When you travel Greyhound, they say you get to see America. This is true, after a fashion, though the America you get to see is the same all over, interstates, rest stops, dire little bus depots full of questionable people (like me). It's a country at one remove, not quite real and not quite fake, separate, floating in parallel to the settled world.
"Don't have much of a personality? BUY ONE! - billboard for a car dealership outside Temple, TX.
Something about the Greyhound makes you want to talk. From Memphis to Dallas, I sit in front of a fat white boy in a Fubu jersey with a diamond earring, who buttonholes any black kid he can find and explains at great length how much money he makes moving coke out of Houston up to Chicago, and bringing Canadian hydro down on the return leg. He uses a thick and affected MTV version of hip-hop slang. That shit be off the chain, yo.
Taking a smoke break in Columbus, Ohio, a man with a thick upper Midwest accent tells me how he's going up to Minnesota to surrender himself and do five months in county, so he can be with his family and his dogs again. County's a piece of cake, says I to him. You'll sit around playing cards and watching TV, time'll pass before you know it. He agrees - he figures to spend his time playing pinochle and eating like a king. I never did find out what his outstanding was; a DUI, I'd imagine.
In Cincinnati, a man wanders through the terminal begging for spare change and cigarettes, telling his life story to anybody that'll sit still and listen. He tries to do the same to the Chicanos in the station, in thick gringo Spanish, which they laugh off. One group of old ladies figure he's trying to talk them up, start mocking him in Spanish and laughing at him. He laughs along, nervously, then gets up the nerve to ask what's so funny. That just gets them going more. As our bus boards, one turns back to the terminal and waves to him, calls out "Adiós, mi amor!"
Bowling Green, Kentucky. Another rest stop. A group of kids about my own age, we're clustered around, sucking down the nicotine and bitching about the cold. All of them but me have been married and divorced, all of them but me have kids, all the guys but me have served in the military. One of them got back from Korea, wondering why the letters had stopped coming, went to his house, found a guy working on his car, wearing his clothes, drinking his beer. "Well, all I need to say is, I ended up spending that night in jail."
We're all the only real people in the world, all living a dream. I'm fake, I draw out my vowels on purpose, try to play out the role of the good southern boy. The other America, the one that doesn't live on and along the interstates, stays in one place, sleeps in a warm bed every night, isn't really there. It is always night and there is always a layer of windowglass between the highway world and the real one, and who's looking out and who's looking in? Who's just staring at their reflection, mistaking the headlights and taillights for the stars in their firmament? It's all starting to bleed together in my head.