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:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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..”
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.