This past week I slipped into that bubble of Zen travel time, where my thoughts are my own and sights and sounds out of my normal experience. A job took me to White Plains, and, not appreciating high speeds, passing tractor-trailer trucks, or city interchanges, I made the decision to take a bus.
To start off, I caught the bus from Dysarts in Herman to Boston. This involved a 3am departure from home. Then a second 3:20am departure from home after I retrieved my handbag. Here I learned that easily half the seats are labeled “Handicapped,” and if you can score one of these you have all kinds of leg room. In Boston I managed to get on the 11:20 bus instead of having to hang around South Station for several hours. I walked up to the driver, who looked like Busta Rhymes from “Finding Forrester,” and asked if I could use my ticket on the earlier bus. “Sure, why not!” Later I found out that this was the “Supah Local” bus. We stopped not only in the cities – Providence, Hartford, New Haven and the like – but also at various casinos along the way. A woman behind the driver gave him directions to Foxwoods when he took a wrong turn. She also gave driving instructions to several other people who called her. She may have been the Angel of Lost Ways, but she was also loud. We picked up a young man and his violently green-cased cello, going on to NYC. There was a man who brought on a spear decorated with owl feathers. There was an Eastern Bloc couple who rushed off the bus at every stop and came back with small bags of potato chips. Six and a half hours later I pulled into White Plains. It was still light out. An express bus would have taken a bit more than half that time.
I knew that I was heading south to be part of a writing team, and wondered if anyone on the bus was on the same journey. I found out the next day that I had not been alone and that we had tentatively identified each other as fellow writers. If others in the team were astounded when they heard about my trip south, they were horrified when they learned what I had planned for a return trip. “Danger, Will Robinson!” they cried.
The first part started out with a five and a half hour wait at the bus station in White Plains. I received an offer of a couch and train ride, from the shadow traveller on the bus. Weighing company, comfort, and access to a non-moving bathroom against a bus ticket in hand, an arrival time no sooner, and my Zen bubble, I decided to stick with my original plan.
I got a lift to the station from a wonderful woman who insisted I pick up a sandwich on the way there. I wheeled my stuff into the Greyhound ticket office, to discover that they were closing in five minutes. “Your best bet,” said a wrinkly old woman sitting in one of the blue plastic padded chairs, “is to wait out there on the street, on that bench.” I looked at the cement bench, recognizing it as where I had pulled up Sunday night, and wondered if the train station might not be a better bet for a waiting area. “They’s plenty of police around, and plenty of taxis. Ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of ole drunks at the train station.” I checked out the train station and she was right, a couple of drunks shambling around, a kiosk getting ready to shut down, and a lot of damp cement. So I parked myself on the cement bench next to the street, across from the city-bus depot. I had my sandwich and my kindle and thought I would be set.
The old lady came out and sat next to me when the Greyhound office closed. That’s when I began to suspect she might be an angel. For the next five and a half hours she kept me company. I learned her name was Miss Margaret. Friends, well dressed heading home from work as well as pushing carts of belongings, addressed her by name. She was a retired RN, originally from South Carolina, but living in White Plains for the past, nearly, forty years. I learned about her daughter, one month younger than me, and her preferences in food. I learned that no city could possibly be broke with the number of banks there were. I learned some whacky stuff: Bill Clinton was really gay and Monica Lewinsky was paid off to take the fall, avoiding an embarrassing situation. Hillary Clinton is the smartest woman you’ll ever meet. The Obamas are planning to get a divorce once he’s out of the White House. OJ himself told Ron Goldman to stay down at the bar near the end of the street, but Ron wouldn’t listen. Squirrel is good eating. Just because you can read and write doesn’t mean you are obliged to write a letter, just because your husband tells you to, if you’ll get screwed in the end. If you want to go to Atlantic city, go for the food and the crowds and the shows, but don’t play the slots.
We chatted and sat silently together for the whole time I waited. I learned about the bus routes, drivers, accidents, and celebrity gossip. I shared my sandwich and chips, and passed over one of my bottles of water that had been provided by the hotel. We listened to a young man lie to his mother about being at work. We watched lightning fork across the sky and smelled the dust getting wet. She shook my hand just before I got on the bus.
On the midnight ride to Port Authority I learned about cigarette prices and the trials of stopping both “the smoke and the drink” at the same time. Maine was too cold for any human being. Car drivers are not as respectful of bus drivers as they should be. “He’s got miles of real estate in his own lane. No need for him to be comin’ into mine.” The bus driver kept up a steady stream of banter with the other two passengers in the front row. I learned there was a shortage of drivers for the longer routes, and he expected to be called back in to work as soon as his nine hours was up.
I had not been to Port Authority for more than forty years, and then only in the daytime. The first thing that struck me was the background of string and piano concerti that provided the mood music for transportation. The constant reminders of abandoned packages and luggage, subject to seizure and search, were ignored. An alarm was sounding, but a voice over the PA told us it was being investigated, and not to worry. Bodies nestled up against walls and partitions, some swathed in sleeping bags, some on cardboard, some barricaded with luggage. I found a toilet, stainless steel with an autoflush on a timer, somewhat alarming. I found a seat. The man on one side gave up his seat for a woman who immediately covered her head in a large red printed cloth and nodded off. On the other side the man gave up his seat for a low voiced woman with an elegant hat and a slight shadow of whiskers on her lower jaw. She had unexpectedly found herself in New York after taking a bus from Buffalo. She had lost more money than she could afford when another woman persuaded her to spend it unwisely.
At 3:00 I decided to stand in line for my 4:00 bus. I chatted with a young man from Florida who was on his way to Boston for an interview. Obama-care was somehow responsible for this move, and he suspected he would end up in Philadelphia because of it. There was some confusion about which queue was actually headed for Boston, and which had a stop at Hartford. I had gotten in front of the job seeker as he had chatted with someone behind him. As we neared the head of the line I told him to take his spot back. We could see the sign for “Seated: 55; Standees 0” on the door to the bus’s luggage compartment. The guy said “no” at first, but then “I guess I’d be really pissed if I was number 56 in line. Thanks.” When I turned out to be number 55 he said, “I guess we both got lucky.”
Three hours and forty-five minutes later I was in Boston. I arrived back at Dysarts at 3:30 that afternoon, having slept most of the way through Maine. My car was there and in one piece. I loaded up with curley fries, iced coffee, and molasses cookies and began the last part of my drive home. When I pulled into our dooryard, the grill was going, Andrew was hauling grain for the pigs, and relative quiet washed over me. My bubble out of time evaporated and I was entirely home.