Friday, December 22, 2006

Blade runner meets 1984

It used to be that we showed up at each other's door, uninvited and unexpected and smoked a joint and hung out until we took off again a day, a week, a month later. But those days are gone.

John Ann picked me up at the airport and we spend a lovely day at Lake Comanche. We take a walk, play some scrabble, drink some wine. But she realizes she can't go to Hyampom because of her cats. CATS!!! Yes, they cost money to board and so she wants to wait a day or so before coming north. My friend Katherine can't drive me to Redding because she works and so options gone, I end up at the Greyhound bus station at 6:15 waiting for the bus at 7am which will get me into Redding early and on to Hyampom in good time.

The Sacramento bus station at 6:15am must be one of the circles of Hell. It is where all the people who have been lost or abandoned by life wait for their luck to change or the bus to come. It had been a long time since I had been in a bus station. I used to take buses to visit family because of fear of flying and an obstinate inclination to travel as i did in Asia, with the lowest of the low. But I am now aghast at the lives I see before me. Everyone is destitute and I can't tell the homeless who are coming in from the cold to get warm from the passengers. There is only one of those grey haired bespeckled grandma types who used to ride in clusters of respectability in the two front seats of the bus. The rest seem battered, weary, and slightly soiled. Life has been hard. Ethnics are cleaner, tidier than the poor whites who are in sweats and tattered coats, dented suitcases and brown boxes by their side. A line has formed at door 7 where we will embark. I join the line and stand for a while before realizing I can leave my bags and sit down to one side as the others are doing. An ancient dyed red hair woman with long grey roots showing sits down beside me. She has layers of clothes on and is wheeling some packages which are rapped in plastic. She is homeless. She carefully hides a small vial of something in her empty cigarette package. I look away hoping for something more hopeful to rest my eyes on. The hooded young man I thought moronic and homeless turns out to be in line in front of me. He rummages through his bag bringing out numerous items, glasses, a walkman, books, matches, and rejecting them all. Satisfied, he shuts his bag and sits down again.

In the meantime a large flat screen TV blathers on about a troop surge in Iraq. There is an interview where very concerned smooth questions are asked about insurgents and Sunnis and very concerned answers are given, so soothing all this concern which after two minutes segues into Rosie O'Donnell's anger at Trump's forgiving Miss Universe something which segues into a snowstorm in Colorado and a cutsy story about a trapped youngster in the Denver airport. Then back to the war in Iraq for another two minutes, all of it made inconsequentially inane. Blade Runner meets 1984. I am horrified.

Furthermore the bus is late. Other lines at numbers 3 and 6 are allowed to move through the doors and out into the buses. The white haired very large saggy faced woman in the second hand pink coat and a limp is a passenger and gets to move out door 4 to her bus. I begin to be able to separate the homeless from the passengers now that I am somewhat acclimatized. The kindly grey bearded and long haired man with a cup of coffee is homeless. He sits by his belongings and moves around the waiting room with an air of propriety. But the despair is palpable and it is not mine alone. These people have had hard lives. The faces are bleak, rough skinned, hard jaws--a life of barely getting by. The freshest most innocent faces are those of the two young military kids, going home for Christmas. A girl sits next to me with her bible verse purse. She has come across country 3 days on the bus and now is going to Seattle. Some guy had asked her to come home with him and she didn't even know him!!! I can't really be scandalized about this so she turns to those on the other side of her. It is now almost two hours line 7 has been waiting. The TV reruns the Iraq, Rosie O'Donell, snowstorm items over and over. A young guy with a cane, no limp, a cap that says army veteran and a shell necklace tells various people about his tour in Iraq. I sense a scam and try to verify this unsuccessfully.

At last, at 9:30, a Seattle bus arrives and they let on passengers coming by bus from elsewhere first and then count out who of the remaining 10 will get to get on. I am third and the last to pass the door. There is one seat remaining. It is in the back next to the toilet. A destitute Danny Kaye look alike gets out of his seat to let me next to the window. As I sit down he mentions that the reading lights are probably spying on us, and asks if we are out of California yet as he won't be able to relax until we are as the cops are after him. I answer and then pretending great tiredness, lean against the window to feign sleep. But this guy can't relax and is wiggling jiggling around and talks to the Hispanics across the aisle. I get snatches of his constant chatter inspite of my effort to vanish. His girlfriend beat up his wife. Oh man, black eyes and he didn't care but man she did. Is that a walkman, gee you don't have batteries, I'll fix it. I'll make it work. I work for Minolta. See these are DC lights up here. They may be spying on us though. On and on he goes from one paranoid fantasy to imagined successes to being shoved up against the prison wall, Eat concrete" they said. I am slowly melting into tears, trapped and held by a combination of fear, sorrow, and compassion. Never again, I think. At one point, he starts rummaging through his bag and brings out a note for his audience, also trapped, but more willing to be entertained, to read. Gobbledygook he says although, you, he turns to the afro American youngster with a 5 month baby she is feeding juice in a bottle, you would understand this if I showed it to you. But he puts it back in his bag and brings out his mental health papers to pass around.

At the next stop someone up front gets off and I get their seat and can ride on staring at the road and the rain. The driver stops at one point to put one of the back of the bus guys off for smoking. We get into Redding two and a half hours late. I am totally addled and have had a few helpless hopeless meltdown moments. I have touched the life I didn't live and the rawness of it has made me raw and vulnerable.

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