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[Resuming Eli Elliott's tale of riding the Hound]

DETROIT to DENVER (and onto BOISE)

(1Day, 7Hours, 45Minutes)  + (18 Hours, 45 minutes)

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PART 1 : “TATTERED”

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ANN ARBOR and Jackson, Michigan, we picked up a guy with an old green army style duffle bag which had a million little trinkets, or “souvenirs” as he later called them, sewn onto the bag. One trinket I took note of was a small toy bus resembling that of a Greyhound bus, only the inside was gutted, or had slowly fallen apart, and only the silver shell remained.

I noticed how the guy, around mid 50’s or so, how his face resembled his self designed duffle bag, as his face was covered with tattoos. Just like the trinkets, the tats themselves were old and faded. Since  his skin was black, you may not see the dull green ink upon first glance. But look a second time and your gaze becomes locked in; the intensity strong.

On board the Greyhound the guy sat in the very back. A younger guy sitting across from him took a glance at the busyness of his bag, the inked up face, and right away said to him,

“So… you just living life, eh?”

Tattered oddly responded with, “Uh no I dropped out of college, joined the circus, then the carnival….” His voice trailed off in mumbles…

The young guy then made a drug reference assumption, saying,

“So you going to see the Wizard?” Which meant was he taking a trip to get some dope of some sort to get high on for a stretch.

Tattered responded, “No, I’m going to Texas.”

Tattered would spend much of the ride gazing out the window, occasionally talking to himself. At one point during our trip, the younger guys in the back included Tattered in a card game of Gin Rummy, which I thought was nice. Tattered seemed to hold his own, win a hand or two, but eventually got bored and said “I’m out.”

At our next bus layover I would speak briefly with Tattered, admiring his bag and all the knicks and knacks attached.  I asked him if he was an artist. He modestly responded, shyly, a bit soft spoken sweet even, “Not really…”

He told me that he just sewed a lot and all of the little trinkets were souvenirs of some sort. I pieced together that the decorated bag probably used to be his carney bag. I thought about how that bag must’ve seen some serious seedy  mileage, having been around the bizarre underbelly of the American Carnival racket.  About 20 hours later I would meet another Carney worker and his girlfriend aboard the Hound who just finished up the season working the southwest circuit. He would sum up the carnival scene to me with the following:

“You know the difference between the circus and the carnival? In the circus they keep the animals in the cages.” (Meaning that in the carnival circuit, the workers were the animals).

I think Tattered liked that I had thought he was an artist, and the way he responded hinted to me that perhaps no one had ever asked him that before; all the frowns and frustrations and put-off’ness I observed on peoples faces as they reacted to the presence of Tattered – bus drivers, passengers in line, and riders aboard — the souvenirs and symbolism’s permanently sewn all over his bag, and all over his face – it all spoke volumes on the difficulties faced now having to transverse through mainstream America, aboard a Greyhound, no longer protected by the  bubble of the traveling Carnival life. Retired now, responding to the seasons, going South for the winter, forced to carry his past with him, the only bag he owns, the only tattered up face he can wear…

hound3Woodmen of the World Building, downtown Omaha, Nebraska

PART 2:  THE ORGANIZER

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In Benton Harbor Michigan we picked up an outspoken guy, “The Organizer,” who hadn’t been back home to Benton for over 10 years, “been gone ever since I got out of ‘the P’.”  The P as in Penitentiary. I’ve noticed a common tactic used upon entering and establishing yourself aboard The Hound, is that you immediately make reference to jail time spent. The thinking is that a sort of instant respect towards the other hoodlums and back of bus no gooders whom one tries to impress will occur.

At 29, The Organizer was a contradiction in both sight and sound. He had dark corn rolled/braided hair, contrasting his pale white skin.  The dialect out of The Org’s mouth was as street black as street black can get. I frequently turned around wondering if the words I was hearing were really coming from a white guys mouth. Others also took double takes; his put on slang was so thick and admittedly very smooth.

The Org talked about how his last girlfriend was half black and half Mexican, “which is jus about as close to a white woman intimacy wise as I’ve ever gotten”, he boasted. He talked about how he grew up in the Benton Harbor “slums”, and now lives in Texas, occasionally going to New Orleans for work.

“My brutha in New Orleans who was called MONEY CLIP just got killed not long ago.”

The Organizer dominated back of the bus conversation. He seemed to now be trying to involve himself into politics. He seemed to want to be a “community organizer” of some sort like Obama once was. Perhaps there were presidential aspirations as well.

He spoke in vagueness and generalities which caused a few back of the bussers to challenge his stories at times. While Obama had already won the election a week prior, The Org claimed that Romney could still become the president as all the votes haven’t really been counted, referencing the electoral college system as well.

“I just attended a Democratic party meeting last night.  Romney could be our next president.”

Another bus passenger, “Bro, I’m pretty sure Obama won the election and Obama is the president.”

“Well like I said, I just got back from a Democratic party meeting last night and we won’t know until November 17th.”

After being challenged a bit too much he came up a few seats to where me and a short black man from Memphis named Ernest had been conversing.

“I’M AN ORGANIZER”, he declared to me and Ernest. He told us how he was concerned with the youth and schools not paying enough attention to the kids, and how he wanted to organize some accountability and steer schools in a better direction.

A mysterious text suddenly came in to The Organizer, from someone who said they were being “threatened by a bunch of brutha’s.”  In reaction to the text, The Organizer turned to me and said:

“Well now, I may as well just curl up into a ball. What’s he expect me to do for him – he aint give me no information whatsoever about this situation. C’mon, I can’t do nothing with no information – I may as well just curl right up into a ball…”

He told me the text came from a pilot in South Carolina.

I couldn’t figure out The Organizers angle. It was as if he was a call center for distressed brutha’s needing advice on how to deal with, or organize, situations which arise on “the streets”. Can’t call the cops? Can’t get your family involved? Well then, drop a text message to… The Organizer.

In Chicago, I had a couple hour layover and hoped for more mad conversing with The Org, but his Texas bound Hound was already lining up to board. Off he went…

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hound6Car in Denver, bullet hole, Bradley Manning.

 

ON BOARD the Denver bound Hound were a couple of “young 20 sumthing guys,” who mainly talked about various kinds of drug use, losing drivers licenses, and fantasies of blowing marijuana smoke into the face of Colorado cops as the new law to legalize the green had just been passed in both Colorado and Washington.

One of the guys was trying to make it to his sisters in San Diego and had gotten his 92 dollar Denver Greyhound bus ticket from a waitress at a truck stop the previous night whom he had just met while trying to find something to eat for under 4 dollars on the menu.

“Wow, not many people like that in the world,” commented the other young guy regarding the generosity of the waitress.

Arriving in Denver, I stayed with my friend Jonathon. The night I arrived there were big news reports of a UFO sighting in town. The next day me and Jon poked around to “investigate”. I put together this little field report video.

 

PART 3:  Dumped In LARAMIE

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Upon leaving Denver, on our way to Idaho, the bus driver announced to our nearly full bus that a woman and her young child needed to sit together, and then requested to those individuals with 2 seats to themselves, if someone would give up their seats, and sit with someone else, so as the mother and daughter could sit together.  In typical Greyhound fashion, complete silence suddenly took hold. No one responded. Granted I was guilty, having of course already secured 2 seats to self, but I was hoping for someone in the front to step up so the mother and daughter didn’t have to be subjected to the usual back of bus swear word, drug use bragging debauchery.

The previous trip to Denver, the twenty sumthin clan in the back spent hours going through their laundry list of drug use and experiences from bath salts to 7 year crystal meth use. Seated just a few seats up were 2 young pre-teen daughters with their mom, who all got an unwanted “drugs are fun” sermon (to some credit, at one point the twenty sumthins woke up and realized who was audibly exposed to their drug diatribes and frantically started inserting lines like “don’t do drugs, drugs are bad,” all of which came off  in a too late comical haste).

Again, the driver asked a second time for someone to give up their seats for the mother and child. And once again, silence.

Finally myself, and some guy across from me spoke up at the same time. “BACK HERE, BACK HERE.”

I moved out of my seat and sat next to the other guy. Throughout the 20 plus hour ride the driver would thank me repeatedly, as not only he seemed to know the rarity of such a volunteered act, but was all to familiar with human nature, and specifically the character of the typical Greyhound Bus Rider.

I sat next to the other guy who had offered up his seat as well. He was Cody, a 145 pound mixed martial arts fighter, who preferred mostly to keep to himself.

“I generally try to just keep to myself on these things. People always ask each other ‘so where are you going’ and my attitude is like what kind of business is that of theirs!”

Cody was an interesting cat of sorts, having lived in Hawaii for a bit where he turned me on to the secret little hippy stretches where you could live good for 3 dollars a day. A few fights in Alaska and elsewhere, but originally he was from an isolated part of Oklahoma, an Indian res it sounded, as his mother was part Native American. Now he was on his way to Seattle to settle down some and train. He just learned his ex gal pal had also coincidentally moved to Seattle and there was the nervous boy/girl hook up excitement in the Greyhound air as Cody wondered how that situation was going to play itself out.

 hound8Bus break at the Petro Mart. Ogallala, Nebraskahound9 Dead Bucks, just shot. Ogallala, Nebraska.

 

We arrived in Laramie Wyoming at 4:30 a.m. for a scheduled 15 minute break, which ended up stretching into an unscheduled 45 minute episode.

Back in Denver I had noticed a young guy, middle eastern, 2 back packs on him, one in front and one on this back. He sat in the very far corner of the station, trying to keep to himself, which of course has the opposite effect, as isolating in a corner draws more attention.  On the bus, he did the same, went to the very, very back, last seat. A few behind me.

In Laramie I went to take a piss in the convenience store,  young bearded middle east also went in to whiz, then left quickly. I went outside and a few moments later I noticed Wyoming’s finest was casually cruising up to the convenience store in patrol car.  The officer got out and went to the side of the building, where middle east had decided to go after his quick whiz to light up some reefer to smoke.

Another cop car arrived and both officers began taking out bags of pot from middle east’s possession. Then they cuffed him up and took him away in the 4 am Wyoming night.

Greyhound ride ending, and Laramie troubles beginning for the failed middle eastern drug mule.

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Another stop in Wyoming, Kik’s convenient store, where two young “Lizards” (slang for truck stop hookers), approached men while their boyfriends sat in their pickup truck with a sign on the window scrawled something to the effect of “Help Need $ Gas”…

In Salt Lake City we picked up a carney couple who hauled onto the bus a giant purple walrus stuffed animal that was to be thrown away by the Carnival crew, but the couple managed to proudly rescue the stuffed animal, promising they would sew it back up.  It seemed to be missing a leg.

Scotty and Mary were on their way back to Idaho as the not too lucrative Carnival season had just wrapped up. They were going to live with Scotty’s mother, and with her help they were going to try to get some disability checks going for Scotty, who proceeded to tell me:

“Physically I’m fine, my problems are all upstairs.”

This was confirmed throughout the trip.

Scotty was a truck driver and very smart in many ways, A.D. D. in others, and simply unaware the rest of the time. Remarking at one point how “all the Mexicans in North Las Vegas are just plain STUPID, period!” my gaze shifted directly behind Scotty where a well dressed Latino woman was sitting; now slowly and disgustingly covering her hand over her face at that remark and many others that would follow.

Scotty spent his time aboard the Hound alternating from trying to sneak his hand between his girlfriends legs to play with her pussy, then at times a dedicated nose picking session would take place where boogers would go from nostrils to tips of fingers, and just like his fingers would slip into his girlfriends pussy, his now booger laced fingertips slipped right in between his lips, as the tongue lapped up the tiny dried strings of mucous.

At one point a backpack was brought down from the overhead bin and when opened an enormous grocery store bought pumpkin sour cream streudle CAKE in plastic casing was revealed. It had already been nibbled on extensively and much of it was crushed and crumbled. Scotty would break off large chunks with booger stained hands, feeding it to himself and hand feeding to his girlfriend.

  hound11Scotty and walrus.

After manic phone calls to a manic mother, mad conversations with other Hound riders, eventually Scotty and his Girl attempted some shut eye, using the big purple walrus as a pillow.

I wondered how the two of them were going to make it. Then wondered how anyone was going to make it anyway. I thought how it may just take a lack of “upstairs” over thinking to plunder through the upcoming mystery landscape…

Arriving in Boise, Idaho and the two familiar Boise brothers, oddities of sorts in their own right, greeted me in the parking lot as I appeared wearing fake buck teeth, symbolizing the likely weirdo filmmaking we would engage in for the next few weeks.

Some of which is mentioned, and can be seen here.

Onto the familiar California terrain next..

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[ Along with his journey report, Eli sent along a little extra personal note:

A bit behind in the transcribing to story, this was a decent length run to Denver a few weeks back, and then quickly on to Boise, Idaho, where I just left several days ago and GreyHounded it into California. Currently I’m committing “GreyHound Adultry” as I’m on an Amtrak, where it seems a quarter of everyone is drunk (they serve alcohol), a Jehovas witness is preaching the good word, and the next to tracks shanty town living squabble scenery makes me reconsider the train for the interesting sociological observings etc. Thanks as always for looking.]

[Resuming Eli Elliott's tale of riding the Hound, here's installment two, departing from Detroit.]

Second installment, a round trip Greyhound, from Detroit to Chicago and back. A ride which normally would take 4.5 hours or so by car ride, with the Greyhound you are looking at at least 9 hours each way, along with a bus change in Lansing, and if your bus doesn’t make the transfer, which seems a likely occurrence, your trip could then take you late into the night, or early morning, as you await the next coach to arrive.

“CHICAGO ROUND”

PART 1. “Two Seats To Self”

The goal of any Greyhound bus rider is to secure two seats for yourself. No matter who you are, when you have the coveted two seats to yourself arrangement, and you watch as a new passenger is walking down the aisle, you pray in your own way that the individual will keep moving and NOT sit down next to you. Two seats to oneself offers a substantially more comfortable and relaxed ride than having someone sitting next to you, forcing an upright cramped seating position for the grueling several hours to come.

In the past I have utilized a few screwball, if not shady, tactics to secure the two seats to self position. I’ve engaged in noticeable “mumbling to myself” behavior when new passengers were boarding and deciding where to sit. Usually this moves them right on past my two seats. If the stakes seem extra high, I would even throw in a few “nervous twitches” for good measure. Guaranteed, the newly boarded would always pass me up.

Our next stop would be Ann Arbor, which is typically a college town, as well as having a longtime reputation as a hippy haven. The dynamic aboard the bus changed as suddenly Detroit was forced to meet Ann Arbor. An Asian student politely makes his way to the back of the full bus asking a Detoiter if he may sit next to him as there are few seats available. The Detroiter frowns but obliges. The young Asian student says, “Thank you sir, thank you.”

A young 20 year old pasty white blond girl also is forced towards the back. She sits down next to  a pants pulled down Detroiter.  A few “aging hippies” find their place in the front. A young white hipster male initially had begun his way toward the back and after visually scanning the scene it was almost as if he slowly started walking backwards, then turning around frantically looking for a vacant seat in the front, which he did end up finding to his relief.

The mixing of Ann Arbor and Detroit was interesting to me. It was something specific to Greyhound bus travel. An uncomfortably forced situation where the two demographics have to share intimate space.

After a few hours people started opening up. The Detroiter across from me was convinced that we had just done one big circle and questioned whether the bus driver knew what he was doing. The guy sitting next to me finally opened up some as he checked a voice-mail message on his phone, then turned to me and said “the dude don’t wanna do 200 bucks for series tickets, damn they’re going for four hundred, four fiddy, this dude don’t wanna do 200…you know what I’m saying…damn..” I shook my head in agreement with him. The Detroit Tigers had just won the finals the night before and were now headed to the World Series. What I gathered was that this guy was trying to unload some tickets for 200 bucks and the would be buyer wasn’t buying, despite the alleged bargain…

In East Lansing the dynamic changed even further, with more college students boarding from the nearby Michigan State University. The conversations went from ticket scalping cheapskates to “I’m an Engineering Major” as two students introduced themselves to each other. For the past few hours when cell phones would go off, the musical ringtone would be that of a hardcore rap song. Now when cell phones were going off, the musical ringtone was 80’s pop music.

PART 2. Dreams.

We had switched buses in Lansing proper, and those of us Chicago bound travelers boarded an “Indian Trails” Bus. Indian Trails is apparently now part of the Greyhound service, but still run some of  their own separate routes, doing casino runs and charters. They operate out of Greyhound Stations, but seemingly are able to keep intact their own rules, along with a more laid back demeanor. While some of their buses looked very modern and slick, the one’s they use for Greyhound service seemed much older. The rejects perhaps.

Small video screens hung from about every 5th seat. None of them were operational. The bus driver wasn’t required to rattle off the usual “rules of the road” as is mandatory for the Greyhound drivers. Instead a barely audible recording is played.  For all intents and purposes I’ll still refer to Indian Trails as the Hound, as technically the two are in a way merged, and are essentially the same as far as bus travel goes.

Kalamazoo Gospel Mission directly across from the Greyhound Station.

Each Indian Trails Bus is “christened” with the name of a Native American Michigan Indian Chief.

The communication between the two bus companies proved to be poor. In Kalamazoo we waited 45 minutes for a Greyhound bus with passengers that would never end up showing.

While waiting outside the bus in Kalamazoo, I met Kenny.

Kenny, a young guy maybe 19 or 20, asked me where I was going, and I told him “Chicago”.  I asked him if he was going there to and he said “no”. I then said “where to”.  Kenny said “Salt Lake City”. For some reason it took me a moment to remember where I was and where his destination was, so after a few seconds I finally responded “Jeezus, Salt Lake City!” (as in that’s a long way).

Kenny smiled as if he’d been baiting me this whole time, waiting for an opportunity to tell me the following..  “Yep. You see that guy there inside the bus? Me and him… We’re headed to Truckin’ School.”

Fuckin’ Truckin’ School I thought. Wow. Always having a somewhat “if I had it to do all over” fascination with the idea of  “Truckin’ School”, I prodded further and asked Kenny about the specifics.

He told me that Truckin’ School basically broke down to 17 days of training, classroom and otherwise, then you have to put in 150,000 miles of road time, riding with someone else (which Kenny estimated would only take a week “considering you’d be driving all over the country”). Then you have to work for the company for 6 months. And then you get your own rig.

I was fascinated by it all and I told Kenny, “Wow man, that’s really great.”

And then Kenny replied back.

“Yeah, it’s really great…seeing as it’s always been my dream, to be a trucker.”

It was a young man, on his way towards his training. Training for his dream job.

I was kind of taken by this. His enthusiasm was subtle and soft spoken, but very genuine. He was excited inside and enjoyed sharing his Salt Lake sojourn with someone. I fended off the back of mind thoughts that lurked within, i.e. peak oil, rising gas prices, fairly recent and likely future trucker strikes, realizations that 3000 mile Caesar salad deliveries were no longer sustainable.  Instead I stayed in the moment and let the dream of road job romanticism wash over me.

After talking with me Kenny seemed more comfortable and at our next stop he told someone else, “I’m headed to Salt Lake City…I’m going to Truckin’ School.”

Nightfall arrived and we were, finally, out of Michigan. Somewhere just past Gary Indiana a swash of light suddenly appeared out the window off the elevated freeway. I rose up from a failed attempt at slumber, looked out the window and saw huge bright lights shining down onto a field. It was a high school football game. A play was in progress and the young men clamored about in all seriousness on the field. Even in the quick passing one could see the tension and energy taking place below; the bright lights, the people in the stands cheering and the young guys themselves embroiled in gridiron battle. It was Friday night in Autumn America.

Not but a mile or so later we passed by another slice of classic America, a small corner bar, recognizable from it’s old time brightly lit sign which read something like “BILL AND NICKS TAP”. Clearly a bar that’s been there for some years now.

These two back to back brightly lit situations in their own right, spurred on an immediate connective thought; I wondered how many men whom once had clamored on that same football field years ago, were now semi-permanently residing a mile away, inside Bill and Nicks Tap. The Gary Indiana glory days long gone, and never having found anything to really replace them with. Never leaving the city, always staying close to that one time glory, but not too close. A stool to forever reminisce a mile away at Bill and Nicks, would have to suffice. For so many in America the peak of popularity, grandeur and glory resides and remains forever, in those short, fleeting high school years. I thought about how their dream dies, when the “13th grade” arrives…

(CHICAGO INTERLUDE)

My presence in Chicago actually had a purpose as it was mainly to attend the Chicago International Film Festival where a documentary film was playing, and I was to cover it, make a little rough film about the response and reception of it, as it had to do with the subject of Cold Fusion technology, something I’m an advocate for; giving myself a save our ship purpose of sorts, though likely it could be more for the next ship that rises, as ours seems to be sinking quick.  Anyway, a look at that can be found here.

It was also a visit to see my brother, Matt, and newly hatched nephew, Jake, whom I would hang out and stay a few nights with. A quick immersion in the bustling, active and energetic Chicago City way of life…

Meanwhile, back on the Hound…

PART 3. The Recently Released.

An absolute staple of Greyhound character is “the recently released inmate”. Ride the Hound enough and you’ll eventually come across the recently released.

“I just got out of the clink”

My return trip to Detroit featured a not so stereotypical recently released. This was a young 20 year old almost suburban looking white male who apparently had spent the last few years inside, though at one point he said he had escaped from one correctional institution. After a short time on the lam, with the authorities hassling his family for his whereabouts, he decided to turn himself back in.

“I turned myself back in. I called them right up and said, ‘you guys want me, then you can come and pick me up. I’m on the corner of so and so street, smoking my last blunt, and I’ll be waiting…”

He talked about his various “cellies” (cellmates) a few who had 100 years to serve, some of the politics of prison in regards to the different factions; that even if your Latin and get your weed from the Aryan nation, if you diss an Aryan they have to mess you up on principle, despite the business arrangements and dealings otherwise.

The bits and pieces I picked up from his own troubles seemed to stem from 50 thousand dollars worth of settlement money that he had received, in which he proceeded to completely blow over the next 2 months compliments of high end hotel suites and an alternating habit of injecting bath salts and methamphetamine. He said he’s now clean, and will remain clean, just sticking with marijuana only.

But with the veracity, energy and eagerness to pour out and sometimes romanticize his troubles, this led me to wonder if when telling this saga over and over eventually got old, would the temptations to dive in and create more drama, a new story, overwhelm and lead to more use, and in turn more trouble?

PART 4. “Two Pints”

This deceiving appearance of the “normal looking guy” again played itself out at the Battle Creek, Michigan stop, when we picked up a late 30’s average looking joe white guy, whom I wouldn’t have thought anything about, if I had not noticed  that when he sat down in his Greyhound seat the back of his T-shirt rose up, revealing two glass pints of whiskey tucked between his underwear and skin. Basically one pint just above each ass cheek. He would spend the next hour or so sneaking sips from the two pints and then washing it down with a 20 oz. bottle of PEPSI.

He eventually had to use the chemical toilet bathroom at the back of the bus. This was during a stretch when our bus driver was frantic about trying to make our downtown Lansing stop, where many of us needed to switch buses and make our transfers on time. We were already 25 minutes late, and our driver frequently warned us on the overhead speaker how our connecting bus “may or may not” wait for us. She had no answer when asked what we would do if they didn’t wait for us.

At one point, in the rush to make the transfer on time, our driver attempted to go through a yellow light, but then quickly put on the brakes when it became apparent the light was going to turn red and she wasn’t going to make it.  The bus jolted forward as the brakes were applied, and from the bathroom in back we heard a very loud “Whoooaaaaa” followed with a long drawn out, “Whaaaat the fuuuuuck!?”

It was Two Pints. He was still in the bathroom. The entire bus began laughing out loud.

Knowing he had been drinking heavy, I was likely the only one who wondered if he had actually been vomiting in there. In which case, the sudden lurch forward of the bus could have forced his head right into the toilet bowl, while the blue chemical liquid laced urine and poo would have washed all over his face…

Five minutes later, Two Pints emerged from the latrine, a bit embarrassed and shaken, and now seemingly cleaned off.

In and unusual move, the other Greyhound bus that many of us needed to transfer onto, actually waited for us and didn’t leave despite our 20 minute tardiness. We hurriedly entered the other bus where a bunch of disgruntled passengers were already seated, waiting to leave.

By the time Two Pints got on the bus he couldn’t seem to find himself a seat, and ended up having to sit directly behind the drivers seat. I shuddered at this move and almost felt like motioning him to come sit back here with me, as I’ve seen it before with the alcoholics aboard, one whiff of whisky breath and you’re thrown off the Hound.  I thought he was a goner for sure as the bus driver entered , sat at the stern and began pulling out of the station while stupid Two Pints started talking to the driver in his loopy half drunk manner, not to mention the whiskey stench.  But when nothing happened and the driver didn’t give him the boot from the bus, this further convinced me that the chemical blue face-wash had indeed occurred, as it likely had caused a masking effect to the alcoholic odor.

I actually talked to Two Pints outside at our next stop about the quick breaking bathroom incident, but all he would say about it in a still semi drunk demeanor was, “that sucked… that really, really sucked”.

I noticed a thin wallet with a bill or two sticking out of his back pocket practically screaming for a pickpocket. And here Two Pints was headed for downtown Detroit, 10pm at night, half drunk. Jesus.

I finally got off the Hound back in Southfield,  9 plus hours after I’d boarded, and it felt as if I had traveled back all the way from New York City, and not the relatively close Chicago. But that’s The Hound.

It was Monday night and I thought about how Kenny had likely just finished up his very first day of Truckin’ School…

Miguel Vargus, Florida, 5th bust, going back for more time

[If you wish to see Eli in one of his other roles, he has a Vimeo channel and you can find him on Facebook as well.]

Eli Elliott

The last time I saw Eli was in Tampa, back in the spring, just after I’d returned to USA, and was doing some screenings and such to round up some bucks.   He’d driven down there, slowly, losing his traveling companion, a cat, in some trailer home place near St Louis.  He was staying in Tampa at a place someone in the family had.   We had a Mexican meal downtown and he gave me a ride back to my friend Charles Lyman, out by a river.   I got some pics of him and his rig:

Eli’s bumper ornamentEli rides again (with his minimo-x)

On my trip I had occasion to take the bus a few times – from Nashville to Knoxville, and from Owatonna, Minnesota to Omaha, and, back in 2002, when I’d returned from 10 years out of the country, I took one from Tampa to Columbus, SC.  Talking with Eli I described the experience as riding with “the other America.”    Not the same folks as the planes, for sure.   As it happens his rolling converted emergency vehicle has mechanical problems, and recently his father, in Detroit, had a heart attack, so to go up to see him and perhaps be of help, he took the bus.  He sent me and some other a “collective  send” about it and I liked a lot and asked if I could print here.  So here’s installment one.   Later he’ll be heading to Boise, Idaho.

THE GREYHOUND CHRONICLES (1)

I’m back on the Hound for now, possibly on/off for next 2-3 months. As some have mentioned in the past that they’ve  missed my Greyhound stories (2 or 3 people) I present them as they unravel, via email for the selected. Please email back “SPARE ME” if not wanted. A brief update on other things in general I will also squeeze in between, but for now here’s a first string of notes and ramblings from THE GREYHOUND, also called by friend Jon, “The Other America”.

ST. PETE TO SOUTHFIELD

 (36 Hours – Fri. Night Depart – Sun. Morning Arrive. Numerous 1-5 hour Bus Station layovers involved)

 Our Coach, outside Atlanta, I think…

PART 1 :  “GARY”

“PFFT.. YEAH RIGHT..”

Upon arrival at the Tampa Florida bus terminal on the first short stretch of otherwise long Greyhound travel to Southfield Michigan, our Greyhound driver informed us that our under the bus bags would be automatically shuffled over to the proper coach in which we were transferring onto. I turned around to the guy behind me muttering a mocking comment at the announcement.

This baggage shuffle routine is notorious for scenarios where folks show up at their final destination only to discover their bags hadn’t followed them. 36 hours later I would  meet such a guy who’d been traveling the same route as I, and upon arrival, was 1 bag shy. “Goddamnit now I’m gonna have to deal with a shitload of red tape tryin’ to git my damn bag back”

In the meantime my knee jerk mutterings landed to the ears of the guy behind me. A guy named GARY.

Around 60, very worn face, full beard with nicotine stained ‘stache, Gary had some trouble reading the departure times on his ticket and asked if I could help. Gary was on his way to Boston, where he had a Doctors appointment scheduled.  I noticed on his forearm what looked liked a ping pong ball stuffed under his skin, which expanded and further disguised the image of his dull, faded green forearm tattoo.

While in Boston Gary also hoped to visit his only son who was a HELLS ANGEL, the Sergeant of Arms for that particular chapter, and who was currently incarcerated, awaiting court proceedings where it looked as though he could be facing a life sentence. We never discussed the crime and I knew better than to ask, since Gary wouldn’t have let on anyway if it was Angels related, which I suspected. His sons ordeal clearly pained Gary and while passing by freeway lights in the 3 am near pitch black bus I’d catch glimpses of him wiping his eyes when the conversation came back to his boy.

Me and Gary would end up talking throughout most of the night, and into the beginnings of the next day.

Gary was one of those unsummed American hellraisers who had lived a wild life consisting of muscle cars, motorcycles, frequent intoxications and numerous stints inside prisons; “workouts” he would call his time inside. The worn face had marked his own cheats on death, many of which he told me, while at the same time signified the now potentially soon arrival towards death.  I told him it sounded like he’s had a helluva ride. Upon reflection, “Well, yeah, I sure did have a lotta fun (in life)”.

He lived a far and wide life as well. From workin’ an oil rig in Texas to the pipeline gig in Alaska to Los Angeles drug running via Maui, and to what he called “Gypsy Asphalting” which consisted of working for a group of con men who would  lay down asphalt every month in a different state; as Gary explained: “after a month, all the asphalt we laid would eventually come back up, but by then we’d be moved on to another state doin’ it all over again…”  Gypsy Asphaltin’.

None of this was bravado, but more humble. His stories unfolded natural, with a bit of subtle prying on my part. This needs to be said as many Hound riders can be compulsive in their braggart story tellings.  Gary would’ve been just some guy with a doctors appointment had I not listened and shown some interest which he picked up on.

Before hopping aboard the Hound, I had just learned that the movie premiere of Kerouacs novel ON THE ROAD was screening somewhere tonight. Rather than having gone see it I realized I was celebrating it by undertaking Jack’s favorite form of travel, the Greyhound Bus. And I was meeting Gary who provided his own verbal rambling novella, and would likely never have a movie made on him, though probably could, maybe should, but no, never would.

A glimpse of Gary

PART 2 :  “BOB”

Swaggering steady through the Tampa bus terminal was a man with a full suit on, yet the tie was undone, the shirt unbuttoned, and the hair disheveled; a bad day on Wall Street perhaps. But since this was a Friday  in Western Florida, inside a Greyhound Bus terminal nearing midnight, Bob’s story was a bit different.

Bob, 70, was headed all the way back to El Centro California where he owned 100 acres in the desert, 12 miles from the Mexico border.  He prided himself in his sharing of the land, by allowing travelers or passer throughs to stay there for a bit while he would feed and fix meals for them. “And I’m not talking no rice and beans…When I prepare a meal for someone…I prepare a MEAL.”  Bob talked to me further about his willingness to help out folks due to his own on edge situation and not knowing how much longer he had in life to live, and not having anyone to really give the land to as an inheritance when he was gone. So I guess he was giving a little of it to everyone while he was still alive.

The journey ahead of Bob was a ridiculous 3 or 4 day Greyhound ordeal shooting him in all kinds of roundabout directions, anything from the straight shot route one would think to travel to Southern California if looking at a map. And one wondered, if his suit and disheveledness as it was after only day 1, what would become of Bob after a day 3 or 4. Would he even make it.

That thought became stronger as he held up his only carry on luggage which was a casino plastic bag which had the advertisement image of  hundreds of clumped together dollar bills on the front along with the name of the casino.

“This is my pharmacy”, he told me. Dozens of various medications filled the plastic bag as Bob described his ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease to a number of psychological conditions.

Bob had been in southern Florida visiting some relatives but also settling an insurance claim in which he had just yesterday received 7 thousand dollars for.  It had involved a car that had hit Bob while he was on his bicycle last June. Bob had threatened to sue for 250,000 dollars and ensured the insurance company that his story would be printed in every major news publication in the United States.  He said the company then offered up the 7 grand settlement the very next day. Bob took it.

On smoke breaks Bob would heatedly argue with Greyhound employees who would tell him he couldn’t smoke outside the building and had to go to the designated area. “This is public space…I can smoke right here where I’m at.” One time a nearby policeman was called in and threatened to arrest Bob in 2 seconds if he came back out here to smoke. “HA – Yeah and  then I’d be out after 2 minutes officer”.  The cop stupidly retorted for the sake of stupidly retorting, “No you’d be in for 2 weeks.. and you’d miss your bus.”

Later I would look for Bob to ask him for his address if I was ever that far South when in California. But when I found Bob he was already seated on board his next bus which was about to leave. I told myself and for some reason felt confident that all I’d have to do was go to El Centro and I would somehow run into Bob within an hour or so.

“Bob”

PART  3 :  “STRANDED STRANGER AND THE LITTLE K EPISODE”

A little town in Tennessee we pulled into to have our 10 minute break at a small convenience store. Grab some food or smoke a cig then rush back onto the bus.    And back aboard the all too familiar post 10 minute break scene begins to unfold; once all settled in and the bus takes off down the road, an object or two will be noticed on a now vacant seat, and the question arises “wasn’t there someone sitting there like 10 minutes ago”?

In this case a lone pillow remaining on a now vacant seat told the nightmare scenario of a passenger getting left behind during our 10 minute break. I’ve seen it happen a number of times in the past and not once did the driver attempt to turn around. This time was no different as the drivers denial response upon telling her was “people leave pillows behind all the time”.

A few minutes later we discover what we determine to be the guys backpack in the overhead rack. At our next passenger pickup stop 25 minutes down the road, the driver must’ve gotten a call as she had to, coldly, confess, “Yeah he got left…”  Left in the middle of Tennessee at some convenient store.

But there was now a new situation emerging in the form of a 5 foot 1, 20 something year old Korean girl. She was getting on the bus as a new passenger but there was some squabbling outside over her ticket that apparently she hadn’t fully paid for. It was all unclear what the situation was all about, but the driver seemed to allow her entry and began aggravatingly throwing her bags inside the lower luggage compartment, but then little Korean gal began yelling and grabbing the driver trying to prevent the bags from going in for whatever reason. After the grabbing the driver took her bags out from underneath and then refused her entry on the bus altogether. The driver then quickly tried to drive off which prompted Little K to throw herself in front of the bus causing the driver to brake as not to hit her. She then would give a little gas, go forward a few inches hoping to prompt her out of the way. Little K didn’t budge.

A standoff ensued.

The Standoff…

It was Little K standing firmly in front of our bus and the driver becoming infuriated not knowing what to do, knowing she was stuck. Back and forth yelling occurred and I of course attempted to film the event whereas the driver became pissed at me shouting, “Stop filming this.. I don’t want to be on YouTube!” I lowered my camera but then raised it back up.

Passengers started getting unruly as they worried about missing their transfers and such. Some racist humor was also attempted. One comment from a guy in front was, “Not to be rude, but CHINA is in the other direction”. From the back of the bus another comment was something to effect of “problem with these damn Chinese people is you can’t understand em”.

The Tennessee cops arrived and diffused the situation by coaxing Little K out from her standoff position, and then oddly explained to her how she was smaller than the bus and wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact of a large moving vehicle while standing in front of it.

Within 30 minutes this driver had managed to leave a guy behind in the middle of Tennessee and allow a situation to explode into a complete standstill requiring police intervention.

 

PART 4 : BRIEF/RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

-AN AMISH FAMILY, man/woman, small boy, smaller girl and an elder male, all in full Amish regalia including the 2 small children hats and all, on board the Greyhound. We  take an exit around midnight in Tennessee and pass by a BP gas station, go a couple hundred more yards, pull into the Sonoma Farm store and there waiting is a horse tied to a post with a carriage attached to horse. The Amish exit, the elder waves bye to the rest, turns and disappears into the night while the woman and children enter the carriage and man dismounts horse from post and they begin there sojourn home. Various contrasts enter mind, i.e the passing of BP gas contrasted by a tied up waiting horse powered unit only short distance away; the presence of Amish aboard the gas guzzlin’ Greyhound in the first place; the Amish dress, in particular the woman and young baby girls ridiculous head dress which seemingly blinded their view from left and right and I wondered if it was more symbolism than function.

-NO ONE CARES ANYMORE/HONESTY EMERGES. The whole Greyhound system running off of a surprising theme of blunt honesty; everyone is miserable and they don’t bother hiding it anymore. No one wants to be here, passengers and in particular the drivers as after my first stretch our driver didn’t try to hide his comments to the greasy spoon bus station cashier as he ordered 2 big burgers to fight off his famine as he repeated slow and a bit too serious “..it took EVERYTHING I HAD IN ME, to make this run tonight…”

Two other incidents, separate bus station cafeterias, one cashier admitting to all within earshot that buying the overpriced food here was “highway robbery”, the other made sure to inform me to “keep that coffee cup, bring it with you to every stop and you can get a 25 cent refill, they don’t want us telling you that but I always tell everyone that during these times…otherwise you have to pay another 2 dolla’s…you keep that cup..”

And that cup I may just try to keep for all future trips. Next is a Chicago round trip.

Eli on the road.

A big thanks to Eli for letting me publish this and I look forward to the next installments.  If you wish to see Eli in one of his roles, he has a Vimeo channel and  you can find him on Facebook as well.

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