What follows is just some notes and observations that I had the opportunity to witness on a recent 42 hour bus trip that originated in Alpine, TX and concluded in Columbus, Ohio. Much of it might seem disjointed or fractured but trying to write notes on a Greyhound Bus with no table in front of you and barreling down the highway at about 70 miles per hour can be quite challenging.
Alpine, TX, population 5,905 (give or take)
Outside the local gas station that doubles as a bus depot, a man lies sleeping on a wooden bench. He’s surrounded by what appears to be his life’s possessions which consists of a couple backpacks that have seen better days, a couple dusty well worn pillows and an acoustic guitar tucked away in a carrying case that’s covered with stickers that bear the names and places of where he’s been.
It’s 5:15 PM and the temperature, according to the bank across the street, has reached 96 degrees. I have about a half hour to kill before my scheduled departure so I drop my suitcase outside and sit down on an adjacent bench to have a smoke and gather my thoughts.
I glance over at my would be travelling companion as he insolently swats away the flies that have made his body their landing area. I’m afraid to strike up a conversation, not because of his appearance but because I don’t have the ear to listen. I’ve got my own problems to worry about.
The bus arrives pretty much on time and I board, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible which was easy on the first leg of the journey. I would later discover that this would be damn near impossible, Greyhound has it down to a science and most seats on the remaining legs of my journey will be filled.
The bus pulls out and we enter a sort of No Man's Land. The desert in Southwest Texas is as a vast countryside the likes of which I’d never seen before. I sit back and wonder what propelled our forefathers across such hostile territory while I sit in air conditioned comfort.
Along the way, we pass “The Big Bend Cowboy Church” and countless RV and trailer parks .I’ headed east so the sun is at my back with nothing but mountains, scrub brush and cattle ranches ahead of me. As we roll away the miles I begin to notice that the desert out here is much greener than I thought. There are no intersections and the road points like an arrow straight to the horizon. I glance out the window to my right and smile as I see a herd of wild horses of all sizes and colors. They barely glance up at the bus from their grazing and hardly take notice of the passengers entombed inside the silver and blue bullet.
The landscape is beautiful. Beautiful in a raw, foreign planet kind of way.
I manage to doze for awhile but about an hour or so later a voice crackles over the buses sound system, “Welcome to Fort Stockton, Texas.”
Fort Stockton, TX, population 8,483 (give or take).
The bus pulls into a Shell station/Burger King that also masquerades as a Greyhound depot. I’s about 7:00 PM and I’ve got a five and a half hour layover before the next one arrives. I look outside and there’s nothing in sight but truck stops and boarded up businesses. Even the ones that that remain open seem to have seen better days and I’m at a loss at what to do.
I decide to follow some advice from one of my favorite songs and “Take me out and wander ‘round.” Off in the distance, a pink building beckons and the first thing that catches my eyes is the neon sign, like a signal from heaven, that says “Cold Beer”. I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
I get inside and soon discover that , as far as Southwest Texas goes, this place is the real deal. I’m the only gringo in the place and my Spanish is poor at best. This is complicated by the fact that both televisions behind the bar are showing Mexican soap operas and the menu’s and specials are all in Spanish. I shoot a text off to my daughter with some pictures of the food and describe the surroundings. The tells me that the soap operas are in fact called “tela novellas and says the food looks fine.
I think to myself, live and learn.
I order a couple of beers (Budweiser) and a smiling waitress brings them along with a bowl of chips and salsa. One thing I know, this ain’t Taco Bell and everything seems to be homemade. I fumble at the word “Gracias” and she keeps smiling away. I decide to keep it simple and order another beer, a bowl of chili and a couple of tacos. I figure my next stop is San Antonio, Texas (with stops in Junction, TX and Kerrville, TX) and the bus won’t be that crowded so nobody would care if I farted my way halfway there. After all, these are Bus People and for the time being, so am I.
It’s now around 9:30 PM and I’ve still got three hours or so to kill. I wander back to the gas station/bus depot and step outside to have a smoke. Halfway through it an ambulance comes blaring into the parking lot. Its siren pierces the tranquility of the desert night and its flashing lights make a spectacle of the darkening sky. They pull up to a car in the parking lot and force their way in.
I go back inside and inquire about what is going on. The locals behind the counter tell me that “Oh, it must be for Jimmy.” Nobody knows Jimmy’s last name but he’s a homeless buy who calls his car and the parking lot home. It seems the Texas heat has finally gotten the better of him.
The ambulance staff extracts him from the car. He’s shirtless and if the expression on his face is any clue, his mind is lost. They stick an IV into him, load him on a gurney and it’s not long before he’s off to God knows where. A couple of thoughts pass through my mind.
The first is “Godspeed Jimmy! I hope you have safe travels and a safe landing.
The second is, no matter how far I seem to go, I will never escape the sounds of sirens and the glare of flashing lights.
That’s enough for now, next up, Bus People, Part II.