and crack wise at the screen like we’re in MST3K. I wonder aloud at the spectacle, saying, “This is a dumpster fire” and Katie doubles over.
During lulls in the coverage, we turn to personal conversation. I ask her if she voted for Trump and she says her fiance did, but she didn’t vote for anyone because she “didn’t want to get involved in all that mess.”
I say something about how I think we’re all involved no matter what, but at least when you vote you get to have some sort of say in it, and she nods like maybe she didn’t consider it that way. Maybe she felt like her vote wouldn’t make a difference, just a drop in the ocean. In turn, I tell her about my beliefs, that I just went to the Women’s March on Washington, how I voted for Hillary in the general election and Bernie in the primaries, how I kind of wish Bernie’d won the nomination. I ask her what she thought of the failed Republican healthcare bill and she says she’s all for smaller government and everything, but that would have been a disaster, and honestly, she’s glad it failed. She has a bunch of different health problems, which she only got diagnosed and treated because of Obamacare, and now Trump wants to take that away? Hell no. She would have to stop taking her medicines because they’re so freaking expensive you can’t afford them on your own. Plus she’s pregnant! She and the baby get bi-weekly checkups, and you can’t pay an OB-GYN with the change in your purse.
I wonder what her fiance, the Trump voter, thinks about that. I wonder how he would feel if his fiancee was forced to stop taking her medicines or going to prenatal checkups. I wonder how he believes Trump’s lies, how he can believe the media is the problem when Trump is the one acting like an insane clown. It’s right there in front of our eyes, who is the source of the problem.
Before we leave, Katie friends me on Facebook and I accept. She says next time I’m in the Akron area, I should let her know and we can hang out, which I feel is so sweet and generous. I tell her that of course I will, though I don’t know when (or if) I’ll ever be back in this part of the country. We get on separate buses to Akron, home for her, just the first leg of a day-long journey for me.
Her bus pulls out, and as it does, a message bubbles up on my phone. It’s from Katie.
“hi,” it says, “i see u.”