READY: The what-was-I-thinking bus odyssey
I’m going to sound like a snobby old curmudgeon as I describe the company I kept last week while making a 20-hour bus journey each way to and from Greenville, Miss. So I apologize in advance for what may sound judgmental. The point is simply “the times how they have changed.”
Over 50 years ago, I took a Greyhound to Montgomery to be a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding. I left from the terminal on Perry Avenue in Fort Walton. The fare was $30 round trip. The ticket agent wore a uniform and so did the driver with hat and a brass badge on his shirt. My fellow passengers more or less looked like me. They read, chatted quietly, or slept.
Last week my trip to visit an old friend started once again at the Greyhound station on Perry. I had decided a long bus trip was better than a long time being lost or dead as I am a notoriously bad driver, and no one in the family was willing to drive Miss Daisy.
This time, my ticket agent was attired in baggy pants revealing his underwear and long shirt accessorized with several chains of beads. Tattoos, nose ring, lip ring, and dreadlocks completed his fashion statement. But he was cordial and competent, so no complaints.
I was clearly the “freak” among the travelers as I found myself in a motley crewe of humanity that left me jaw-droppingly fascinated. My pajama-clad seat mate to Mobile was a happy soul who passed out hand-made paper roses to all the women, told everyone that Jesus loved them, and announced he would get off the bus only when Jesus told him to. I liked his Fu Manchu and the fact that I could see daylight through the large holes in his earlobes. Then there was the lady with the purple hair who sang sad songs about dead people and the woman in the shower cap and heavy winter coat who refused to let anyone sit with her. One couple argued loudly about mutual infidelities while the alcohol-soaked fellow snored.
No wonder bus drivers now sit inside a plastic dome.
My 7-hour layover in Mobile (what WAS I thinking?) gave me a chance to view a microcosm of Planet 2014. Women in burkhas, Indian sarees, or shorts so short they were pointless. Fat ladies (like me) who have no business wearing skin-tight spandex pants. Folks in full body tattoos, piercings, and a United Nations of different languages.
Just like a Saturday at Walmart.
Most of the drivers were indifferent to the odd collection of passengers, but one tiny woman driver on the Delta Bus Line ran a tight ship. She announced she would throw anyone off the bus who smoked, possessed alcohol, used foul language, talked on a cell phone, bothered other passengers, or wouldn’t stay in their seats. I liked her.
I started my return trip by giving my lunch money to a belligerent fellow who was four dollars short on his ticket and holding up the line at the ticket desk by causing a scene over it. It wasn’t charity. It was to shut him up.
In the Baton Rouge terminal, an insurrection broke out when the 6:45 bus to New Orleans didn’t arrive. However, a 7:20 bus to New Orleans was about to leave with less than a dozen passengers, but they wouldn’t let the 6:45 group board it. The young man to whom I had previously given ticket money led the uprising, screaming obscenities and stirring up others who were also very unhappy about being denied the other New Orleans bus. A security guard quelled the riot, and eventually we were allowed to board the 7:20 bus which by now left at 8.
I enjoyed a five hour layover in Mobile during the early morning hours, watching people sleep on the floor with heads pillowed on their luggage. I highly recommend the breakfast which is served after 1 a.m., even if biscuit, bacon, and eggs with coffee cost nine dollars. As I ate, I watched the floorshow when a security guard threw out a very obnoxious drunk who was bound for Tallahassee, forcing her out into the street and letting her know her trip had come to an end.
As we pulled into the Fort Walton station, I remembered a phone call I received just before my trip to Greenville. It was a grief counselor checking on me (as they do periodically after a family death). She advised me in that conversation that I could control the flood of inconvenient tears in public places by looking for the FLP’s all around me.
Sure, enough, I saw many Funny Looking People on my journey. And I caught a glimpse of another one in the bathroom mirror in a bus station at three o’clock in the morning.
My bus odyssey was a valuable life adventure.
Now, I can say “Been there. Done that. No need to repeat the experience.”
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.