At this point, it’s quite possible that I’ve traveled 10,000 miles alone by Greyhound. Maybe this is an exaggerated figure; for obvious reasons, I’m happier not keeping track of an exact number. There’s no need to wax eloquent and call it a modern incarnation of the covered wagons of the pioneers, but the sign for “Points West” at every forgotten-town bus station still stirs my blood. Though not quite Steinbeck’s Wayward Bus, the Greyhound is still a classic American institution – the net that picks up anyone who needs to go anywhere cheap. As a result, you meet, sometimes involuntarily, characters whose paths would not normally intersect with your own. (Several well-meaning older gentlemen have, at points, expressed concerns that a girl like me shouldn’t travel with “those sorts” – I would possibly assert that as an individual with no steady income whose last gainful employ was as a migrant manual laborer, I may very well be “that sort.”) Here, then, are some of “those sorts” – people whose lives for whatever reason intersected briefly with mine on the vomit-stained seats of the Greyhound Bus.
Amish Carpenter headed to Arkansas via Missouri at 3am: He is the first person I’ve met who could, without affecting any sort of pose, be a character from a book about historic America. I don’t remember his name, but I remember feeling a sort of dull surprise that it was not Abe. He is tall and broad and smells strongly of pipe tobacco, his voice is deep, his eyebrows thick, his features stonecut. He carries a rigid wide-brimmed hat. He eats some crackers and we talk about his carpentry, his cousins and the travel restrictions imposed on the Amish – they can take the train or the bus but they can’t fly. We live in a connected age. I catch him staring with unmasked interest at the iPhone of the girl in front of us and wonder about the loneliness of being a steadfast anachronism.
Crazy Lady with the Glasses: Ragged hair and old-fashioned Coke bottle glasses that obscure most of her face over eyes that don’t entirely focus. She wears a shirt that says “The hours between the coming of night and the coming of sleep have always belonged to the tellers of tales and the makers of music,” which I rather like, in a hazy, folky way. She smiles wanly at me when I’m struggling with my giant backpack, and I’m torn between stamping her firmly with the crazy person stamp and feeling a sort of lost soul bond with her. The balance shifts firmly to the former when she wakes me up at 3 AM with a high-pitched feral shriek, asserting that her seatmate assaulted her. This is, to date, the most unpleasant awakening I have ever had.
Creepy Mustache Guy: Baseball cap, mustache, greasy hair, probably mid-thirties, communicates in staccato bursts of growl. I know without asking that he’s into NASCAR. We’re stalled in some small town in Kansas and a girl who is archetypically hot walks by the bus window- perfectly round butt, long blonde hair, the classically vacant pout that suggests nonchalant availability and a sort of consummate unavailability in equal measure. She’s both All-American and out of place on that forgotten street. “I lost my eyes on that one,” he remarks to another guy on the bus in a moment of male bonding that feels forced. The other man grunts in assent and Creepy Mustache Guy turns to me: “Do you diet?” It’s the first question he’s asked me in five hours. I’ve just spent two months at a job that involves the equivalent of running marathons in the woods with fifty pounds on my back, and at the moment, I would kill for a bacon sandwich. “No.” I say. “Good.” Good.
Lady Who Doesn’t Know Where Ontario Is: I can confidently say that the circumference of one of her thighs is larger than that of my waist. She has a soft, sweet face and shows me pictures of her child, a two-year-old named Nathan who’s so far considerably less rotund than she. We’re driving through the plains of Kansas, which surprisingly actually do look exactly how I expected them to look – expansive, flat, endless in all directions. “Where ya coming from?” “Toronto” “Where is that?” “Ontario” “What’s Ontario?” I am taken aback – Ontario is, after all, a province several times larger than my home country. “It’s in Canada.” “Oh, if youda said Canada, I woulda known.” I’m left pondering the luxury of life at American scales.
Matt: Matt’s wearing flannel and splattered overalls. There’s a spork sticking out of the front pocket. He’s carrying a canvas backpack adorned with a cast iron pot and an honest-to-god washboard. I’ve seen a washboard only once before – my grandmother had one, and even she has admitted that there are better ways of washing clothes. His hair is matted and there may actually be a feather in it, but his grin is beatific, he speaks softly, and I swear I’ve seen him before, possibly on the side of a road. He may or may not be stoned. He has a one-way ticket from Seattle to Vancouver – he’s going hiking with some friends in the mountains around Calgary. At the Canadian border, he gets detained by customs and never gets back on the bus. I wish him luck.