[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.
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…
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.]