Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Riding the Dirty Dog

A wonderful essay on traversing the highways, and underworld, of Greyhound.  Makes me want to go hop on a Mexican bus and head south.  Except the Mexican buses are nice.  Thanks BD.
Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, or an arcade game with endless free plays, the allure of endless free travel can become compulsive for the doomed person who says, as Emerson wrote, “anywhere but here.” And so began a period of aimless travel, facilitated by the Ameripass and strung together with the flimsiest of alibis—visiting a girlfriend, visiting friends, trying to get home for the holidays. The important thing is to stay on the move, crisscrossing the country, finding new nooks and crannies, state highways and little towns, scanning back and forth like those dot-matrix printers, flinging drops of ink to form an image through pointillism.
For restless people, those descendants of Cain cursed to wander the earth, the only peace is the peace of being in motion, suspended between geographies. For them, there is nothing more comforting than an engine rumbling under a seat, cold air hissing from overhead vents, the rows of fluorescent-illuminated products in an all-night truck stop, the feeling of being a fugitive temporarily evading captors—you fall into the most restful sleep of your life with your hoodie pulled up, using your backpack as a pillow.
At home, the psychological anxiety of being stationary and accomplishing benchmarks can be more exhausting than the physical wear and tear of traveling—you drink too much, you pace holes into the floor, you feel angsty and take long aimless walks. When people say things like “I haven’t left town in two years!” you can’t help but look at them in disbelief. In the middle of the night, you look around the bus and feel moved by the sight of all the passengers asleep, curled up on one another, drooling on one another, snoring loudly—it reminds you of some half-forgotten memory of childhood nap time, when the lights were turned off and an entire room of strangers fell asleep together; or an even more distant ancestral memory when people dwelled in large families and close quarters—you wonder if it’s a coincidence that the land of Nod, that purgatory of eternal wandering that Cain is banished to, has come to signify the kingdom of slumber.

You wake up in Pittsburgh, with its seething river and menacing Moriah-like mountains, the whole geography exuding a certain darkness as if lorded over by some winged black demon. You wake up in Savannah, the old clock on the wall, the church-pew wooden benches, the drooping Spanish moss containing a strange, pregnant sense of blood history. You wake up in Amarillo, where the yellow sunlight streams dustily through the huge windows and the station has been untouched by time—the pay phone is still 25 cents and there are coin-operated televisions attached to the plastic bucket seats. You wake up in Dallas on a seething Saturday evening in summer and walk past all the people out on dates to a little corporate “green space” and fall asleep on the lush sod grass until you are roused by police.

How many times have you woken up in a fugue in the middle of the night and stumbled into the Abu Ghraib-bright fluorescence of a station for a two-hour layover? Teenage army corps in their camo playing shoot-’em-up arcade games, a deadbeat dad making empty promises to his daughter on the pay phone, grandmothers sitting dignified on benches, heading down to Fort Lauderdale, a group of guys with crumpled dollar bills shooting dice on the Greyhound station’s bathroom floor, a security guard waking up the sleepers and making them display their tickets, gotta be a big man, gotta keep the homeless from falling asleep. Transients and vagrants of all kinds being shuttled down the river Archeron to Cincinnati, Duluth, Rapid City. You wake up for a layover in Atlanta at 3 AM, and walk laps outside to get the blood pumping—with its clean sidewalks, corporate parks, bank skyscrapers, and Starbucks, it could be any downtown in America.

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