I recently wrote about an imagined bus trip -- fleeing my husband's righteous wrath -- but I actually did ride a bus home to New York City from Phoenix, Arizona in the late 1970s. It took nearly four days.
Was I crazy?
Possibly, but I'd been listening to lots of Simon and Garfunkel and thought this might be a good way to "look for America."
As many of you know, I am a fearful flyer but I wasn't all that fearful at 21. I had no children yet and didn't feel I had much to lose so my decision to purchase a bus ticket home, after an odyssey begun in Los Angeles, was based on economics (the bus was much cheaper than a plane), modest wanderlust and the fact that my ass bones were still flexible enough to not cause me terrible pain from all that confined sitting.
Was there really a country between the coasts? I needed to see for myself.
Unfortunately, I left my only jacket, a warm hoodie, in the ladies bathroom of the Phoenix bus station. Wearing sandals and short sleeves, I boarded the bus but by the time I realized I was freezing (almost immediately), the driver had no intention of turning around. I was out of luck.
The air conditioning in the bus was set at "freeze Ted William's head in a hurry" and I began to shiver and turn the awful mottled blue of imminent death before we were even ten miles out.
These were the days before every rest stop, airport, bus and train station sold assorted t-shirts, sweats and mugs adorned with their state logos so there was nothing to be purchased along the way.
Plus, I'd already spent most of my cash. Did I mention that ATMs were not yet even a twinkle in their daddy's eyes?
The bus stopped every three hours but all I could find in the small dusty depots were packs of gum, cigarettes and porn...but a sympathetic woman gave me a long-sleeved, but lightweight, shirt when she exited the bus in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
In Santa Rosa, not only did I gratefully don the shirt of my benefactress but, feeling sick and craving dairy, ordered a glass of milk at a lunch counter which remains one of the most memorably delicious things I've ever had in my life.
Cold, creamy and decadent, I wondered whether it might be fresh from some New Mexican cow as I drained the glass, wiping away a frothy mustache and sizing up my fellow travelers over the rim. I was the only one drinking milk, I can tell you that.
But Santa Rosa hadn't been out first stop. That would have been Fort Courage, Arizona which might ring a bell in the memory banks of someone my age.
Anyone? Think hard 40-60 year olds, TV Land viewers and small screen nostalgists everywhere...
As I stepped down from the bus, I felt as if I'd seen this small, old fashioned town before. I recognized the buildings, the tall watch tower, the saloon. All of a sudden it hit me...
The bus depot was steps away from the actual set of one of my favorite shows as a little girl..."F Troop." I loved that show about bumbling soldiers at a western army outpost sometime after the civil war and it was here that I sat and ate a "Navajo Taco" served at a circular counter by a circular woman with long black hair coiled into a hair net and a big smile.
A fresh tortilla filled with rice, beans, spices and cheese, it filled my empty tummy and made me forget for a moment how damn cold I was.
I got to chatting with the waitress who, upon discovering that I was from Brooklyn -- a spot as foreign to her as this place was to me -- wouldn't take money for the meal. She actually told me that it was "Brooklyn Day" in Fort Courage and, noticing my blue fingertips, made me drink a cup of hot tea.
In the imagined bus trip in Friday's post, I mention that a fellow passenger confided that he hadn't paid taxes since the Nixon administration. In reality, I sat next to a total weirdo who claimed he hadn't paid taxes since the Truman administration.
This badass-in-his-own-mind insisted on illegibly writing his phone number in the fly leaf of my book in case I wanted to contact him and learn more about how to successfully avoid taxes, myself and, as previously reported, did tell me -- rather ominously -- that I had better not tell a living soul.
His secret was safe with me. Until today.
I saw Native Americans with shiny braids carrying babies on their backs, a pimply cowboy in Oklahoma wearing a t-shirt that read "I'm here because she appreciates perfection" and sat in the sun to thaw my frozen, sluggish blood wherever we stopped, often chatting with friendly strangers, one of whom gave me a small turquoise nugget for luck that I still have today.
A man who got on in Tulsa tried to kiss me while I was napping and a woman sitting near me in a truck stop in Amarillo,Texas told me, over delicious fried eggs, that she'd slept with over 4,000 men.
Back then and, still to this day, I aspire to this number myself, so I was very impressed. It took me several miles east to realize that she was probably a prostitute.
Speaking of Texas--it was amazing. The sheer sense of its immensity and the visual endless stretch of the wide streets we passed through -- for hours upon hours -- were awe-inspiring to a girl who'd grown up in a congested city. I have never been back but I really want to return and see if it feels that big to me now.
I saw the arch in St. Louis and nearly died of boredom in Ohio and Pennsylvania (no offense intended), pulling into the Port Authority in New York in the early morning with ankles so swollen from sitting and joints so stiff from cold that I could barely walk.
I had picked up beautiful rocks in the Arizona dessert and slipped them into my suitcase and when the baggage handler grabbed my bag and lifted it, he said, "Hey, whaddya got in here? Rocks?" "Yes, actually," I responded but he appeared skeptical.
Welcome home, I thought. No one believes anything here.
So, I did see the country...on a Greyhound bus. A lot of it was at night but I sat next to interesting people, many of whom were happy to chat. I've forgotten most of their stories but do remember the bus drivers loving to say "Thanks for riding the dog," when people got off.
If I ever do it again, I will bring more cash, wear socks and closed shoes and not leave my jacket in a ladies room in Phoenix.
I hope whoever found it needed it and that it kept her nice and warm.
Warning: If you watch this, you will want to listen to lots and lots more of Simon and Garfunkel.