En Route from New Orleans to Mobile, AL -- August 17, 2007

Crossing Lake Pontchartrain on Interstate 10 on the way to Mobile, AL, a stop along the way to Orlando, what I thought would be my next destination. We weren't long past the lake when the bus started to chug chug chug to a stop at the side of the road. Phone conversations began to erupt.

Honey it ain’t my fault!

We were going to be late. The air conditioner was shut off and the warmth was heavenly--the buses were always too cold--and when the big trucks went shooting by, I liked being swayed, gently, like in a cradle. New Orleans had wiped me out. I closed my eyes and the melodic Southern cell phone conversations were like a lullaby in round-- You won’t believe it, we’ve run out of gas, you won't believe it honey, guess what, yeah, we ran out of gas.

Maurice, the Southern gentleman driver who'd ushered everyone on the bus with a kind, if not sarcastic twinkle in his eyes, puffing a pipe that hung laxidasically out of his mouth, had forgotten to check the fuel gauge.

When the bus got so stuffy I felt that what I was breathing couldn't be good, I went outside, where half the passengers had retreated. I wanted to curl up on the grass and go to sleep but the other passengers wouldn't let me. Lying on the grass would, apparently, get me chiggers--little bugs that burrow under your skin. Someone offered an old duffel bag as a chair and I sat there, hunched over, eyes half open, listening to the bugs and traffic.

The moon was just a sliver. There was talk about needing to bleed the fuel injectors.

When I felt I'd overstayed my welcome on the duffel bag, I went back on the bus. Because it had been half-vacant for more time, it was easier to breathe. I spoke to a woman reading Kushiel's Scion, by Jacqueline Carey.

She saw the first book of the series in a bookstore and loved the cover and is reading the whole Kushiel Legacy. They're the kind of books where she can’t wait until the author releases the next one. What makes it so good---intrigue, murder, great sword fights, well done eroticism (not everyone, she says, can do it so well), and world religions that are modified slightly.

Her favorite books--Dragon Wings, by Laurence Yepp, about a kid, a Chinese immigrant, growing up in San Francisco, and Wings of a Falcon, by Barbara Michaels, also about a kid, but this kid has no name and lives on an island and when the old man who was keeping him there dies, he leaves.

Her own book—it’d be a fantasy, an adventure story, that would help readers learn about themselves and living with good and evil.

Her friend was reading Salem's Lot, by Stephen King. They’ve been on an adventure together that was so complex, with visits with friends and layers upon layers of reasons why--I was too tired to follow.

Recently he read the last Harry Potter and has been reading nonfiction online for his own personal research: Civil Rights, Latin Rights, Theology, Immigration, Abortion, Health Care, Social Security, and the Presidential Debate--he’s putting together a website about the candidates.

He’s getting a degree in psychology and wants to do child psychotherapy.

His favorite book of all time--The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, which won the Pulitzer Prize years ago. He read it in Junior High. It's about a poor Chinese farmer who teaches his kids the value of the land. It’s written very well, and the character has flaws, so it’s realistic, though the character is not such an idiot that he doesn’t realize he has flaws.

Another favorite book--Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt, with great things in it like a teenage boy throwing up after communion and his friend and grandma telling him he’s going to hell because of it.

His friend (above) also plays a big role in what he reads--she was prodding him about the Octavia Butler book she told him to read and they are planning to read R.A. Salvator's Dark Elf trilogy together.


More than three hours later, with a fill-up of fifteen gallons of gas, we were back on the road.

We made a stop in Gulfport to pick up passengers, who were lucky we got there--at all. Not only were we a little late, the driver had no clue as to how to get to the station and there were some awkward moments when someone, anyone please, could come up and give directions. The only local was an elderly man who had problems moving up the bus aisle when we were moving.

Asking passengers for directions was actually quite common. Sometimes drivers are called in who don't know the routes and, why they aren't prepped ahead of time, or why don't have access to some sort of navigational device or at least a help-line, is a mystery.

We did make it to Mobile, just barely. It turns out the Greyhound fuel crew knows exactly how much gas it takes to get from point A to point B: 15 gallons = 70 miles and not an inch more. We coasted into the station. It was one-thirty in the morning.

Maurice's last words: It's not my fault.

I believe him.

We all missed our connections and were hungry. I stood in line at the vending machine, bought some Cheetos--aside from hot dogs, they were the trip's official snack food--plugged in my cellphone, sat on the floor, and waited. The next bus--I changed my route to Jacksonville instead of Orlando to put myself back on schedule--wasn't until five in the morning.

Being in the station with everyone who had been on the bus, after having the experience on the road made us all feel like we are part of one family. We shared our snack food and left our bags unattended. It was a turning point for me. I became a Greyhound veteran. When I interviewed people in the stations, it occurred to me that I didn't need to take the time to brush my hair first--a Greyhound traveler is weathered.

I offered my Cheetos around and listened to the banter around me:

I called my wife and I told her, we just run out of gas again and she said, are you shitting me? No I’m not shitting you my dear, but we did just coast into the bus station. Of course, my wife said, you trying not to come home?

You know what my sister told me after I called and told her, she said, if he ain’t smart enough to read the gas guage, do you really want him driving your bus?

Fifteen gallons is not enough. In a bus! Two dollars worth a gas. Savin’ money. Getting right on by.

I told that old man, he was sitting behind me, you don't have to go up there.
When he asked that old boy how to get to the bus station, that sort of fucked me up. And I said, oh hell no.
When he asked that, did you see how he turned, he turned right from the middle lane.

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