September 20, 2012:
Salt Lake City, Utah: I’m standing in line behind door number 8, the re-board line to Denver. I shift my weight from foot to foot, swaying restlessly amongst suitcases and sleeping bodies. A fellow with long dreads sleeps hunched over on a row of green metal chairs. The weather channel plays above his head. The entire country is bright yellow and red. A fellow in a black hoodie sleeps on his side on the dirty white linoleum, head rested on a little blue backpack, flies dancing on his black skater shoes. This is how people wait in line at Greyhound stations. None of that prim, proper sitting up straight in pressed slacks like you see at the airport. There’s something about the Greyhound that drains every ounce of life out of you. It becomes impossible to do anything but sleep, no matter what position your body is in.
To my right, there’s a young guy in a camo jacket the colors of the desert. A patch with his name on it is sewn above the breast pocket. The kid in front of him, who can’t be more than 20 years old, looks back and says, “I want that jacket! Dude, no one in my family got to keep nothin!”
They begin to talk about different kinds of guns. The fellow with the camo jacket did two tours in Afghanistan. The kid was in Iraq for seven months.
“I loved carrying that weapon!” Camo says. “I just couldn’t get enough of that sound!”
“I know!” the kid says. “That was so fun!”
They begin to talk about people dying. Neither of them saw any of their friends die.
“Saw a lot of dead bodies tho,” the kid says with a grin. He means “enemy” bodies.
“Yeah, that never really bothered me much tho,” Camo says. “Something about seeing them dead just made me so happy.”
Suddenly, the woman behind me joins the conversation.
“They’re not people?” she asks.
“Huh?” the two soldiers say in unison.
“They’re not people?” she repeats.
“I wouldn’t even call them civilized!” Camo says.
“You’re told to shoot something, you shoot it!” the kid says. “Otherwise you get killed!”
“We were just following orders!” Camo says.
“Just following orders?” the woman says slowly.
Completely missing the point, they go back to talking about guns, until the old lady in front of me interjects to say, very sincerely, “I want to thank you for serving your country.”
An old, frail bum in orange slippers and a wool blanket shuffles up to the line. He extends his hand to the two soldiers, names the division of the navy he was in, and says, “Pleasure to meet you, sir! Can you spare some change?”
Camo hands him some change and he shuffles on down the line.
“Was he telling the truth?” Camo says to the kid. “I doubt it.”
Just because the poor bum didn’t come home feeling like he’d just played a harmless game of paint ball with his friends doesn’t mean he isn’t a veteran. Maybe he did see his friends die. Maybe the dead bodies did bother him. Maybe they bothered him a little too much.
After some of the stories veterans have told me, I’m often amazed they can still walk and speak when they get home. And I often wonder about the ones who come home raving about the war like it was nothing more than summer camp.
Door number 8 opens and the line of tired passengers files slowly out into the sunny new dawn. I take a seat by the window in the very back of the bus, where I can’t hear the two soldiers talk. Many years ago, I might have interjected like the woman behind me did.
Just taking orders? I might have said. So was the Third Reich.
I might have asked them why they enlisted at all. It was optional in their case. Why would they choose to put themselves in a position where they would have to kill human beings?
I don’t want to hear about terrorists. I don’t want to hear about freedom and democracy. I want to hear a single soldier’s personal reason.
Taking orders is no justification for taking lives.
These days I find I can’t really talk to people anymore. There’s no way to get thru. How do you communicate with a nation of people who think it’s fun to kill?
There are a few good people who still have the nerve to question and to choose their own way, but it seems that most prefer to follow orders. No matter what they may be.
There is so little hope for our civilization.
Laramie, Wyoming: The entire state of Wyoming is empty. I can’t listen to music while riding on a Greyhound bus without feeling an utter sense of hopelessness about my life. Technically, everything is okay. I can stay alive. But who wants to do that?
Beneath the demonstrations in D.C., or the possibility of creating a utopian commune, there is this sensation in my stomach of cold air sinking in and spreading. So what do I do about it? I put on the worst song I could possible listen to in a bleak state of mind: Like a Rolling Stone.
There’s really nothing out here but this stiff yellow-green grass rolling all the way out to the blue curtain.
The bathroom smells like death. I curl up uncomfortably on two seats with my blue bandana tied around my face. Someone tapes a hand-drawn boi-hazard sign to the door. When we stop at a gas station, all the women on the bus rush to the bathroom and line up. Two, whom I mistakenly judged to be decent, cut in front of me. I say nothing. I don’t want to get into any conversations. About anything. Life comes around and goes around and I don’t wanna be the judge. It’s just a bathroom line.
Weird rocks stick up out of the hills like teeth out of gums. They’re gray on the bottom, gold on top, fading in ancient layers. I like the emptiness of Wyoming, the bareness. We just crossed into Colorado. I know because a moose painted on the side of a stucco gas station told me.
Denver, Colorado: The west is a fine empty place of sun and sky and pines. I can relax here. It’s when I start getting into places like Pittsburgh and Baltimore that I get weird. No sense getting into this emotional garbage. My arm already knows. The ripped and blackened seats already know. The chem trails of afternoon understand quite clearly. The point is, I’m still alive. I might be alive for a very long time.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve felt I was on the brink of something.
The red and pink rocks rise up high on either side of the road, walling us in like big stacks of lava and burning valentines. The sun moves like a pretty blonde girl in a white dress after her first two gin and tonics of the evening. A man with a hook for a hand retrieves his mail from the middle of a construction zone.
St. Louis, Missouri: The flat lands now. Farm houses and silver silos under a wide sky full of huge gray clouds. I never saw any clouds in Idaho. Just smoke from wildfires.
I’m very close to where Garth is now. But I will be continuing on, with the changing company of the bus. It’s no longer just Mexicans and white bums on their way to Arizona. Now there are black people on their way to Mississippi. There are hip young teenagers in pink shorts on their way back to private school in Massechusetts.
I’m suffering from this horrible bus lag now. My head throbs every time I move because movement is so rare.
It’s 3pm. I don’t know what state that applies to. I don’t know if the towers zap new sense into my phone each time we traverse a zone.
I need to be around someone I won’t have to explain myself to, someone who won’t ask any questions. Then I need something to happen. something I can look at as more than a hopeless farce.
It would impress me if the decent, angry people of the world dragged the thieves down Pennsylvania Avenue by their ankles and put them in stocks on Skid Row. But that won’t happen. The police will always be there, and everyone will stand obediently behind the lines, shouting the same old slogans. They’ll go home after two or three people get arrested.
Sometimes I wish I didn’t learn so fast about people. The thrill of any given scene would last a lot longer if I could just fall for it.
Van Morrison’s voice is a dinosaur’s tongue across my heart. I can’t cope with it. A small cannon just went by on the back of a truck.
Indiannapolis, Indiana: A serious lightening storm flashes behind Lucas Oil Stadium. The power is out in the bust station. This is the first time I’ve seen rain in three months.
In Terre Haute, a wreck caused our driver to detour onto a back country road. He yelled three times over the intercom for a phantom no one else could see to turn down its headphones, threatening to kick it off the bus. I talked with a college freshman named Daniel. He’s studying to be a physical therapist.
“My sister’s a nurse,” he said. “I like helping people. It just made sense.”
Dayton, Ohio: It’s the middle of the night. The bus is packed full, every seat taken.
“Sweet?” says the old man next to me, offering a Starburst candy.
Three new people get on. The old man scoots toward me to make room on the edge of his seat for a young woman. A really loud, profane girl squeezes between two guys on the very back seat next to the bathroom. In front of me, a woman sits on the isle seat, her baby asleep by the window. The third new passenger looks down over her shoulder.
“You got a seat there?” he asks.
She ignores him, altho I’m pretty sure she didn’t pay for two seats.
“Can I sit down?” the man persists.
She looks up at him, says nothing, doesn’t move. The man goes to the back of the bus and sits in the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, a guy from the front of the bus comes back and knocks on the door, but the guy doesn’t come out.
“Hey, man! I gotta take a piss!” he shouts, banging on the door.
“Just open it!” loud girl shouts. “He’s just sittin’ in there cause there ain’t nowhere else to sit!”
The man knocks a few more times, getting more annoyed by the second. Finally, he opens the door.
“Pervert!” loud girl screams.
The guy comes out of the bathroom, and while the other guy is in it, he goes to the front of the bus and takes the empty seat. Suddenly, the overhead lights come on and the driver slams the breaks repeatedly, jerking us back and forth in our seats.
“Hey!” he shouts over the intercom. “I can smell that! There is no smoking on this bus! That includes the bathroom! Stick that thing up your butt before I throw you off! This ain’t no school bus!”
No one sitting near the bathroom actually smells smoke. This might be like the phantom headphones he was hearing in Terre Haute.
The accused comes out of the bathroom to find his seat occupied. He shouts and waves his arms. He smacks the guy who took it upside the head. Meanwhile, loud girl performs various sorts of fake orgasms and tells us all how to make Jailhouse Dildos out of tubes of toothpaste. The driver ignores all this.
As a race of beings, humans are an utter failure. We have no class. We have no concern for anything or anyone, no ability to look beyond ourselves.