I thought, “Either I’m at the Greyhound bus station in Los Angeles or I’ve come by accident to the casting of a Rhianna video.
Luckily, nobody had remembered to pack their weapons but there were a lot of glittery crop tops, big boots, guys in basketball shorts, a Hispanic-looking Madame type in a criss-cross, laced-up-the-side leopard print skirt and black gloves with fake pearls around the wrists. There was a black chick in grubby leggings and a dazed smile who might well have entered this life as a man. There was a large black woman in a yellow T-shirt saying to a couple of young black guys, “You got a cigarette, son?” They didn’t but they came over to offer her their smoked fag which still had a couple of puffs left in it. Is this called Utopia? Every so often the scene became a bit more hard core, like the Lady Gaga Telephone video with a voice coming over the prison tannoy saying in a militaristic fashion, “Last call for section J for all those going to Dallas, Texas.” It was definitely not the kind of crowd you get at an airport. Though I did wonder at one point if I was going to get crabs.
Thanks to a Jolly Lolly, the 19 hour trip from LA to Albuquerque didn’t seem like 19 hours. Here we are stopping of at Indio near Palm Springs to pick up more punters:
Sunset happened on the 10, just past Palm Springs. The sun was setting in the desert with the magical light, Shirley Bassey was singing Goldfinger on my ipod. It was one of those “moments parfaits” as Sartre calls them in La Nausée. I felt sad as I saw the sun setting in the West out of the window – as I was heading back East. East is not the traditional direction of enlightenment in American culture.
Highlights of the trip included the revolutionary moment just outside Phoenix when the bus driver warned us, before letting us alight for snacks at a gas station, that we had to be back at the bus in half an hour and he was stopping for no man. Sure enough, a couple of 20-somethings were late back and he drove off without them. Whereupon there was wailing from the back of the bus, one man with a country voice piped up, “They’re just kids! Come on, let them on!” The driver would probably have driven on if it hadn’t been for a large woman at the front of the bus wailing, “Let them on! Oh please God let them on!” in the manner of one of those brotherly love evangelical Christians. Everyone had turned on the bus driver, so the bus driver finally stopped and the “kids” got on, although the tide turned against the Babes In The Woods as the boy got back on, saying cockily, “Ha! They weren’t gonna keep me off the bus!” in the entitled voice natural to the very young and/or the very good looking. He was both. But little did he realise how close he and his girlfriend had come to spending he night in the gas station rest rooms. The evangelical woman said, “They nearly did keep you off,” ending her sentence with, “Amen!” whereupon half of the rest of the bus piped up with an other, “Amen!” as if they do that sort of thing all the time on Greyhound bus rides. I felt a bit out of the Utopia club, but in a good way. Like I say, this sort of thing never happens on airplanes. It was very strange and made me smile at 3 am in the morning. The real Babes In The Woods turned out to be Alexis, 20 and Jacob, 19. Here they are, with Jacob just visible in the shadows.
We got talking at Phoenix when we had to get out to change buses. Alexis showed me her owl tattoo.
Owls have always freaked me out a bit. I see a lot of them at times in my life when things are heating up. But they were a very cute couple. And the wording on Alexis’s tat is: “The wisest fly the furthest.” They started to tell me how they were “heading to Missouri to start a new life.” I didn’t like to tell them that East was the wrong direction for enlightenment. But I said it was a great move. That it was good to do things when you were young, because in my observation, the older people get, the more money they have but the less daring things they do. Alexis suggested a little smoke before we got bus on the bus, so even though smoking is not legal in Arizona, we sparked up. I was assuming that a 20-year old originally from California would know the etiquette of all this. Later it turned out just as well that I had befriended the fat bus driver as he came over the tannoy (he fancied himself as a real stand up comic, this Greyhound bus driver) to say that “things that are legal in California are not legal in Arizona.” This new bus was really uncomfortable. I told Alexis that the first time I ever took a Greyhound was in 1987 when I was a 20-year-old student, going from Albuquerque to San Francisco and that this was probably that same bus. The seats seemed to be made not to be comfortable. Here is a picture of the most hellish hour. Check out the grim lighting. This is about 4 in the morning in Flagstaff- the freezing cold stop for the Grand Canyon.
The bus driver is counting seats because there was apparently a fugitive on board who hadn’t paid for his seat. I thought we were all going to have to get off. But then suddenly we were off again. Alexis had given me some strawberry shoelace things to eat for our munchies and she’d shown me pictures of her pets back in California and I was feeling 20 again, hanging out getting high with the kids (When Alexis said she thought I was in my late 20s, I wondered how much she’d been smoking). The only difference from me when I was 20 was that now I’m nearly 50, my back was killing me on the crappy 1987 Greyhound seats. But then Alexis conked out so I amused myself with smoke-driven filthy fantasies involving sex with dodgy strangers in cheap motel rooms. It was a good way to pass the time. I maybe slept for about 5 minutes and then woke up to the best bit about the Greyhound experience- sunrise in the desert. Even an ugly bus can look good at that hour:
And fresh-lit scrubland whooshing past:
At Albuquerque I said goodbye to Alexis and Jacob, wishing them good luck in Springfield, Missouri. And guess what, the next day, Alexis sent me the sweetest Babes In The Woods text I have ever received: “Hey, what’s up girl? We’re with our friends now. We made it safe and everything’s going good. They all smoke weed too so that’s cool and Jake has a job for sure working with his friend lawn scaping making good money and the good part they get paid…every Friday;) and they have Hellllaaa jobs that are always hiring now and there’s so many places to go and things to do so I really like it here so far. This is a good start n change to our lives right now!!;)
How great was that? Like a message from a young Charles and Laura Ingels in Little House On The Prairie. I snuggled down in my airbnb bed in Albuquerque (which gave me an even worse back than the Greyhound Bus had) and thought how good it is to be both “on the bus” and “off the bus,” as Ken Kesey had it in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.