The challenge was no longer to prove that I could do something. It was to prove that I had done something. Songs no longer flowed out of me like they had for many years. Poems didn’t just leap out of my mouth like they once had. In all that time, I’d acquired quite a few of them, however, and had spent the last winter in Guatemala, sorting through over thirty years of travels and writings. The idea was to put together two galleries, one of song lyrics and one of poems, accompanied by images from some of the places I’d been to. I figured if I could get somewhere cheap, probably Colombia, I could spend a few months working on that project while looking for the next gig. If I could find something by Christmas, that might be OK. If not, it was really going to be bad.
The first step was to make it to Miami. What was complicating that was the hurricane that had recently destroyed half the state of Florida. I’d just been traveling around the States on a USA Rail Pass, and the original idea had been to travel to Miami by train, but two times my trip had been cancelled because of the storm.
Now I was traveling there on the Greyhound, but up until the last second still could’ve changed my mind and taken a train to Los Angeles, as my last ride on the Rail Pass, the Sunset Limited, which I’d even tried to cancel but couldn’t, was running five hours late and now leaving the same station at the exact same time as the bus. Although it had already been decided, it was still strange to be there between the two lines forming, faced with two completely different futures, based on my next move. Do you go right, or do you go left? Things are rarely as cut and dry as that.
The last time I’d been on Greyhound had been 2019, traveling all the way from Laredo, Texas, to Portland, Maine. What I remember most about that trip was the janitor who’d screamed at me in Dallas for standing in his way and the seatmate who’d begun detoxing on my shoulder as soon as we left the station. By the time we got to Maine my feet were nearly too swollen to stand, and it was only then that I discovered that the ferry I’d planned on taking to Halifax had been suspended and that no buses went that far. Even though this was a shorter trip, it still wasn’t simple as I needed to travel all the way to Atlanta and then transfer from there.
Before we even left New Orleans, the driver was already angry and yelling. He wanted us to get into two lines, those who had already been on the bus, and those who were just boarding. Half of the riders were immigrants, and he went around screaming the same three or four words of Spanish that not one of them could understand. One of them needed help with his ticket and instead got the worst berating of his life, causing him to get back on the bus and ride to Mobile, when he had, in fact, already arrived at his destination. Before we left, there was a kid with an afro who was barely allowed on the bus.
In my days riding the bus I’d encountered my fair share of grouchy drivers, but after you see some of the people who ride the bus you begin to understand why. On this particular trip there was one man talking loudly on his phone. At one point he cussed and the driver wasn’t having it, threatening to pull over and drop him off at the next stop we came to. After that, I began to develop an appreciation for the man. There is no country I’ve been to where people act as loudly and badly on a bus as they will on a Greyhound if they’re allowed to get away with it. That didn’t stop me from feeling bad for the immigrant who came up to me in Mobile with his ticket, wondering if we’d reached New Orleans yet.
When we were getting back on the bus, I asked the kid with the afro what he thought about the trip so far. How did he like getting yelled at all the way to Atlanta? He told me he’d been torn between taking the bus and flying to Columbus. Now he was second-guessing himself a little, but not sorry to be having an adventure. If an adventure is something that you hate to go through, but later look back on with some fondness and pride, then he might’ve been having one.
Seeing that I would be in Miami in less than twenty-four hours, it was probably a good idea to start looking into a room. Fortunately, I found a hostel right on Miami Beach where I could rent a bunk for forty dollars a night. I also looked into flights to Colombia. There were some good deals to Medellin, which intrigued me since I’d never been there before.
The bus stopped at a gas station about halfway to Montgomery. The bus driver made an announcement, and what I think he was trying to say in Spanish was comida, or food, but most people just sat there puzzled. Then, one by one, people began to get out to investigate. The special was either fried chicken or fried catfish. I ordered the chicken, which came with three potato wedges and a biscuit, that between them contained not one drop of moisture.
There were some immigrants behind me who were having problems with their bill, as one of them had been charged for all of their meals and they wanted to pay separately. I helped them settle it the best I could, and when I got back on the bus noticed that one of them, a woman with two kids, was sitting right behind me. For the next hour and a half, the kids screamed at the top of their lungs and the woman coughed loudly, while I sat amidst the carnage of my chicken dinner, covered with grease from head to toe.
In Montgomery, I made it a point to switch my seat, grabbing one across from the toilet that was empty. A few minutes later I was approached by a large young woman who asked if the seat next to me was taken. She was apologetic and conscientious about how much of the space she was taking, even going so far as to sit with her legs in the aisle. I told her not to worry about it. I’d only paid for one seat. She was leaving her boyfriend and going back home. One day he’d just up and disappeared, but she knew he was staying at his dad’s. She then surprised me by asking if I was cold, alluding to the amount of heat we could be generating. I almost told her to scoot on over.
It was almost eleven by the time we pulled into Atlanta. The woman was going in a different direction. So was my friend with the afro. I saw him lining up right away for a bus that was heading to Nashville in a few minutes. I asked him how his adventure was going. He said it wasn’t too bad so far.