30 May, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse) The Rash, Part 2

Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces. -- Marcel Proust 

It's a beautiful tale, and today is a beautiful day without any bugs.  -- Hugo Pratt

To say I didn't sleep well would be an understatement. Not being familiar with how to cope with having a peanut allergy, I naturally stayed up most of the night in that less than optimal motel chair thinking of all the possible long term impacts of having a newly acquired one.

First and foremost: WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO EAT?

Trail mix -- and hence, peanuts -- are a staple of my traveling diet. I try and make sure to get something resembling a real meal -- once a day -- when I'm stopping over night. It doesn't even have to be anything fancy... though I try and avoid fast food. The truth is, I'd rather have soup beans and a hunk of bread than a Whopper.

But without trail mix to tide me over, I'd have to get creative. REALLY creative. Because with a peanut allergy, it's not just about food that has peanuts or is made from peanuts.

Like peanut butter. Fuck! Don't get me started on how traumatic it would be to be denied peanut butter.  

That would also knock potato chips, corn chips, pretzels. A lot of snack foods... because even if there are no peanuts in whatever Food X happens to be, it could have been made in the same area where some Food Y with peanuts in it was prepared. Also, if peanut oils or extracts are involved, I would still have to avoid said Food X.

Second: I COULD DIE.

Sure, now it was a simple rash. But the next time my esophagus could close up and my face could blow up like a Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon of a hobo.

After all, weren't the Pilgrims nothing more than vagabond with a vague destination in mind? Get on a boat until you see land? Really? How is that not being a bum?

Dying on the road would, in my opinion, be far less satisfying, if it happened because of something incredibly absurd or ironic. Dying from a heretofore non-existent food allergy? Me? That's up there with being run over by a bus because you're too busy thinking about some story or poem or something. (Sorry Victor Hugo. But's that was a stupid way to go.)


Ok, I wasn't really worried about that. 

But in deference to My Dear Sweet Ma, who really did try and raise me right by attempting to instill in me some sense of common decency -- which, I might add, is totally lost on me by no fault of hers, my father's, or the societal structure I am in the process of extricating myself from -- 

I thought I should mention it.


Specialized foods cost money. Ask anyone who tries to buy healthy groceries and not the deep fried pig slop find on sale at every grocery store in America.  Then there's the spectrum of specialized foods that, in spite of having FEWER INGREDIENTS actually COST MORE.

Welcome to one aspect of the global food scam. Bend over, fork over your debit card, and thank them for robbing you and keeping you healthy... ish. If you don't believe there's scam afoot go to Google (not now) and look up the following terms:

  • ADM

At some point, I managed to fall asleep, but it was not restful. And when I woke up the following morning, it was snowing. And cold. And I had to walk through it, into the wind, to get to the bus station, which was also cold, and technically not open for another 4 hours. Luckily the waiting area was open -- but the air conditioning was on instead of the heat and sitting inside was only moderately warmer than sitting outside. So I was cold, wet, having to wait until 7 that evening for a bus. I was also hungry. But since I didn't know what to eat, and had spent more on my  night's lodging than I really could afford to spend, anything of substance or lacking substance was out of the question.

I wasn't even sure I could eat a hot pocket. And I don't even really like hot pockets.

Eventually I was able to buy a cup of coffee, thank gawd. And the bus did eventually arrive. I decided to speed up my trip to Eugene, Oregon... where I wasn't expected for another week by Grindbone brother, fellow writer, and future Top 10'er on America's Most Wanted hit list, Noah S. Kaplowitz and his extremely patient girlfriend, Becca. I sent Kap a text -- while the battery on my phone was still holding out -- and told him the situation. He told me to come on ahead to Eugene, Oregon and to drink plenty of water.

In short, don't panic.

What the fuck? Doesn't he KNOW me? Of course I panic. I just do it QUIETLY.

I'm actually pretty laid back. Until I'm not. And somewhere on the bus, rolling in the darkness trying to live on water and fruit pilfered from the free "Continental Breakfast" that morning, It wasn't working. I like fruit, don't get me wrong... even semi-not-quite moldy fruit. At a short stop, somewhere between Butte and Spokane -- the first transfer point -- I decided to buy what was traditionally a favorite traveling junk food:

Combos. Pretzel and cheese. None of the fake flavored shit.

It wasn't until I started eating them that I realized there was a very real possibility that I was eating something infected, in some way, with peanuts. 


So I stopped eating, chugged some water, and waited to die.

My eyes were getting heavy, but I didn't want to go to sleep. I was waiting for signs of the rash to kick into high gear, for my throat to close, or for my head to swell.  Kap was texting me regularly, Jewish mother that he is, making sure I didn't asphyxiate in the dead of night in the back of a bus. I ended up having to turn off my phone, though, because the battery was draining entirely too fast. There was no one sitting next to me; so, in the event that I DID die alone in the dark on a Greyhound bus that had no outlets for me to plug in my cell ... in the event that I wanted to make any last minute gasping phone calls or listen to my favorite song before I kicked off.

I woke up when the bus driver announced that we were pulling into Spokane. I felt my face. 

Would I be able to tell if my eyes were nearly swollen shut?

I figured that if I couldn't tell that one of the women on the bus, upon seeing my Elephant Man visage, would scream in horror.

No one said a word.

The bus schedule was such that I only had 10 minutes. That gave me time to piss and look at my face in the bathroom mirror.

I still looked like me. I walked down to the handicapped stall, closed and locked the door, set my pack in a corner and pulled down my pants to check the rash.

It was fine. 

I took another look at the rash. The redness on my knees was fading and I noticed the tiny little bites centered on my right knee, coming down from my leg, near where the ragged hem of my boxers sat.


Bed bugs. Before Butte I spent a couple of days in an affordable (cheap with hourly, daily, and weekly rates) motel in Rapid City -- The Lewis and Clark Inn. The Lewis and Clark in is the sort of place where you don't have to worry about using a black light to check for disgusting things on the bed covers; you're better off assuming they're there and being very careful about removing them. There was also no need to worry about the temperature of the room, since the central air didn't work. There was also no need to worry about the television being too loud, since the volume button was broken, and no need to worry about setting the drapes on fire since there weren't any.

But it was a smoking room. 

I must've been bitten in my sleep. 

The nice thing about traveling on the cheap is that you occasionally run into indigenous wildlife: cops, drug dealers, hookers,  bed bugs. Roaches, even. No roaches at the Lewis and Clark, thank gawd. No cops, either, from what I noticed. I assumed the others without looking for them.

By the time I got to Eugene, I was exhausted. I walked off the bus and into the station. Kap was leaning against the door frame of the Pearl Street exit... as far as I could tell, the only exit there was... looking like he needed to smoke a cigarette. We greeted one another:

Me: "You really ARE swarthy aren't you?"

Kap: "I thought you'd be shorter."

He handed me a cup of lukewarm gas station coffee and an apple. Then we walked out to the minivan, where Becca was waiting. Before we pulled off into the afternoon streets of Eugene, Oregon, Kap turned around and gave me something else to eat:

a small bag of salted peanuts.

28 May, 2012

Homo Viator (The Westward Expanse): The Rash, Part 1

'Tis healthy to be sick sometimes. -- Henry David Thoreau

A thick skin is a gift from God. -- Konrad Adenauer

Traveling can teach you to be calm, how to handle things, and what you can and can't handle. At the onset, it's not unusual to feel hearty; to feel, on some level, like you can handle most anything. You feel some kinship to the settlers, sojourners, pilgrims, and travelers of old. You realize that there are some things you can't plan for; but you also know... you know, like you know what your belly button lint smells like, that you can handle anything.

There's also quite a bit about traveling that feast or famine. When you have money, you let yourself live a bit more comfortably. Plan it out, be thrifty, be cheap, whatever...  it's important to make what nickles and dimes you have stretch a bit more, last a little longer. This means ferreting out the cheapest accommodations possible. It may mean, depending on your background, adjusting what you consider to be your minimum requirements. But it's also important to allow yourself a the comfort of a bed when you can.

 (Note: if room service is something you require, you are not a traveler. You're a tourist. If, on the other hand, you consider having not to share a communal shower a luxury -- hell, if you consider having any shower at all a luxury -- you're a bit closer to what it means to be Out and About.)

By the time I reached Butte, I was past thinking about the Lewis and Clark Inn (with NEWLY RENOVATED ROOMS... and if you believe that I have some water front properties on Mars for sale) and focused on what was ahead of me... Butte. I wasn't sure where I was going to sleep, but I had faith in my ability to find affordable accommodations.

After arriving in Butte, and finding shelter -- which cost me more than I wanted to pay, and more than I really could have afforded -- I had to rush and settle in for Grindbone Narrowcast 52. After the narrow cast, I stripped out of my road clothes, turned on the television, and tried to relax a bit before trying to do some writing and go to sleep.

I was stretched out on the bed in my boxers, flipping through channels and trying to find The Weather Channel, when I noticed my that my legs. Specifically my knees. They were red. Rash red. And the rash -- or whatever it was had spread up the inside of my legs.

Now, keep in mind. I don't get rashes. I had bad allergies when I was a kid... or, at least, an asthma doctor convinced my parents that everything from pollen and dust to X my stuffed owl and the carpet in my bedroom could kill me. But I've never had odd reactions to any food, to scents, shampoos, deodorants, fabrics, cleansers, or anything. Ever. My eventually-to-be ex's step-mother is hypersensitive to chemicals and dyes in everything from perfume to deodorant, and handled it by learning to make her own using plants from her garden.

(That shit, works, by the way. The problem is that we're a culture that so afraid of germs, so inoculated from what people smell like -- the dizzying impact of pheromones, the musky sweaty odors that are as much a proof of our humanity as the opposable thumb and enlarged pre-frontal lobe -- that we mistake something sensual for something sick, and something necessary to our existence... because gradual exposure to germs does actually help build resistance to those germs... as food and shelter.)

But I'm not someone who HAS that sort of toxic sensitivity. I couldn't think of where I got rash. The first thing I did was go and take a shower, making sure to clean the area of the rash. That seemed to help.

That didn't tell me where the rash came from though. I began by thinking about what changes have occurred in my life.

My residential status is a given. But that, in and of itself, means nothing.

I thought about my diet.  Traveling as I've been doing has impacted my diet. Although I try and make sure to get at least one  solid meal a day when I'm in one place for more than a day, when I'm in between I limit myself to liquids, crackers, and trail mix.

Trail mix. Trail mix.


I'm not sure how the idea of a peanut allergy occurred to me. Like I said, I'm not allergic to food. I don't like beets, and I suspect that eating them might kill me in some existential sense. But I'm not ALLERGIC to them.

What the fuck am I going to eat if I can't eat trail mix? 

A peanut allergy could unhinge a lot of things. A LOT. It would mean having to pay more to find something to eat... especially since nearly everything either has peanuts in it or is made with some derivative of peanuts. Even a lot of potato chips are made using peanut oil.

I was also worried about maybe some contact infection. Maybe the detergent the motel used to wash the sheets. This made me paranoid to lay down, even though I was exhausted. All I could do was sit in a chair, which, thankfully, had arms on it, and try and relax. I've slept sitting up on buses, after all, right? This should be easy, right?

I forced myself to stay awake and make sure that I was still breathing, that some come from behind respiratory problem wasn't going to kill me.

How would that play out?

Anonymous Homeless Man [REDUNDANT] Found Dead in Motel Room, Clutching a Book of Rumi and Holding a Bag of Peanuts.

I dismissed that thought almost as soon as it entered my head. Silly vagabond. Headlines are for important people.

25 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) Look for me in Butte

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. - Proverbs 4:7

Tell me, O Swami of the water, what is the essence of life? BORROWED, saith he.  - William Least Heat-Moon

Street corner in Livingston, MT
It's snowing in Butte this morning. Most of my winter experience has been thankfully mild; some biting winds in D.C., Norfolk, and New York, a slight dusting in Ashland, KY. Lots of rain and threats of rain, this weather chasing me all over the country.  Every once in a while it catches up to me, and here, it seems, the weather has. But it's also going to be all of 40 degrees today... so warm enough for the snow not to stick. But annoying enough that I'll notice when I walk to the bus station in a few hours.

I'm here, waiting until the last minute to check out, under the watchful gaze of Our Lady of the Rockies, in the foothills of the Continental Divide. The further west you go -- regardless of whether you're in the northern part of the continent or in the southwest -- the landscapes become incredibly stark, lovely, and potentially unforgiving. One of the differences, though, is that people generally move to the desert ... especially southern Arizona ... with the intention -- whether they know it or not -- of erasing it. Erasing it with irrigation keeping grass that has no business in the East Valley alive. Erasing it with cement, with strip malls, with neon lights. Erasing what they think is nothing and replacing it with what truly is nothing.

In the northern part -- South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana in particular -- there's a pervading sense that if anything is going to get erased, it is people. The landscape between the towns and cities stretch into an illusory infinity, running out to greet a horizon that seems so close, yet so far away. Close enough to touch, but just far enough away to keep you moving forward.

Erasure -- or attempts at it -- comes in many forms. In this part of the country its come in the form of mining, of logging, and commercialization. The view from my hotel window demonstrates this as clear as anything. The highway (that brought me here and that will take me hence); gas stations, over-priced hotels (like this one), store front casinos, quickie marts. Beyond that commercialization coalescing around interstate exits and by-passes, on the left, is an old strip mine that's now a quarry. To the left: the mountains, reaching up through the low lying condensation that is evaporating into low lying clouds that will  keep the temperature cool and threaten rain for the rest of the day.

Sometimes erasure happens quickly. Most of the time, it doesn't. That human beings have more or less perfected the process (Biological and nuclear weapons, for example. Clear cutting forests, taking the top off mountains, and pollution are others.) doesn't change the fact that erasure is, in some ways a natural process. Erosion is a form of erasure. Ice ages. Volcanic eruptions. The slight tiling of the Earth's axis. The slow burning out of the sun. The big bang. The expanding and contracting universe. 

There's a real sense of gradual change in the west that's more obvious than in the east. The east coast is littered with towns and cities that worship their history -- a history washed with sentimentalism and driven by commercialism. Classic architecture butting up against cold modern and post modern design, architecture destroyed for the sake of preservation. The west has this mix of stubbornness in the face of inevitable change, historical revision in the name of commercial greed and tourism, and an underlying apathy about engaging with the world at all. That's not uncommon in rural areas. Farmers are, for the most part, stoic people who do what they do because it's what they've always done... and they will only change when it's clear what they do no longer works. Or when they're not given a choice. 

The Socialist Hall on Harrison Ave in Butte, built in 1916.
Butte is a city full of history... early mining and foresting, a history of unionism and radicalism... that is being erased as part of the drive to make it a tourist destination. The Socialist Hall on Harrison Avenue is one such example. I'd be willing to bet the building is listed on some historical register, otherwise some All Too Patriotic American would have lobbied to have it torn down. And since it couldn't be torn down, and the VFW wouldn't move into, someone did the next best thing. 

In T.S. Eliot at 101, Cynthia Ozick says that "knowledge -- saturated in historical memory -- is displaced by information, of memory without history: data." She wrote that in 1989; and if it was true then (I believe it was) it's more than true now. We're losing history to data, memory to information. 

The worst part of this kind of erasure -- the tragedy of it all -- is that while it is avoidable... we can choose to pay attention, we can choose to see, we can choose memory over information and history over data... it seems we're too busy trying to figure out how to be copy other people's lives and call that happiness.  We forget the important lessons and remember the transitory ones.

I have had to remember this myself. It's a wonderfully soulful realization.

Thanks for reading!   If you like what you read:

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  2. Donate to the Travel Fund. It helps me pay for cheap shelter when I'm between couches, for nourishment. Thanks to those who have donated (gawd bless!) and thanks to those who will. 

23 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) - Leaving Rapid City

A fire has risen above my tombstone hate.
I don't want learning, or dignity,
or respectability. -- Rumi

Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, and from the opening of my lips will come right things. - Proverbs 8:6

A beacon in the night... that wasn't as far a hoof as Super 8
Thanks to some welcome movement in the Travel Fund  (gawd bless!) I was able to afford a room The Lazy U Motel. After a few beers and getting some directions from a baby-faced blonde bartender who didn't get a Pete Rose reference (there was a picture of him, from his Big Red Machine Days, right behind her above the beer taps) and who used The Glenlivet to mix a concoction meant to make another patron puke, I left and walked up Mt. Rushmore Avenue towards a motel. My original intention had been to stay at a Super 8... cheapish with free WiFi.

I was glad I stopped at the Lazy U. Cindy and Verlyn cut me a break by letting stay one night and then switching rooms while letting me pay single rate for a double room.

Apparently, in addition to being the largest city nearest to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills, Rapid City is also known as The City of Presidents. To prove this fact, they have bronze statues of past Presidents on street corners downtown. I found William H. Taft standing on a corner in front of an Irish Pub.

(This version of him is the kinder, gentler version. Other than being from Cincinnati, the only thing that made Taft at all remarkable is that he's remembered for getting stuck in a bath tub.)

I noticed one other thing about Rapid City:

Now, if you have any experience at all with casinos... in Vegas, Atlantic City, the res casinos near Phoenix... you haven't had experience with these kinds of places. Apparently in the part of the country, all you need to open a casino is a storefront and a snappy marketing campaign.

Now I'm not above laying a bet... anyone who knows me knows I love the horses, and I'm not afraid of a blackjack table. Casinos and hospitals are made to suck people in; these storefront casinos were all up and down Mt. Rushmore Street, like dingy toadstools.

Of course, you should give people what they want, I suppose. So it's hard to know which came first... lonely old ladies with pension checks or the casinos that open their arms to them, their money, their loneliness.

I was hoping to visit the Black Hills... because I wanted to get away. Away from the cement, away from the strip malls and storefront casinos. It's hard for me to embrace the commercialism littering the landscape -- and the principals underlying it -- when I run into people time and again who are riding across country, just trying to survive.

I checked out of the motel and walked downtown. I was going to go back to Sanford's and drink dollar beer, but I came across the Oasis Lounge. I decided to stop in and have a drink.

The place was dead; but it was also 2 in the afternoon. On the other hand, that meant it was 5 pm in Kentucky and well past cocktail hour. The Oasis is a dive bar gone classy... sort of. Round green bar stools growing out of the ground, private tables for more intimate conversations, and pool tables with worn but well cared for felt. The bartender was a tired old biker wearing a Sturgis
pen on his leather vest. He walked like he was in a lot of pain, but he poured a full shot of bourbon and didn't pay me much mind at first.

After the second round he sat down, holding his coffee cup like a Jewish Refuge. He started talking about a documentary watched the previous night about the shooting of Ronald Reagan. We talked about the shooting -- I remember it, watching it being replayed on the nightly news. Even as a kid I knew that Reagan was a lousy President -- there was far too much proof around me of the failure of trickle down economics --  but I also realized, even then, that shooting anyone... a President or anyone else... because you didn't like their point of view (or because you think an actress is telling you to because you're fucking crazy)... didn't make any sense.

This is a school yard lesson. Someone hits you because they don't like something about you. You hit back. Somebody wins. Somebody loses. Nothing changes except your knuckles are sore and you may have a black eye.

I guess it's fair to say I considered pacifism as a logical approach before I even really understood what it meant.

Never underestimate the thoughtfulness of crusty old bastards. Jerry -- that's the bartender's name -- went on about Reagan, but not in a way that led me to believe he was on the bandwagon to deify him. We talked about Nixon going to China and about how the only reason that happened was because of Kissinger -- who was too smart to ever want to be President.

We even talked about the current GOP and Mitt Romney a bit. I mentioned, as I usually do, that I think Romney has very Presidential hair... and that he makes more sitting on his ass than most of the people I know make in a year. (Some, in two years.)

"Yeah," Jerry said. "I'm probably gonna go with the black kid again. At least with him I know what to expect."

It doesn't take brains to be President of the United States. As a matter of fact, all it really takes is enough money, and having smart people around you. Falling within the statistical parameters of what robber baron marketeers call good looking helps, too. 

Jerry, who's originally from California, told about his childhood friend, Tom. Tom didn't have any money growing up. He'd come over, Jerry said, to go to the movies -- Jerry had a brand new Corvette in high school -- and his mom (Jerry's) would ask Tom how much money his mother gave him for the movie. He'd say he had a dollar -- which was what the movie cost. Jerry's mom would then say, "Well, I gave Jerry $10," and she'd reach into her purse and give the kid a sawbuck.

"We'd get out to the car," he said, shaking his and laughing, "and I say, ' You son of a bitch!' and he says 'What?' And I say 'You walked into the house with less money than I do and walk out with a dollar more!"

He laughed, but the laugh petered out into a sad silence. "She always liked him better."

Jerry went on to tell me his friend Tom is now one of the largest land developers in California and is worth 175 million dollars.

"And you know his secret?"

"No," I said. "What?"

"Don't play the stock market."

As much as I wanted to stay, keep downing shots of  Kentucky bourbon, and talk to Jerry, I wanted to make sure my ride out of Rapid City was lined up. I also needed to eat something... which I hadn't gotten around to yet. That meant another run through at Sanford's for a few dollar pints and some chili cheese fries... one of those all around good foods that nearly covers all the major greasy food groups. Then I walked over to the bus station and checked on my bus, got my boarding pass and still had time to kill.

I knew they were cops because they were trying to hard to look like they weren't. One of them was wearing a dark blazer that was an attempt to cover either a radio, a gun, or both.

The bus was 15 minutes late rolling in, but since part of 1-90 was an orange barrel obstacle course, that didn't surprise me. The cop in the jacket spoke to me. "Wait until everyone's off to get on the bus."

"I will," I said. "I've done this before."

"Well..." he said, "something's going to be happening."

The person they were waiting for was one of the last off the bus. He was maybe 4 and half feet tall, maybe Mexican. The cop in the black coat shook his and clamped the cuffs on. He seemed to be expecting the reception.

So did his baby mama, Sasquatch. She was a good half inch taller than me, with a football player's shoulders and huge hands. I double-checked for an adam's apple. There wasn't one. She looked exhausted, and the heavy make slathered on her Native American features was staring to fade and run. The baby looked tiny against her. She walked over to the cop car with the cops and watched them go through her bags.

They weren't finished yet when it was time to board the bus. As we pulled away, they were digging through every pocket and spreading everything on the hood of the car.

22 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) : The Adventures of Cletus the Dog Man

Manage Your Wildlife: Wear Fur -- (billboard 25 miles from Wall, South Dakota)

"The only reason Gary Snyder ate that shit was because Kerouac wrote about it in a book." - Outlaw Brother ABD Dave Jones on eating trail mix.

There was a fog settled over metro Minneapolis on the morning I dragged Dave and Jamie tired out of their bed to haul my ass to the Greyhound station on Hawthorne Ave -- strategically located near the baseball stadium and the fairly upscale digs belong to the Starvation Army.

I always end up thinking about the old Joe Hill song, The Preacher and The Slave. It's also been called Pie in the Sky. Here's a recording of me singing some of it. No, I think I'm a singer. No, I don't pretend to be. I know plenty of musicians. 
But a song is only a revolutionary song if you sing it yourself.

They were, however, out, with tables set up, giving coffee and donuts to the city's homeless. I understand that that even try and use more money for outreach than for administrative costs these days.

I didn't sleep much the night before departure, thinking about what was next to come. I was hoping to be able to see the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. Rapid City is 20 miles from both of these touristy juggernauts, and neither is really all that accessible unless I A) want to walk, B)I want to pay for some touristy bus tour that will annoy me 3) try and hitch; and since I scared the crap out of a coffee barista this morning -- when I walked in JUST to buy a cup of coffee -- chances are that my hair mug will not inspire some kind driver to take a chance on a hairy Irish mug in a silly hat.

The trip here on the bus, however, had it's own interesting merits. I slept most of the way to Sioux Falls, where we stopped to change drivers and pick up new more passengers heading west, heading toward the route's final destination, Billings, Montana. (Billings is the transfer depot for all points west on this particular route.)

We stopped in Jackson Minnesota for a food break. It was a Burger King. I didn't want to eat fast food, but I wasn't sure when I'd get another shot at a meal, and I for sure wanted a cup of coffee. I ended up getting a medium coffee and a breakfast burrito. It was still chilly. Standing outside of the BK eating my burrito, a girl walked out holding a frappe'. She got on the bus with me in Minneapolis... only there, she was wrapped in a large pink blanket. Cute girl. Short, shapely, tired looking. Shoulder length dark hair, tied back. Pale skin.

"I was gonna smoke," she said hugging herself... she was wearing an over sized black t-shirt and black stretchy pants... "but forget that." And she headed back for the bus. I overheard later that she was trying to get to Billings because her boyfriend dropped her off in St. Louis and kidnapped her son.

When we stopped at Sioux Falls,  we picked up about a dozen or so people. A lot of them looked like they were headed for L.A. Among them were

Cletus the Dog Man and His Crazy Wife.

When it was time to reboard the bus, Cletus called out that he and his seeing eye dog should've been first in line. I looked, of course, to see if there was something to his complaint. Cletus wore a beat up black leather jacket, jeans, a thermal with a Sturgis design on it, and had a ball cap jammed down around his eyes. Shaggy hair. grayish blonde. He honestly could've been my age or a few years older. His wife was bony, sallow-faced, and nervous. faded blonde hair, almost colorless blue eyes. She had the look of someone who had been beaten down in this and in probably other past lives... the compound interest of abuse was etched into her, gave her a jumpy junkie demeanor.

The dog was a beautiful tan and white mix boxer mix. He was collared and leashed, clearly loved, and clearly trained.

But he was not a seeing eye dog. And Cletus wasn't blind. Without my glasses, I'm more blind than he was.

That didn't stop them from insisting themselves onto the far back bench by claiming to be disabled.

When we pulled out of Sioux City, the driver informed us that we were 15 minutes behind "on a tight schedule." There would be one food stop in Oacoma, just over the Missouri River. Ostensibly, that meant only one place to smoke.

I take my smoke breaks carefully. I smoke a pipe, and when I can afford them, cigarillos, and I want to enjoy the creature comfort. I was content to wait until the food break to smoke. Cletus and his wife would have none of it; and they found an ally in the shapely dark haired girl who's boyfriend left her in St, Louis and took her son to Billings.

"When we gonna stop for a smoke?" Cletus started quietly, trying to build up crowd support. 10 years ago, that sort of thing would have worked but there weren't a lot of smokers on the bus and the ones that were had no desire to make a fuss over it.  He'd crescendo to a point... but seeing that no one else was taking up the banner, he's settle back into making smart ass remarks about bus drivers and power trips. The Crazy Wife would cackle at his remarks.

When they couldn't smoke, they would bicker and sometimes Cletus' wife would say things like "You get out  of my head! Get out! Out!" Or stomp her feet. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, shaking like she was going through withdrawal.

By the time broke the boundary of the Missouri and pulled into Oacoma, Cletus's nicotine fit reached a near fever pitch. I let them get off the bus first to avoid being accused of keeping them from their smoke break.

There was an Arby's in the small travel plaza we stopped at, and everyone who had money -- including the cute blonde Brit in front of me who was suffering from post-break up trauma... reading He's Just Not That Into You (with the movie cover), and repeatedly looking at pictures of her with some muscled guy on her smart phone. She wore the engagement ring on the middle finger of her left hand, and would look at it and play with it. I'd see her in side relief sometimes... she laid the seat back just a little and she was sitting diagonal and in front of me... and she looked so sad. Sometimes sad. Sometimes angry. Sometimes she would fire off long texts. I told myself she was writing another break up book. The thought made me a little sad. I wanted to tell her it didn't matter, that hearts heal and life moves on. But I would've wanted to smack the shit out of someone if they had told me that in January when I set out. 

I didn't want to eat Arby's ... didn't want to spend the money. So I bought a bottle of water and bag of fruit and nut trail mix from the gas station convenience store. That left me time to smoke, so I stood out near the bus, facing the westward sun on the horizon, and lit a cigar. No one spoke to me. I tried to empty my thoughts, focus on breathing. I'm not one to sit and meditate in the sense that monks meditate. I do like to find moments during my day, though, to focus on my breathing and try and center my thoughts. This is not the easiest thing to do; we've made  life  into something complex, full of noise. Full of other people's noise. Full of other people's obligations, full of society's obligations.

Fuck all that.

Standing in the setting sun, I enjoyed the cigar smoke in my mouth blowing out into the South Dakota air. My thoughts turned to people I love and who love me. Then it was time to board the bus and keep going.

Somewhere around Wall, it became clear that the bus wasn't going to stop until Rapid City. Cletus started commenting about need a smoke break. He wasn't even trying to get the rest of the passengers involved. He was trying to cajole the driver into stopping... which never works. I thought about telling him about the time I watched a bus driver throw an obnoxious vodka drunk off in the middle of New Mexico... left him in the middle of the damn desert with his near empty bottle and his luggage.

Somehow, I didn't think Cletus would take it as a parable.

By the time we got to Rapid City, Cletus was threatening to let his dog... that he said needed to take a walk... piss on the bus. His wife was telling him to get out of her head, that she didn't need him. They were trying to figure out a place to stay in Rapid City, and they called her mom to look up cheap motels on the internet. But she didn't want to call her mom, didn't want to talk to her mom, didn't want any kind of god damned thing from her mom, and she threatened to leave Cletus just for calling her.

When we pulled into the station, I let them get off the bus first. The dog, rather than acting like he had to piss, was the best behaved of all three.

The first thing I saw when I got off the bus was a sign advertising $1 pints, all day every day. Deciding instantly that was where I was going to go, I wanted to check the station to see if there was some information about the city, something to help me get my bearings.

I remembered passing an old house just outside of Rapid City proper with a sign on it reading Friendship House; but I couldn't find it in a phone book. No listing for a homeless shelter, either.

Maybe the beer would clear my head and give me an epiphany.

As I walked over, I heard someone call out to me. "Hey Brother!"

I turned. It was Cletus. He was sitting on a ledge, surrounded by some bags, with the dog. His wife was nowhere to be found.  went over and talked to him, smoked a cigar. He didn't have a lighter that worked, so I gave him a box of matches. He told me that he and his wife were traveling, looking for work.He was from L.A. She was from North Carolina. They happened to get off the bus in Rapid City and got a line on a job working Sturgis for Bike Week. He asked what I was doing; I told him I was traveling around.

"If you're looking for work, man," he said. "Pop a squat. We're waiting on a ride now."

His wife walked back from a Mexican restaurant across the street; she'd managed to score a free meal from the kitchen. She eyed me suspiciously, was very careful about her food. She made mention of being pregnant. The thought of it turned my stomach a little. She was too skinny to be as far along as she claimed. If she was pregnant, I felt awful for the child. Not so much because of her condition. She looked strung out; but hunger can do that to.

Sometimes the face of hunger is worse than the face of withdrawal.

I left them there, waiting for their ride to Sturgis. I hope they made it. 

21 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse): Minneapolis Proper Part 2

(For Liz Frazier, since she asked)

From the sundry cast of supporting characters that will tell you all you need to know about Minneapolis...

Nurse Dropsy is on the high end of middle age. Post-menopausal in the way that she probably doesn't need to shave her chin and upper lip every day yet, but soon will be -- or, if she isn't, working daily with aged has made her so.short cropped hair, more salt than pepper, and large, thick glasses lend to her friendly disposition. There is something matronly about her disposition, and something bizzare about the fact that in spite of the supposedly germ free necessity of her work, I can't help but imagine her as the kind of person who, when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, puts way too much jelly on it and ends up licking her fingers and staining her clothes.

The oddest thing about her, however, was not that she dropped a needle and pillow case... since the other nurse, on one occasion, dropped the entire IV basket, essentially contaminating empty blood vials, letting unused needles, swabs, etc, fly, only to let the mess sit for at least 45 minutes.... no, Nurse Dropsy was NOT the the clumsiest nurse I've seen.

She did, however, seem to have difficulty trying to find the right vein in Jamie's arm.

Now, I realize that phlebotomy is not, interestingly enough, an exact science. As easy as it sounds to take a needle and stick it in a vein, it's not. Veins roll. They close. some people (like your humble narrator) have veins in one arm that simply don't want to get stuck.

That little sucker doesn't want to get stuck, does it?
To be honest, I think my body reacts with a fight or flight response when it comes to needles. I'm convinced the blood tubes in my right arm bury themselves deeper whenever a potential needle is detected. Really. And I'm not all that scared of needles. I had to take allergy shots once a week between the ages of 5 and 17. I was a pin cushion.

But it's also true that giving a shot and inserting an IV are not exactly the same. Had Jamie been there to simply get a shot, I suspect that Nurse Dropsy would've stuck her hit the plunger and would have been done with it. 

Inserting the IV became more of a gopher hunt though... think Bill Murray in Caddyshack. Now, to be fair, she didn't so much stick Jamie over and over again as much as she inserted the needle and moved it around under the skin. And she did it with the same sort of chipper demeanor with which June Cleaver would vacuum under a rug. 

It did work out though. And while I have more damning medical stories to tell... that will have to be saved for another time. Maybe the book... if there ever is one. 

This blog post is dedicated to Poor Richard's Common House in Bloomington, MN... which is clearly a magnet for the LGBT community. God bless Lesbians in short denim shorts and cowboy boots, and the women who like that as much as I do. It's also dedicated to Dr. Eyebrows, who took good care of my friend Jamie while she was under the knife.

This post is also heartily dedicated to the unnamed, unknown, Creepy Culvert Masturbator of Richardson Nature Reserve. Now, chances are good,  that toupee cheap sunglasses wearing guy pulling his acid washed jeans up behind a tree near a culvert within view of a small beach where children and women in bikinis were was simply getting a blow job. With available restrooms so close, it's unlikely he was taking piss. But Creepy Culvert Masturbator sounds better than Creepy Culvert Blow Job Recipient. (And, depending on your preferences and who was catching, it could also sound like an award.)


I made it to Rapid City, SD where my next post or two will be from. From there, a bus to Billings, Montana. 

A HEARTY thanks to Dave and Jamie Jones, along with their cats Tyger, Double Stuff, and Squeakie, for putting up with me. Love you guys... in that Outlaw sort of way.

And remember, if you like what you read:

  2. CONSIDER A DONATION TO THE TRAVEL FUND. (Although I have my mode of travel for the next few months hammered out with my DISCOVERY PASS, I sometimes end up in places that have no 24 hour bus stations, shelters, Dorthy Day Houses, or Friendship Houses.... Rapid City USED to have one, but they shut it down. Too disturbing for the tourists... which means that I have to find cheap motel accommodation for a night or two. All donations are appreciated, as are offers of a couch for the night. I promise I'm a good house guest, I pick up after myself, and, unless I've been in a bus station for a few days, am reasonably clean. Pets usually like me, and I'm good with kids. )

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) -Minneapolis Proper, Part 1

It's all one long story, and we're all in it. And the best we can hope for is that it's well told. - Utah Phillips

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. - 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It had been more than a few years and seeming lifetimes since I'd spent any time around Dave and Jamie. Melissa and I went to visit them at their house in Owensboro maybe a year after their marriage. Dave stood as Best Man at mine and Melissa's wedding in Pigeon Forge, TN in 2002; I was happy to be able to attend his wedding in Gatlinburg, TN in 2004. Dave and I lived together my last semester of graduate school at Morehead State University... a formerly grand old institution that's limping it's way into 21st Century mediocrity that neither appreciates literary talent, nor, as far as I can tell, fosters it unless it can find a way to make a fast buck or unless it can find a way to take credit for the sweat of heretofore under-appreciated scribblers. Jamie was finishing her teaching degree. I actually met her first. We got along so well I thought it was a good idea to meet her boyfriend, this Eastern Kentucky mixture between T.S. Eliot and Robert Johnson.

I call him Hermano. He has yet to correct me.

They were happy to see me and kindly allowed me to make use of their shower and didn't scrub the passenger seat of their SUV while I was awake to notice.

One of the nice things about visiting old friends is that there's no pressure to entertain, which is nice. I don't want any of my friends to feel like they have to go out of their way. Allowing me a few days solace, a comfortable bed, and good and quiet company.

My timing, to begin with, was, as usual, SPOT ON.

Turns out that Jamie was scheduled to go into the hospital for a Hysteroscopy. In order to undergo THAT surgery, however, she had to go to a different hospital three different times for a drip infusion of iron.

You know. Iron. Mineral. Rust colored. Well, more like espresso. The IV bag looked like it was full of really strong espresso. Apparently, the infusion of iron is one of the newer treatments for anemia. Used to be, they'd just do a whole body blood transfusion... which also takes a couple of hours. 

Now, of course I tagged along.. because there's nothing so exciting as visiting a hospital, with that wonderful odoriferous cocktail of bleach, old urine, and death permeating everything and the promise of coffee flavored like burnt water mixed with brown food coloring.

One of the things about Minneapolis, apparently, is that there are so many medical specialties available here -- in a city that has clearly been subjected to arduous post east-coast city sprawl urban planning -- that they can spread them out to various hospitals.

The upside is, of course, that you can -- if you are able to afford it, of course -- have access to doctors and medical staff that specialize in your particular dreaded illness. 

The downside -- you might also run into Nurse Dropsy*

The primary RN at the blood infusion unit was incredibly kind, with a wonderful bedside manner. She was clearly used to dealing with older patients and with those undergoing chemotherapy. Now, I appreciate a good bedside manner... mostly because I HATE the medical profession, and every little bit helps in soothing my general discomfort with doctors, nurses, hospitals, doctor's offices, urgent cares, emergency rooms, and  those blood pressure machines in larger drug store chains and Wal-Mart.  

But when you're going with an old friend -- who is none too excited about the prospect of having to sit and watch a mineral drip through an IV into her arm -- the thing you don't want to here is


That's right. First it was a needle, which she (luckily) didn't use. Later she dropped a pillow case. (Again, she didn't use it; but the cackle that accompanied both accidents was as disconcerting as the weird stretch pants  and tucked in men's polo shirt she was wearing instead of scrubs.

But to be fair... she dealt primarily with geriatric patients who were more concerned about pissing themselves than they were about pissing themselves in general company.

18 May, 2012

Pictogram (Sunset Over Ames, Iowa): A Poem

The land is still flat, brown,
not scorched but overturned, overused,
a little too loved and a little to abused
until finally it is pummeled down into dust
even Adam's God wouldn't recognize.

Clouds float atop the stratosphere
like algae atop of a pond
where the water is too polluted to drink.

The sun bleeds out like a christ on the horizon,
puddles of orange and red and blue and purple
oozing an oil spill across the sky.
From this distance, no one hears the sobbing,
and the tears are mistaken for spring dew.

In this America, some sacrifices are necessary
even at the expense of heat and light.

Next to the interstate, three baby doe nibble on our remains.
Accustomed as they are to headlights,
they fail to notice the spotlight and the pooling of blood
that looks like water in the liquid darkness.

17 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) - Travel Hungover, Part 3: Minneapolis

Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine -- they are the life, the soul of reading... -Laurence Stern, Tristram Shandy

There are better places for a layover (than Des Moines, IA) -Anita Ross

About 4 miles from the Iowa Minnesota border.
The bus left Kansas City mostly empty and stayed that way for the entire trip. And it was a longish bus trip, too. Leaving out of KC at around 2:45 in the afternoon, I didn't disembark in Minneapolis, Minnesota until 10:30 that night.

There were plenty of stops, of course, including a half hour layover in Des Moines, Iowa. And while we lost people and gained people as the bus -- a Jefferson Bus Lines Rocket Rider -- made its way through the Midwestern afternoon, evening and night.

Most people who don't know any better tend to lump the Ohio Valley in with the Midwest. These are, of course, the some of the same people who insist on lumping Appalachia in with the South and who continue to believe that Barack Obama is Muslim. But it's important to take an opportunity, Dear Readers, to embrace educational moments and point out that southern Ohio -- the land that spawned me -- is about as Midwestern as Michelle Bachmann is a reasonable, intelligent human being.

Medically proven cure for erections lasting more than 4 hours.

I'm assuming here that everyone has played that childhood game Which Of These Is Not Like The Others... which is related to another game, sometimes called The Memory Game. This last game, however, is not often played, even in Sunday School classes, since it's clear that memory is something most people (tragically) lack in this country.

While there are some similar characteristics... a rampant sort of stoicism that, like memory, is fading into globby goopy puddles of pig sweat and desperation... this has more to do with an agricultural backbone than geography. I grew up in the aftermath of a fading agricultural heritage in The Rust Belt,where family farms were split up and sold, parceled into half acre lots for concentric houses sprouting like rotten lettuce on the landscape. 

America's Breadbasket -- long a misnomer since the replacement of agriculture with agribusiness,  with no bread being made. No; it's all corn syrup  and cattle feed and legally patented genetically modified corn seeds that are quickly undoing the slow evolutionary process that made corn such a hearty crop. No, it's not that stoic farmer that makes the Midwest unique... though that stoicism is something unique in all and of itself. 

What makes the Midwest so different from every other place is the land itself, and the story it tells. 

I was hoping to make it through the central part of the country: Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado. Time and situation have turned me northward, so that when I leave Minnesota, I will be heading west through South Dakota, then Montana.  People tell me Kansas is flat and Wyoming is unending. But that's part of what makes the Midwest so... well... Midwestern. The large, seemingly endless tracts of flat land punctuated by mountains, by hills, by rivers. The tall grass, the rocks, the riverbeds, all contain stories and songs. The feet that have walked on them add to that story. And so do the tires. And the roads. 

Whether we like to admit it or not, our roots, as a species, are in movement.

Our ancestors, traced all the way back to the wide African plains, were nomadic. In that movement we added to the story, already being written and already in progress. We add ourselves. We build up, we fall, we persist. We exist as a country because people wanted to strike out. 

And no... not that bullshit about religious freedom we were taught as children, that myth of Manifest Destiny that haunts our civilization and makes us doers of terrible things. That was an interpretation that was added later. (Keep in mind, Dear Readers and those suffering from The Painfully Short Memory, that the Puritans DID NOT come to this continent looking for "religious freedom." They were running to avoid political and religious persecution... of a kind that they, themselves, committed against anyone who wasn't like them. Think about Oliver Cromwell

After the layover in Des Moines... a bus depot that wouldn't sell me a bottle of water because I only had my PayPal Debit card (tied to the Travel Fund, gawd bless those of you who have donated, are thinking of donating, or will donate in the future.) and no cold hard cash. And NO, Dear Ones, there wasn't even an ATM machine that attached an exorbitant extortionist fee to each transaction. 

But we did switch drivers in Des Moines, and, still with a more or less empty manifest, we made our way west out of corn country. There's nothing quite like twilight in the Midwest -- (not a badly written series of Mormon allegories thinly disguised as vampire fantasy fiction.) That time right before sunset when all the colors of the sun seem to unravel and spread out across the open sky in preparation for sunset. All the flatness can make you feel... for lack of a better word... exposed. There are no rolling hills to hide behind, no mountains for the clouds to perch a top of.  Some people I know from Eastern Kentucky tell me the Midwest makes them uncomfortable because of that sense of exposure. I don't blame them for feeling that way. And I suppose I can understand how a less poetic eye can look at the wide open space and see nothing... 

people have said as much about traveling on the ocean. I never have, but I've been around large enough bodies of water to know better.

Sunset in rural Minnesota is beautiful. There really is nothing like it anywhere else... smoldering sun, spectrums of orange and red and pink and blue and purple smoldering into a deep dark night.

Nearing the Minneapolis, I shifted in my seat, anticipating being able to get off the bus. When I did, I caught a smell that I thought, at first, was maybe 3 week old dead skunk. Then I caught another whiff. Then I remembered I hadn't showered since before leaving Louisville.

No wonder people had been avoiding me. On the other hand, it's good security, and I thought of T.J., a bum I met years ago on the Riverwalk in New Orleans. He stunk to high heaven and assured me that he had the best security for his knapsack.

Whenever he set it down, he puked around it in a single circle. He showed it to me by way of proof. Apparently, other than making tourists feel bad for having money, his other life skill was puking on demand.
Yep, the universe is a funny thing. Sometimes you're given just what you need.

By the time I made it Minneapolis, it was dark, and my friends Dave and Jamie were at the bus station to greet me.  

Of course, before I would hug them too closely, I insisted on a shower. I noticed, they didn't argue.

15 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) -Travel Hungover, Part 2: Kansas City

We know that all is impermanent; we know that everything wears out. Although we can buy this truth intellectually, emotionally we have a deep-rooted aversion to it. - Pema Chodron

A career is wonderful, but you can't curl up with it on a cold night. - 
Marilyn Monroe

Getting a few hours of sleep on that nearly deserted bus to Kansas City was almost as good as sex. (Almost.) I was so tired from the St. Louis Station that I didn't realize how tired I was. By the time the sun came up and the bus pulled into the station, I felt a little good enough that I wanted a cup of coffee and something to eat. 

The Kansas City Station was much smaller than St. Louis. There was a central waiting room, a restaurant, and the ticket counter. The interior was all white tile and blue highlights. There were a few people milling around, waiting for buses. The first thing I did was take a piss. The next thing I did was make a bee line for the restaurant for a cup of coffee and hoping to find something to eat that wasn't an overly expensive gastrointestinal nightmare.

Good Mood Food?  Finger Lickin' Good? You decide!

There's a fine line when you're eating on the road and on the cheap. And there are a few things to consider, beyond the obvious aversion to taking a dump in a rolling porta-potty. The first (and most obvious) thing to remember is that bus station food is overpriced. The second (and still probably most obvious) thing to remember is that if it's not cooked to order, it's probably been sitting for awhile.... especially the tuna and egg salad sandwiches.  The third thing ... which, if you're paying attention at all to what you eat, will be obvious... is that if it IS cooked to order, whatever food you're eating started the day in a freezer. And you probably don't want to think about what petri dish it began it's life in. 

But there's also the last, immutable fact of life on the road. At some point, to keep your strength and wits about you, you have to eat, since staying hydrated will only get you so far. So by all means, be aware of what you eat. But at some point, eat something.

The coffee was infinitely more important and the food merely an afterthought. Luckily, bus station shit slingers HAVE learned that some people feel much safer with fruit. My choice... nestled between the pre-made lunch meat and tuna salad sandwiches (each of which had a sticker indicating that they were prepared on Wednesday... which happened to be the day of the week... I thought. But there was no indication that it was THIS PARTICULAR Wednesday...) and the single serving bottles of whole, chocolate, and strawberry flavored milk, were some diminutive apples and shrunken oranges. An orange sounded good... Vitamin C, one of the great healers from Mother Nature's Kitchen, seemed like a good idea, even if the orange wasn't all that much to look at. They weren't rotting, and cost less than a dollar each. 


That orange and a large black coffee cost me just over $3.00. Standing in line to pay for my meal, I watched the older, tired, rotund black woman snap the heads off two customers who tried to pay with $20 bills; apparently she was low on change. One patron... who it seemed like was entirely too familiar with the bus station (It's true... you start to recognize your own after a while) tried to pay for a cup of coffee with a wrinkled up double-sawbuck. When she opened up a Tyler Perry style retribution on her (Yes. Really.) he then offered to buy a toy truck in order to increase the amount of the sale. She dismissed the toy and waved him off, not mentioning the coffee. 

(He later tried to tell her she took his money and never gave it back. But neither he nor the woman behind the counter were convinced and he stopped mid-con and wandered away.)

When I got to the register I paid for my small meal with $5... which garnered me a smile... and from the look of the smile, she apparently did not contort her mouth into that shape very often.

I took my time eating the orange. One, because peeling it took a bit of time and the skin was a little thicker than I would have liked. But I also made a point to eat the orange slowly because I wanted to enjoy it. Some pleasures are fast ones. Some are slow, and should be enjoyed thoroughly. An orange. A cup of coffee. 

Simple things. Not perfect. But in the context, not bad at all.

My next order of business was to find a place to charge my phone. As it turned out, the Kansas City Station planned for such an emergency and had installed a cell phone charging station... a tiled counter at the edge of the waiting area lined with electric outlets. And unlike the so-called "courtesy stations" at the St. Louis Depot, the outlets were actually good outlets. 

None of that hollowed out loosey-goosey plug feel that I have come to associate strongly with St. Louis.

After a while my phone was charged enough to use, so I checked my mail and messages. While I was doing that, a guy wearing a camo print hat and t-shirt asked if he could borrow my plug to charge his phone. He said he'd lost his. I let him, primarily because there's nothing worse than needing to get a call out and being unable to. His name was Mark.

Mark was from Minnesota... he assured me a rural part of the state, far from the hectic city life around Minneapolis/ St. Paul... and was on his way to St. Louis. He'd bought a ticket and was ready to board a bus several hours before; but his ticket was a standby ticket and the bus was full. He needed to call his friend... a buddy from home he was on his way to see.  Mark told me he traveled from the tundra in search of work. He was an out of work carpenter. He asked me what I was doing and where I was headed. I told him, quite honestly, that I wasn't entirely sure and that I  simply wanted to get out of St. Louis. This made him naturally leery, I think, because after his phone was charged enough for a call and after I didn't have any cigarettes to sell him, he wandered off.

While I was continuing to charge my phone, I looked at the chart outlining bus departure times and destinations. South to Dallas (NOOOOOO!) was an option. West to Minneapolis was also an option. Eastbound, back through St. Louis (HELL NO) was a consideration. 

The next bus to Minneapolis was scheduled to leave at 3:00pm. According to my watch, it was around 10:30 am. I had friends in Minneapolis... friends I had intended to visit on my return swing from Oregon. I considered piecing together a path to Phoenix, which, would have included... UGH.... Texas. I also considered maybe trying to get to Salt Lake City. (I've had a powerful urge to creep out some Mormons lately. I can only assume that it's some reaction to Mitt Romney's hair.) I messaged my friends, Dave and Jamie, to see if I could bump up my visit to that night without putting them out. 

As I waited, I was approached by another man, who asked if I could watch his cell phone charge while stepped outside to smoke. Again, I accommodated. His named turned out to be Joe. Joe was on his way back to St. Louis. He'd come to Kansas City after splitting from his wife. He couldn't find work, which, from what he said, seemed to be the primary reason for the fighting. He had hoped that KC would provide more opportunities for work and a fresh start from a broken relationship; of course, neither worked out, and he was slinking back (not his words) in order to "work things out... you know... for the kids." 

He too asked me where I was heading and what I did for a living. It's the sort of generic demographic information that people ask when they travel in order to see if there are any essentials in common. After all, it's not outside the realm of possibility that you can meet someone from the same state as you when traveling. And when there's a common mode of transportation, there's a better than average chance that there maybe some career similarities. Or, at least sympathies.

When talking to friends, or to you, Dear Readers, I refer to myself as hobo. A bum. A pilgrim. A traveler. All of these are, in some technical way, true. And they take up all of my time.

But they are not, strictly speaking, considered career paths, anymore than being a poet is considered a viable occupation. (Viable -- code for tax paying, debt accruing, time wasting, soul killing filler of time between assumed adulthood and death.) I told Joe wasn't sure where I was headed, and that I didn't do anything in particular. 

He too, quickly moved off.

Eventually my phone was more or less completely charged, and I remembered that the restaurant sold a brand of cigarillos I sometimes smoke. And I still had time until the bus to Minneapolis was going to leave, plus I hadn't heard whether my arrival was propitious. So I bought a cigar and went outside to the smoking area, sat on a bench and enjoyed the breeze.

The smoking area was in back and partially under the large awning that made up the bus bay. I'd managed enough rest that I felt good, had enough coffee and nourishment that I felt refreshed, and was smoking a cigar that, while not my favorite, was one I liked, for the money. A cigarillo (not to be confused with a little cigar... trust me.) is a rare gentile pleasure. I have pipe, that's true, and some decent cheap shag. I also still have a few pinches of the good tobacco left from the shop in Cincinnati. But a cigarillo is a sweet respite, a calming balm, especially when you can sit out in a light warm breeze and enjoy it without having to be rushed,. without having to feel desperate for time or space or feel guilty about annoying the smokeless minions that would deny me nicotine and drive Hummers... rather than smoke a cigarette after enjoying a particularly enjoyable hummer.

One of the things I've noticed as I've been traveling, is the quiet desperation that people continue to live under. The news tells us the recession is over. I, for one, don't believe it. Because I see it everywhere I go. People roaming around, looking for work. Mark and Joe are only two examples from one stop. I run into people all the time who are trying to find some place in the world, some identity. Because we do tend to associate identity with occupation (AKA = the shit we do to earn money in the hopes of buying shit we don't need) ...in this country at least, and certainly in any culture that prizes occupation above happiness, that insists we take on obligations that are neither natural nor necessary for living or happiness, and that judges us accordingly for seeming to lack ambition. 

And the more of this I see, the more I am convinced that I am far luckier and far richer than anyone who can answer one of those generic demographic questions in a more predictable fashion.

I got word from Dave that my arrival would be fine, that there was a spare bed and that I was welcome to it as long as I needed it. Encouraged, thusly, I finished my cigarillo, walked back inside and  up to the ticket counter. The woman behind the counter looked stressed... fairly common among those employed in any customer service industry. She was younger than me by a couple of years, auburn hair tied back, blue eyes, pale skin. Attractive really. So I smiled, asked about the 3pm bus to Minneapolis. She was polite, smiled a little, and told me the bus really left at 2:45 and asked if I needed a ticket. 

I told her I didn't, because of my Discovery Pass; but, hoping maybe to improve her mood, or at least make her feel better about her job, I told her about The Mystery Box in St. Louis and asked if she didn't think that was odd. The story seemed to make her smile... or it could've been my hat, the oil cloth hat does inspire smiles from some people... and she told me that it probably wasn't strange for St. Louis. I agreed. 

"Yeah," she said. "There's probably not a lot that's strange for St. Louis." Then she told me... probably some latent reinforced job training... that if I saw anything strange like that there to please say something. I promised I would, and found a place to sit and wait for the bus.

As I walked away, she was still smiling.

13 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) – Travel Hungover: Leaving St. Louis

Detachment is enlightenment because it negates appearances. - Bodhidharma, The Wake Up Sermon

When I started this leg of the trip a few weeks back, my plan... in as much as I actually had one... was to head southwest, with an eye on avoiding Texas. The problem, as I discovered, was that because of the way the major bus routes are structured, it's next to impossible to do so without taking several indirect routes. In deciding how best to leave St. Louis... and believe me, I was more than ready; after two full days, I was beginning to feel more like a resident than an itinerant traveler.

The first night was long and a bit lonely... which was something I hadn't really felt in quite a while. I didn't feel all that lonely on my east coast leg, even when I was between the welcome solace of couches and spare beds of dear friends. Loneliness is one of those sensations that digs into your bones and lingers like the cold; it's a very different sort of feeling than being alone. Being alone is a state of being; being lonely is a state of mind. And as I explained to my Dear Sweet Ma in a recent phone call, I am well acquainted with being alone. To tell the truth, I've been alone most of my life. I spent hours alone when I was young, riding my bicycle on the back roads around where I grew up, sometimes parking and walking into the nearby woods or through undisturbed pastures. This is, I suspect, part of the kΓΌnstlerroman* : something integral to the growth and development of a writer. 

Now, it's true that we're not all lonely sad sacks; in fact, the case could be made... and it has, I'm sure, though I won't bother to look up the citations to prove my point... that a lot of writing that happens in this day and age happens in public, as a part... or an attempt to be a part... of some community or another. On a  pragmatic level, since leaving Pumpkin Hill in late January, you could argue that I've done most of my writing ... this blog, and the associated poetry... in public. In coffee shop, in bus and train stations, on buses, on trains, in friends' living rooms. And since I am doing what I do all for you, Dear Readers (and in the hope that, if you like it at all, that you'll a temporally and geographically fluid creature of the road on the move with occasional donations to the travel fund... much thanks and gawd bless)  there's an element of you all in all that I do.

Yes... there's more of some of you than others. But don't quibble I love you all. And NO, I don't think that's creepy at all.

My initial plan for leaving St. Louis was to take the Los Angeles bound bus. That would take down through the southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, and into Phoenix, where I also have friends, one or two who have offered to let me crash when and if I happen to make it back out to Valley of the Sun. The initial problem, of course, was that it would also take me through Texas... which, no offense to the city of Austin (which I understand is quite nice), I would prefer to avoid. And if I got on the west coast bus I would end up having to spend quite a bit of time in Texas: Pecos and Amarillo to be sure, as well as El Paso. I know this because it's the exact same route I took on my move to Phoenix and eventually my move to Northwest Illinois... which I wrote about in my kindle edition essay, The Greyhound Quartos. Other than wanting to avoid the sketchy bus station in Amarillo, I was also concerned that I was taking a trip I had already been on; in other words, there was nothing new, other than my situation, about traveling by bus from St. Louis to Phoenix.

Most of the other buses out of St. Louis were going east, or south. I wasn't ready to go south, and I had just come east. The only other bus was one going to Kansas City. It left an hour and forty-five later than the L.A.bus, which wasn't going to pull out until one in the morning. And while my intention is to end up, before the end of the summer, in Eugene, Oregon on the doorstep of friend, writer, and Grindbone Brother Noah S. Kaplowitz  before I head back east for some peace and respite in Kentucky and some future planning for a Southern Fried Leg and next year's European Ennui Extension, my initial plan was to loop UP to Eugene after going through California and seeing the Pacific Ocean... not to mention a visit to San Fran and City Light Books (a literary mecca, and home base of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of my few living literary heroes). 

After some thought and some careful consultations... since the lack of sleep and the weight of worry over The Mysterious Box were starting to impact my ability to think semi-lucid thoughts... I decided, finally, to leave my path up to fate and the whim of the great magnet:

If the line of passengers going to the west coast was too long, I'd take my chances on the Kansas City bus at 2:45 am.

So I waited. And I watched Gate 4. The line started to grow around midnight, and by 15 minutes to boarding, it was sufficiently long enough for me to decide that the great magnet wanted me to go to Kansas City.

It was impossible for me to sleep at that point; if I could get comfortable enough and if I did close my eyes... scratch that. I could've slept leaning against a wall full of hot irons at that point. But if I DID, chances were better than average that I would wake up, Still in St. Louis, becoming even more of a resident among the throng of potential passengers, waiting family and friends, custodians, cops, and trepidatious sedentarily challenged souls like myself who, when I took off my boots to simply stretch my toes, cleared out 20 foot radius of space thanks to the righteous stank of my poor old doggies. 

Never mind the fact that, other than a change of underwear, a splash of water, and a fresh application of Old Spice, I hadn't had a shower since Louisville. And I had spent one of those days in between walking around Hannibal looking for the spinning ghost of Sam Clemens. 

Luckily, the Kansas City bus was light on passengers so  that I could stretch out, and empty enough that I could stretch out without having to worry... too much... about offending anyone too much. And since the trip was a good 5 or 6 hours through the dark, I would have some quiet time to sleep.

Which, Dear Readers, I did. Finally.

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As I make my way west, most likely through the Blackhills and into Montana, drop me a line and give me heads up about cheap/free accommodations, shelters, houses of hospitality, etc. Also, if there are any open mics anywhere, either on my way through or on my way back at the end of summer, let me know. I'll recount stories and songs and poems from the road for loose change, coffee, or soup. Really. I'll even shower. Maybe....]