I like to tell myself, “I do it for the adventure.”
As Dave and I stood in the Miami airport contemplating our options on how we would get to Atlanta, I kept telling myself there are exactly 5 days until my brother’s wedding and there was no reason to panic (not yet). Usually I panic and become completely irrational in situations like this and Dave always manages to stay very calm. His ability to stay so calm always seems to antagonize me. We were carrying too much luggage, and we had been traveling for 12 hours already. Needless to say we were on the verge of a huge argument. We bickered a little over which line to stand in at the Northwest ticket counter, but with quick apologies we were back to our mission.
Our mission was to get from Miami to Atlanta as cheaply as possible. The plan to rent a car and drive wasn’t as great of a deal as we thought. The quote for a one-day rental did not include the drop charge of $300. We high tailed it out of that car rental office and made our way back to the airport. We quickly realized that the airfares were too expensive for our budget, so Dave made a quick phone call to Greyhound. We found out that the next bus to Atlanta leaves in 2 hours and the price was doable.
I was excited about riding the bus. The bus brought me home from college many times, but never further than 100 miles. I imagined the people who travel long distances by bus to be interesting and mysterious, a part of the American culture that I was not yet familiar with.
As we waited for our bus to board, Dave managed to sneak off and find us some sandwiches and cheap one serving bottles of wine. I passed the time working on the sweater I was knitting to wear to my brothers wedding. I didn’t dare take a catnap, as there were too many interesting people to watch. Half of my attention was on the knitting, half of my attention was on the people coming and going from the bus depot.
I found it rather strange that people were arriving at the depot and asking for fare information and then leaving without buying a ticket. Why didn’t they phone? Were they just out for a drive and thought “I feel like going to Macon, Georgia. Maybe I’ll just pop into the station and check the price.” Another strange thing was that I needed a key to use the bathroom. It made me think that a lot of people hang out at the bus station that weren’t traveling, maybe homeless. Once I heard an employee knocking on the door asking, “Is anyone in there?” Did someone pass out in there, or was the key just forgotten laying on the counter? There was a middle-aged couple sitting across from us. They looked like people that you would normally see in an airport, casually dressed with decent looking luggage. Why were they traveling by bus? There were also 2 women, maybe early 20’s, that entered the station sporting purses, shoes, makeup and hairstyles that made me think of a nightclub instead of a bus station. As they bought their tickets there was a discussion on how to distribute the weight in their bags as to not exceed the limit. I related to that, because in the first airport of the day Dave and I debated whether our bags were overweight and even rearranged our carry on bags to re-distribute the weight.
We finally boarded what we hoped to be the correct bus after much confusion. The bus drivers told us three times to go stand in another line. Once we were underway we decided to save our snack and wine (violation of bus rules) until after the lights of the city ended. Well, for anyone who doesn’t know Miami, this took around three hours. It was now about 2:30 am and we had been dosing off and on. I was quite comfortable, just a little bit cold. The casually dressed couple got off in a suburb of Ft Lauderdale. I found myself a little frustrated, I felt like asking them “Why didn’t you just rent a car?” Were they unable to afford the car rental or did they hope to encounter the same interesting and mysterious people that I hoped to encounter.
We ate our sandwiches and imbibed our contra-band. The wine seemed more like medicine than like the red wine that I usually drink. So I took the medicine and I slept rather peacefully through the night huddled in Dave’s lap until we arrived at our first and only layover destination of Jacksonville.
We waited until we thought we were the last ones on the bus because we did not want to bonk the other passengers in the head with our massive amount of carry on luggage. It was quickly discovered that a fellow passenger still remained on the bus, in the bathroom to be exact. Bus bathroom are not a great place to hang out, unless you are you need the toilet to piss, shit or vomit. This young man came out of the bathroom looking like hell, his pants hanging half closed, shirt twisted sideways.
I asked him “You OK?”
All he could say is “I’m sick, I need help.”
Not knowing what else to say I asked him “Do you need an ambulance?”
And he replied, “Yah, I’m sick.”
I didn’t ask any more questions, but we made sure the driver knew that he needed help. Dave and I went into the station. I went for the bathroom right away, but it was being cleaned, so I waited patiently next to Dave and our bags. As I started to wake up and observe my surroundings I noticed 2 women somewhere in their mid 20s standing by the door. They were wearing sweatshirts and comfy pants. I couldn’t tell if they were friends or only travel companions with the same destination. The shorter and fatter of the two was wearing stuffed pink slippers that were larger than life. She kept smiling at her friend while continuing her attempts at idle chitchat. It reminded me of 2 small girls on a playground trying to form a friendship.
The bathroom cleaning sign was down and I took the opportunity. When I came back Dave suggested we go for breakfast in the attached café. I wasn’t that hungry, but it sounded like a good way to waste some time. We headed over and ordered coffee and toast. Pretty boring, but it was cheap and it was what I was in the mood for. I saw the 2 young women from our bus, the ones dressed for a nightclub. They were eating cheeseburgers, fries and soda. It was only 6 AM, don’t they realize this? Well, I guess it was what they were in the mood for.
While Dave cleared the napkins and cups from our table I noticed the woman with the large pink slippers and her friend. They were inspecting the post cards. The fat one thought the post card with the three obese women in skimpy suits on the beach was very cute. If I were fat, I would have found the post card insulting. She didn’t laugh at it, she only smiled and showed it to her friend. Almost like she might just buy it and save it for a souvenir for herself.
Why was the cleaning woman walking around the café carrying a large stuffed animal?
After our breakfast we went back to the main waiting area. We immediately encountered 3 EMTs interviewing our ill bus companion. All I could overhear was one of the EMTs asking him “Well, what did you think would happen?”
He was staring at the floor, still holding his stomach. His reply was simple “I don’t know.”
The older EMT told him “You will just be wasting your time at the hospital. They can’t do anything for you. You will feel better in a day or so.”
We found a couple of seats and made ourselves comfortable. I began to watch a woman with short dark hair, broad shoulders; square hips and dressed in dark blue jeans. This woman was repeatedly introducing herself and flashing a badge. After her brief introduction each person would produce some papers or a passport. I think my ignorance on this situation stems from the fact that I have lived most of my life in a quiet suburb in the Midwest. I continued to watch as I was trying to figure out how she chose her next victim. At first it seemed random, they I decided the more foreign or curious you looked, better your chance was to have a chat with her. Anybody with dark skin was a sure bet, but she even approached some European backpackers. Eventually she chose us, I think only because I was openly staring at her.
She introduced herself as an immigration officer, flashed her badge and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Dave replied, “Sure.”
She only asked us one question, “Where are you folks from?”
Dave only needed one word, or maybe it was just his accent that told the whole story, “Wis-CON-sun.”
She was satisfied and moved on to her next target, an older Mexican looking fellow. We wore a denim jacket and faded jeans with cowboy boots. His face looked like he had spent too many growing seasons in the hot sun of the south. The man only had a tattered piece of paper and she lectured him but she was looking for real violators.
I got up to use the bathroom another time. The floor was being mopped again, but I snuck in anyway. I brushed my teeth, washed my face and I felt a little refreshed. Upon my return I noticed a young Mexican couple facing us. The immigration officer was asking the guy for papers. He kept telling her where to look in his suitcase, I was confused why he didn’t just reach down and pull the papers out for himself. It was not obvious whether he was acting scared or indifferent. The situation seemed very strange. The young lady kept looking away, maybe to keep from crying. I was watching them but trying not to stare. I was very curious. Something was there that I did not understand. All of a sudden I looked at one of their hands and realized why they were trying to hide their hands with their legs. Both of them were handcuffed to the metal bench that they were sitting on.
The officer found cards and papers she was searching for in his bag and smiled about her success. She did not need to lecture them; they all knew what kind of trouble they were in. I wanted to cry for them, especially for the girl. The couple was nicely dressed and good-looking. She had a beautiful face and long dark hair. They did not look like bad people; they only looked like a couple of people who wanted to earn some money to have a decent life and to help their family back home.
Finally it was time to get in line. We knew the routine. Stand where they tell you and hope they know what they are talking about. The woman with the large pink slippers and her friend in the line next to us, they still looked like they were having fun. Then I noticed a very skinny teenager, he was on crutches and still had a hospital band on his wrist. He wore oversized jeans ragged T-shirt and chain on his wallet. I think this is called the ‘grunge’ look. His right pant leg was large enough to completely cover (or hide) the foot he couldn’t walk on. He did not seem accustomed to being a regular old teenager who was worried about girls and acne. He wore the cloths more is if it were a costume that some one else laid out for him to wear. Then I saw his face. He was good-looking in spite of being so skinny. When I looked into his face a bit harder I saw that his features were twisted and hard. His mouth was more like a round whole with scrunched up lips, and his nose veered at a very strange angle. He looked like a 90 year old man that had endured a lot of suffering. I pictured him to be traveling with his parents, but why was he traveling when he looked barely strong enough to stand for a few minutes with his crutches. It turns out that he is traveling with another boy, about the same age as him. The other boy was desperately trying to get them to their destination as soon as possible. He was running around talking to the ticket agent and reporting back to the boy on the crutches every few minutes. He was making huge over-exaggerated efforts to take care of his buddy, or was it his brother? Where were they going? Why were they in such a hurry to get there? Who was waiting for them?
As we got on our bus I saw the cleaning lady walking out of the station for a cigarette break. She walked proudly and had a happy smile on her face. She was definitely having a great day.
But we aren’t moving yet. Our ill bus companion did not have the portion of his ticket for this leg of the trip. He was put on the bus by one of the ticketing agents, the driver threw him off, and finally the ticket agent convinced the driver to let him on. Not just anyone can travel without a ticket; you have to have a story (and his illness must have been that story). I figured he must have been feeling better, as he managed to give the driver a fair amount of sass throughout this ordeal.
We are finally moving again, which makes me very happy. I have enjoyed seeing a new cross section of American life but I am relieved and excited to know that when I get off this bus, my brother will be waiting for us with his white Ford truck. He will have a smile and a hug especially for me.