[Resuming Eli Elliott’s tale of riding the Hound]
DETROIT to DENVER (and onto BOISE)
(1Day, 7Hours, 45Minutes) + (18 Hours, 45 minutes)
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…
Woodmen of the World Building, downtown Omaha, Nebraska
PART 2: THE ORGANIZER
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…
Car 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
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.
Bus break at the Petro Mart. Ogallala, Nebraska 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.
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.
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..
[ 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.]