I wake up on the Greyhound, thinking of Sun
Pie’s pal Robert Johnson. What’s that song where he
wails about being buried near a highway
so he can catch the same diesel behemoth
in death I am riding in life? Well … life-ish.
Before I fell asleep I’d been wondering
if I had been dreaming, then I fell asleep
and woke up a bit later. I did not dream.
The bus is pulling into a gas station
and I hear an effeminate male voice say,
“See you later, alligator.” A bearded
woman three rows up cackles. “After while,
crocodile,” she spits out through a mouth full
of once white teeth, stained brown from years of coffee
quaffing with friends and associates. The kid
she speaks to is about 19 and skinny,
painfully so, a bird’s nest of curly
brown locks stacked high over an angular face
with an odd-looking smirk spreading wide across
it. “Take care, Mrs. Henry.” … “Mrs. Henry!?”
she shouts. “Please, boy! How many more times do I
have to tell you? I ain’t married to no man.
No sir. I’ll make you feel good. Just say the word.
We can go behind that dumpster over there.”
She points out the left window towards a red
rusty, metal trash receptacle. The kid
turns white and starts to answer, but the old bus
driver saves him by grabbing his microphone,
flipping a switch near the massive steering wheel
and announcing, “All right, weary travelers.
It is 1:38 in the AM. If
you’re planning on riding to Memphis, you must
be back on this bus, in your seat, no later
than two o’clock in the morning. The kid with
the huge head of hair sighs in relief and leaves
the carriage post-haste. The big bertha yelps in
despair and watches helplessly as he sprints
down the steps, through the door, and out of her life
forever. “Egon Spengler,” says a soft and
delicate voice to my right. I glance over
and see the blonde girl with the mountain on her
forehead furiously writing in a blue
spiral notebook, using a red fountain pen,
paying zero attention to anyone.
“Winston Zedmore,” I say out of the side of my
mouth, but she keeps scribbling on the page.
“Ray Stanz,” I state. “He’s the Heart and Soul of the
Ghostbusters.” … Still nothing. “Peter Venkman!” I
holler, holding an invisible card to
my noggin. She looks over and scoffs at me.
“Who are you supposed to be, Johnny Carson?”
“No,” I reply, laughing to ease the tension.
“I’m Bill Murray. Duh.” She just sat there stone-faced.
“You said Egon Spendler,” I tell her. “I did?”
she asks, looking around nervously. “Sure did.”
“Hmm,” she says, closing the notebook and shoving
her pen in the front pocket of a yellow
backpack she’s pulled out from underneath her seat.
“Well how about that?” she asks, coldly, as she
runs a hand through her hair to make sure her bangs
cover the pulsing red molehill on her face.
She stands up to stretch. When she does I get a
great view of the rest of her … and oh my God.
The guy who wrote Brick House must have seen this girl.
The prick on my left must have had the same
thought, because he begins whistling that song
and adjusts his crotch a few times before asking
if she can touch her elbows behind her back.
The girl… (I call her girl because she could have
been 27 or 18. I couldn’t
tell just by looking at her. Either way, though,
there’s no disrespect intended in the word.
It’s just a word. I could say chick or bird,
but if I did, some feminist would hear, pull
out a switchblade and shout, “Say woman or die,
you cock-sucking … motherfucking … asshole … guy!”)
As I sit here pondering that, the female
slings her bag over her right shoulder and heads
toward the exit at the front of the bus
without a word for me or my jerk seat mate.
I watch her for a moment, thinking of the
line John Travolta says to his wife in Face
Off as she’s walking away: “Eve, I hate to
see you leave, but I love to watch you go.” Yup.
After that I think of onions, peaches, and
songs written by a knight called Sir Mix-a-Lot
in the early part of the 1990s.
And no, I’m not referring to Cake Boy.
Possessing nothing worth stealing, I nod quite
curtly at my seat mate and make a beeline
for the door, stepping off the bus just in time
to see the well-endowed blonde enter the gas
station. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is playing through the
radio of a powder blue Ford Mustang
built in Detroit in late 1965.
Some kid is filling it with premium gas
and bragging to his friend about the 10 inch
speakers he is about to sell to go with
the head unit he’s just ripped out himself. “Wires,
everywhere,” I hear his friend say as I pass.
“It looks like New York City inside yer car.”
His pal leans through the passenger window and
whistles. “Hell yeah!” the owner shouts. “That’s where
I’m going, bro!” … “New York City?” I mutter.
“Get the rope.” A few cowboys I knew a ways
back used to say that. Those dudes loved salsa. I
spent so many listless nights in Mexico.
They called me Vato down there. We’d drink bottles
of cheap tequila and sing Volver, Volver
under the brightest moon you can imagine,
then pass out, wake up and free some jerk’s horses.
There was me, James Coburn, Will Peterson and…
who else was there? That guy from Chisholm .. what was
it we called him? Was it Doc? I think his sur-
-name was Brown … or Sutherland. One of those might
be right. He looked like the dude from 24.
The kid from the bus with the massive hairdo
steps out the gas station door onto the dirt
and looks right at the muscle car blaring The
Rolling Stones, then back at the bus. I turn and
see the woman from earlier exit, wink,
and walk towards the dumpster. I shudder. So
does the skinny youngster next to me. “Hey kid,”
I say, “Who played Jack Bauer?” “Fate,” he replies
without hesitation, looking past me and
yelling, “Is anyone going to New York?”
The owner of the Mustang and his friend share
a look and shrug. The kid grins and walks their way.
A bell rings over the gas station door as
it opens. I didn’t notice that before,
but now I’m hungry. Pavlov’s dogs got nothing
on me. I wheel around and almost slam right
into the two massive chesticles of the
ice queen. “’Scuse maeee,” I say, doing my best Steve
Martin impression. She glares coldly for a
brief moment, snorts and walks past me towards the bus
carrying a bag full of candy and pop.
Soda. … Soda pop. … Diet Coke, goddamn it.
I can see the label through the plastic. This
girl doesn’t need to be dieting. She’s hot.
I can’t help but watch her walk. “Do you like Tom
Petty?” I yell at her lovely backside as
it sashays away from me. She slows her pace,
but doesn’t stop or look back. “What a woman,”
I say to no one. The bell rings again and
I’m reminded of my hunger. Into the
store I go, hunting for something salty and
something sweet. The key to snacking is balance.
Barbeque chips and a Doctor Pepper are
a delicious combination. I pick out
a bag of Grippo potato chips. They grill
them. I love them. They’re amazing. Next I pull
a glass bottle filled with caramel-colored
liquid out of a tub of ice near the door.
Setting my items on the counter, I look
around the register for the one thing that
will make my gluttony complete: Cadburry
Eggs. I find none. After an inquiry, the
clerk scoffs and says, “That frigid witch bought them. All
of them. Then she gave me the finger and left.”
I nod and smile. I’m falling for this girl
and I don’t even know her name. Samantha,
maybe? Hilary? Carrie? Ashley? Meghan?
“She sure was sexy, though,” the clerk mumbles. “Mmm,”
I say, grabbing six packs of M&Ms and
four pieces of bubble gum from a basket,
slapping them on the counter and pulling out
a 20. “Two packs of Camels,” I declare.
Fifteen minutes and three cigarettes later
I’m back on the bus next to the Betty who
has yet to look my direction, other than
to sniff and wrinkle her nose when I sat down.
For reasons I can’t comprehend, I start to
hum the melody to the Stevie Wonder
song Superstitious. The girl sighs and puts on
headphones. I can hear her music. It’s Coldplay
and it’s awful. I pull another 20
out of my pocket and wave it at her. “Hey!”
I shout, causing half the bus to turn around.
The girl turns red, takes a deep, dramatic breath
and tears her headphones off. “What?!” she scream-whispers.
“I’ll give you 20 dollars to listen to
anything else,” I say. A few people laugh.
This was not my intention. I hate Coldplay,
but I didn’t mean to mock them in any
way or embarrass her in the process. No.
That said, the thought of listening to Viva
La Vida for the next hour makes me want
to rip out each hair on my body one by
one, then jump in a bathtub full of rubbing
alcohol with a toaster and a smile.
Please know it’s nothing personal, gentlemen.
Back to the bus and the buxom blonde bombshell.
She stares at the face of Andrew Jackson for
a moment, then waves her hand and shakes her head.
“Keep your money,” she says, softly, pulling out
a nylon case full of shiny compact discs.
“Why are all the CDs face down?” I ask her.
The girl says nothing, but her shoulders slump and
she bites her lip to keep from crying. I watch
her make her selection and wait with baited
breath for the first track to begin. Trying to
guess what’s about to be played is always fun.
I hear Pearl Jam and I can’t complain. No one
would listen anyway. The audience from
earlier has grown bored and turned back in their
seats. The massive prick who’d been on my left is
gone. I stretch out and close my eyes again. Man…