Tuesday, June 12, 2012
BUS STOP BLUES
But when I do get away from The Tall Corn State, I always head east to Cincinnati, my beloved hometown. In fact, right now, as I type, I am planning several bake sales to raise money for my next getaway.
Yeah, it could be awhile, considering my baking prowess, or lack thereof. But I'll get there. One way or the other. Plane, train, bus...
Wait. Scratch the bus idea.
I will walk barefoot to Cincinnati before I ever take a bus. It would take way too long, and oh, the unsavory characters that are bound to be traveling with me.
Just the word "bus" conjurs up haunting memories of one horrifying Christmas sojourn from Carroll, IA, to Davenport, with stops in Ames and Des Moines...a grueling10-hour trip.
Granted, this nightmare took place three decades ago, back when a sign stating, "Thanks for taking the bus and saving energy...Jimmy Carter" graced the front window of the Carrol bus depot (cleverly disguised as a gas station, I might note.) So it's been a while. But still...
I remember it as though it was yesterday.
As I, a busy cub reporter for the local daily newspaper, boarded the 3:40 p.m. bus, I convinced myself that if nothing else I'd have time to catch up on my sleep.
Sleep Schmeep. I did nothing of the sort.
Before I knew it, we arrived in Ames. Unfortunately, my connection to Des Moines was late, so I ended up twiddling my thumbs for like an hour and 15 minutes, all the while studying the faces of the shall-we-say interesting bus depot folk.
As the long-awaited bus pulled in to the station, throngs of determined Christmas travelers rushed out. I maneuvered myself to as close to the bus doors as possible. If I missed this bus, chances were good I'd miss my one and only Davenport connection.
As I made my way to the bus doors, I heard the driver announce, "There are only 22 seats, and you (pointing at me) are number 22!"
I clambored aboard and began my search for a seat. I had a choice of sitting with a gray-haired, bearded guy who was more than a little drunk and yelling from the last seat in the back, left side, or with a quiet Iowa State student sitting in the seat in front of him. I quickly chose the latter.
As the bus took off, I couldn't help but notice a man a few seats up passing around his checkbook. I was hoping he was rich and the checks were blank. But nooooo. Turns out the guy was down on his luck, traveling to Alaska from Oklahoma, and he decided that as a memento of the long journey, he would ask all the people he met on the bus to jot down their names and addresses.
To my immediate left, across the aisle, sat a rather sullen-looking blond-haired man. Always the perky Pollyanna in my early 20s -- and with a snoopy nose for news -- I smiled and cheerfully asked the man where he was going and what his story was.
"I've been at Anamosa (state prison) for three years for armed robbery and drugs," he said, not smiling and definitely not cheerful. "I'm out on a Christmas pass."
"Oh." I replied, and decided from there on in, if I wanted to make it to Davenport alive, I would need to mind my own biz.
The yelling drunk guy, the checkbook autograph hound, the prison inmate and I all went our separate ways at the Des Moines bus depot. Exhausted from running the gauntlet of weirdos, I wearily boarded the bus for the last leg of the trip.
Just then, some man shouted, "All sweethearts to the back of the bus!"
I grabbed the first seat in the front.
A guy who appeared to be normal introduced himself as a grad student from Iowa State University.
"I don't mean to be an elitist," he said, smiling,"but there are some real weirdos that ride buses. Do you mind if we sit together?"
"I know just what you mean," I replied. smiling and nodding knowlingly. "Have a seat!"
He was quite the conversationalist, and we gabbed along and it was actually quite pleasant until that normal-looking, weirdo-hating elitist tried to hold my hand.
"Um, uh, oh, gee, wow, I'm sorry," I stammered, still smiling, albeit nervously (praying he took rejection well and wasn't carrying a knife), "but I don't hold hands on the first bus."
I held my breath.
He glared at me, and slowly reached into his coat pocket.
My life flashed before me.
Then he pulled out a hanky, blew his nose, got up and stomped to the back of the bus.
And that, my friends, is the reason I will sell cupcakes, hell, I'll sell pencils on the corner, and save my pennies for airfare before I will ever take the bus to Cincy.