Greyhound Dreamin’

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It may not seem like it but maintaining one’s Urban Hermit status requires a great deal of effort and commitment. To be good at it… hell,to even qualify for Hermit Club membership consideration, one must hold the bulk of humanity in a general state of great disdain. It has been my experience that the easiest way to achieve true Hermit Zen is to stay as far away from humanoids as possible…. and, on the rare occasions that you find yourself having to interact with them, you do so with a healthy arm’s length distance between you wherever possible.

And so it was that I had been invited to my niece’s wedding a while back that I immediately found myself conflicted. On the one hand, it was my niece and she was getting married! On the other.. in order to attend, I was going to have to take a bus down to Boston so I could catch another bus up to mid-coast Maine, wait around outside the bus station in Portland for a little while, and then catch a carpool ride ) by way of the airport to pick up another carpooler) and continue up to the wedding destination.

When I finished reading the invitation they began to rise up in my throat… .. like “Jack’s raging bile duct”… my dear old friends Apprehension, Anxiety, and their sidekick Anguish had come home to roost. It was palpable and they could barely be restrained.

There was no saying no so I just submissively resigned myself to my fate and set about making the arrangements.

Acquiring the boarding passes at the local terminal in town was painless enough as was the trip down to Boston. I sat in the back row, right next to the bathroom entrance, with a lovely young lady on my right and a nice enough fellow (albeit overly chatty and who was quite sure I gave two fucks about every gory minute detail of his personal life) on my left.

Boston… on the other hand.. is an entirely different human shit show all together.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never graced the bus terminal at South Station let me assure you that it is an experience you should never intentionally endure. Unlike most airports, which usually have strictly enforced rules of human behavior and some modicum of a shutdown period overnight, South Station doesn’t really ever shut down. More accurately, it just sort of ebbs and flows. Every single person there is pissed off or put out or is just having some sort or another of a low-end traveler’s meltdown.

The people are rude, the ticket agents are less affable than your favorite zombie on the Walking Dead, and – whatever language that is that’s coming out of the public address system sounds more like something the local residents in Swahililand could comprehend than anything that remotely resembles the gibberish they want us to believe is supposed to be the King’s English.

Having barely avoided physical assault when I got off the bus and lined up to get my bag, I was reminded of those Thanksgiving dinners during my childhood when you had a better chance of getting stabbed in the hand than actually getting the last drumstick. Once I cleared the pig pile and headed for the door to go inside and find out what gate my bus to Maine was departing from, I foolishly side a breath of relief thinking the worst was over. But when I got inside I was already being bumped into, pushed aside, and stepped in front of in order for other Travelers to improve their position in the waiting line of the next gate.

In full – on survival mode now, I pushed forward and positioned myself and my bag in a way that no one could go around me and I held my ground. If the person in front of me even leaned a little forward I was scooting up 6 inches so that they had no choice but to keep moving forward. To make sure my imaginary bubble was intact, I looked behind me every so often to make sure there was no confusion as to whether I could be fucked with any more.

Nobody else tried.

Once boarding began on my northbound bus, I started thinking ahead to being seated and the bus rolling out of Boston with that nightmare behind me. I imagined, since we were heading to Maine, that I might even get a nice window seat with no one sitting next to me and a chance to look out the window and find my happy place.

Alas, my hopes were quickly dashed – the bus was packed full.

Karma being the bitch that she can be, I got the very same seat all the way in the back in the middle right next to the toilets. I even got the same chatty fellow in the same spot to my left. Unfortunately, however, the lovely young lady to my right had been replaced by a guy that had not showered in several days and reeked of garlic and onions. To make matters worse, he neither spoke nor understood English… ignored all of my attempts to politely ask him to move the fuck over… and was out cold and snoring – loudly – before we even made it onto the I-93 Northbound ramp.

He tossed and he turned and he moaned – for two and a half hours – and he groaned and he flopped himself over onto my shoulder as if I was some sort of fucking Michelin Man that he fancied as his own personal fucking neck pillow.

I wish I could say that this was my first experience with having my personal space so violently violated but I cannot; in close quarters – by any mode of public travel – I have had my personal bubble popped on trains and on planes and… yes… even on buses.

If there is an upside to the hell I went through to make sure I had a front-row seat at my niece’s wedding it is this: She made sure my drinks were covered throughout the reception… but even after all this time hence, I still don’t feel as though I have showered enough to wash off the memory of that bus ride.

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Invaluable Lessons

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I am always amazed by the seemingly random moments that present themselves in our lives. I am even more amazed by how often they wind up not being quite so random as they originally seemed to be. I’ve been around long enough, now, to appreciate the importance of taking pause, as these moments come and go, at least long enough to make sure we don’t miss anything that might be important sometime later down the road.

Such was the case, not too long ago, when I was riding the bonnie new Mongoose that I had recently bought to extend my range of mobility (against the wiser wisdom of my dear friend and former OT). I was headed to the drugstore to pick up my monthly ‘scrip refills when I got a phone call from my oldest informally-adopted Texas son.

I drifted over to the right side of the sidewalk and stopped to answer.

As a bleed risk (because of my medications), and a fall risk (because of my three strokes), and as someone strongly advised not to ride a bicycle (because of my permanent partial blindness due to the aforementioned strokes), I wanted no part of having to explain to the doctors why I thought it would be a good idea to answer a phone while riding a bike and try to sustain a conversation with one hand.

My son and I babbled on for a few minutes about the weather in Texas before he scolded me would be on that bike. I changed the subject, and we check old for a minute or two more about what a stubborn old asshole I was before ending the call. As we exchanged goodbyes, I remarked that it wasn’t a pretty sight watching a fat old blind man riding a mountain bike but that I would be damned if I was going to be helpless.

I say this all the time to anyone who will listen… And knowing my kids and grandkids as well as I do, I’m fairly certain – headstone or urn – those words will be attached to me for eternity.

As we hung up chuckling, some random guy that had walked up behind me and then moved ahead past me, turned on his heels and said:

“Excuse me – I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but – did you just say that you were blind? How the hell can you even ride that thing?”

I laughed and said that I was technically only half-blind but blind enough that I wasn’t able to work or drive and was barely allowed by my doctors to live alone, unsupervised.

Giving him the condensed elevator-ride version of my story, I explained that I had had several strokes a few weeks after my mother had died and that, while my limbs continue to function normally, I lost all of the vision in the right half of each eye while gaining several quirky cognitive challenges that had made my life pretty interesting. I mentioned my second divorce… even uglier than the first… that had brought me back from Texas in time to move in with and take care of, my mother during the last four years of her life. After an atypically candid moment of describing the hell of living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I cut myself off and happily handed over control of the conversation to him.

He told me that he, too, had once lived the big life. He had once made lots of money, had a great job, and was the proud dad of a couple kids he put through college that had nothing much to do with him anymore. He even had, like me, an ex-wife that now has everything of any value he ever owned.

His life now, he said, was very much like mine. He is on disability because of his heart, he lives alone in a small apartment and is content to make the most of however many remaining days he has left on this spinning little blue ball.

We chuckled a bit, and exchanged our favorite war stories – each trying to one-up the other – and then he introduced himself (Tim) before taking a long thoughtful pause. As best I could, eyesight being what it is now, I studied his face trying to see whether I was looking at deep pain or stoic resignation and. The pause had gone on long enough, by the time I had made up my mind which one it was, that I was almost startled to see the light come back into his eyes. When it did, and as if to put a finer point of emphasis on it by squaring his stance, he looked at me and said:

“You know Dave… Sometimes what you’ve lost in your life is a whole lot less important than what you have overcome.”

Without another word, we shook hands again and parted ways. I got back on my mongoose and headed the rest of the way up the street to the drugstore. As I got off the bike, and change it to a signpost, it occurred to me that Tim and I might never cross paths again, but I will never forget our conversation nor the life-lesson he’ll probably never know he taught me that day.

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The Fat City Bus Driver

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I was on a bus not too long ago that was being driven by a fat City Bus driver during which there was a hostile confrontation between him and one of the passengers that got pretty ugly and quite personal. It made me think about the national conversation regarding political correctness and the ways people talk to each other and the names they associate with others.

I gotta be honest with you… the entertainment I derive from watching people twist themselves up in knots over how to say what’s really on their minds without hurting someone’s feelings (or getting punched in the face) knows no bounds. Given everything we know about the percentage of us that are overweight, you would think that calling someone fat would be little different than calling them brother or sister and would not be taken offense to by anyone.

Consider this story about a fat bus driver who knew it and was happy anyway and a skinny dumb-ass who thought name-calling was a smart way to get through life.

My ride down on the # 10 bus to the local discount grocery store was equally as uneventful as was my stroll up and down the aisles to gather supplies necessary to restock my pantry shelves. Sticking with my standard MO, I did my thing without looking at (or speaking to) anyone… lifting my head just enough to search for, and grab, the items I had registered in my mental list before I left the house. I was forced to speak – and act like I cared – once I got to the checkout register, of course, but it was tolerable. And although I must admit to having an incredibly long list of stories about dumb-ass cashiers I’ve come across over the years, this particular exercise in handing a total stranger money I earned in exchange for the goods in my cart that the cashier had no part in making wasn’t completely intolerable.

After paying my bill and loading everything into my backpack I went outside and waited for the outbound # 10 to pick me up for the trip back home. While I was waiting for the bus some dumb-ass, vomiting profanities into his cellular device at the top of his lungs for God and everyone to hear, approached the bus stop and joined the rest of us in the wait for the bus. He looked at each of us as if we were mannequins in the storefront of a thrift shop in a bad part of town, and continued his tirade unabated. I’m not sure to this day that I ever heard him inhale between profanities… I’m pretty sure he didn’t in fact… although I believe it is physically impossible to yell at someone for 5 minutes without breathing somewhere in the middle of all that nonsense.

The bus opened its doors and when it was his turn to pay he stopped talking long enough to plunk in his quarters before continuing to his seat and continuing his hissy fit as if none of us even existed. Once the bus started moving, a woman shrieked from the back of the bus that the driver was supposed to have stopped and let her out. I didn’t hear her and he clearly hadn’t heard her either, but you can better bet that our on-board dumb-ass surely had… he was out of his seat and up in the bus drivers face in a New York second, screaming at him about being a fat bastard that had no business driving a bus if he couldn’t here his passengers asking to be let off.

Now… I’m sure that most moderately normal humanoids experience the same things that I did in that moment – I was stunned. My brain was trying to catch up with all of the things that were happening. I thought about what a dumb-ass he was when I first saw him in the parking lot and I thought about what he was yelling into the phone about throughout all of the five minutes I had spent next to him at the bus stop. I thought about the poor driver who I was quite familiar with (given that I am somewhat of a regular on the # 10 line) and I thought about how much I rather enjoyed hearing him bellow “ALL ABOARD!” with a big wide grin every time he opened the door for passengers to get on. And about the time all of this congealed in my head I looked down at my cane and realized that it would be little more than a flick of the wrist to hit him in the junk from behind and drop his face at the feet of the driver (dumb-ass in question having had to step over my cane in order to get to the front of the bus to begin with) who was now standing up nose-to-nose with this dumb-ass and telling him to get the hell off his bus.

After several rounds of “why don’t you see if you can roll your fat ass off this bus so we can continue this conversation outside” the driver convinced him that it would be far wiser for him to continue his day on foot than to face what waited for him outside that bus, the dumb-ass disembark with not so much as a whimper. Something about the driver’s assurance that their conversation was being recorded through the microphone hidden on the bus through which dispatch was listening and waiting to make the 911 call apparently got his attention and made him think better of the idea of trying to box with a man at least twice his size in such a small confined space.

He will never know how wise his decision was, of course, because he had no way of knowing just how close he was to being caned unconscious had he not chosen to take the drivers advice.

[Images via Borden’s Blog & Wikipedia]
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