The bus rolled out of Minneapolis as the morning sun peeped over the downtown skyline. Everything changes dramatically in just a short amount of time between night and dawn. The cool of the night is replaced by the harsh reality of a hot sun, the litter in the gutters is so much more visible...in the dark it almost looked like it belongs there, now it stands out starkly and becomes a depressing shade of gray. There is a whole other society that lingers by bus stations it seems. They seek the shelter of the shabby lobby area where they can relax in relative peace for a while until the police roust them, but even the cops don't seem to mind too much. This station and most like this station are situated where people used to be in droves years and years ago, now only the stew bums and cheap hookers hang out down there. It's close to the soup kitchens and the homeless shelters and I guess offers a promise of getting the hell out of town someday.
The bus rolled through the quiet city streets looking for the freeway south. I settled back for what I knew would be the easiest part of my journey and I planned on trying to rest and relax as much as possible. The small vents just beneath the window blew a steady stream of cool air onto my face and filled my nose with the smell that only a bus can have. I smelled it a million times in the old DeCamp buses that went from Bloomfield to New York City which I rode frequently as a kid and young man, shoot I was still a young man, just barely 20 now. I had come to Minneapolis with of all people a married woman and her infant son. She was in her late 20's and had left her dysfunctional marriage and was heading back to her home. I had been her lover for the last few months and jumped at the chance to be with her heading west. She was leaving her marriage and I was leaving home for the adventure of my life. We took our time driving west, took 3 days in what should have been 2. When her son was asleep we made love at every chance we could, she was so pretty, so passionate, the deepest brown eyes I had ever seen and she taught me just about everything on how to be with a woman. Minneapolis was where her folks lived and once there I stayed a few days. Knowing I had to move on and not really sure where I was going, I stole a late night creep into her bed to just feel her reassuring arms around me for the last time. A bump in the road jolted me out of my quiet daydreaming.
There was no one sitting next to me as yet so I put my backpack on the vacant seat, the damn thing must have weighed 40 or so pounds and was a pain to hoist up into the above rack. I dug through it and pulled out my tattered paperback "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 72" by Hunter S Thompson. I loved this book as it was so easy to just fall into it and escape all that was around me for a few hours. It was a primer for the way I wanted to live my life...a maverick journalist, drug addled, writing about insane things in a seemingly sane world. Two things I wanted to accomplish in my life...a writer and a musician...a renaissance man...someone that could be easily spotted on the streets of life...kind of like that idiotic commercial for Dos XX.."the most interesting man in the world"...."stay thirsty my friends".
The bus meandered down the freeway often pulling off and stopping at little towns nestled just off the freeway. This was God's country, the land of John Steinbeck. Miles and miles of farmland framed the roadside as morning turned to afternoon and we neared the Iowa boarder. The bus made a rest stop somewhere off route 15 in Iowa. We were given 1/2 hour to grab some lunch and most folks headed for the small weathered cafe across the street. An old coke sign hung above the entrance proclaiming "EAT", not to pass up a chance I crossed the street and sauntered inside. Just a tad out of place I thought as I looked around, 90% farmers and older folks and a one young long haired red head. Quiet murmuring of customers, the clink of glasses behind the counter and the infamous waitress with the rhinestone glasses with a neck cord attached, beehive hair-do and as sweet a smile as ever, "Hi hon, you by yourself? Just sit yourself right here at the counter and let me get you something to eat". "Thank you ma'am". She giggled at the ma'am and gave me a menu. Growing up in Jersey I had never been in a place like this before. Much more cozy than a diner and friendlier too, almost like being at a friends house with a lot of folks having dinner. The fare was strictly mid west so you knew the burgers had to be superb...corn fed beef...I was hoping to find corn fed girls out here on the plains too...my young brain rarely strayed from its primal function. Cheeseburger rare with fries and gravy appeared along with an excellent brewed cup of coffee..."Enjoy it Hon, let me know if you need anything else" "Thanks, honey"...she really giggled this time and gave me a wink, man, I had it, I was set, they all loved me and knew how special I was...on my quest to write the great American novel and become a latter day Hemingway...they could tell.
Late afternoon turned to dusk as we rolled into Missouri, I had long since put my paperback away and was furiously scribbling in my journal. The first rule of all great writers is to keep a journal, I thought. Study the faces, observe the seemingly ordinary, make sense of the mundane as it is there you will find the real gem of a story. I studied the passengers in the fading light. Was there something I was missing? Where was the story? All I saw were a bunch of snoozing old folks in bib overalls and light calico print dresses. A couple of kids walked up and down the center of the bus, bored as hell. Screw it, it would come to me, it had to. I switched on the overhead light and checked my possessions. I had packed and re packed and re re packed back at home getting ready for this. I had walked for miles to be prepared to hit the road. I had tried to prepare for every possibility one would encounter. I even had a tiny rip stop nylon tent with folding aluminum poles, weighed very little and complimented my rip stop nylon sleeping bag which sat atop the whole backpack rig. This was a fucking backpack, a mountain hiking pack with padded shoulder straps, strong aluminum frame and even a waist cinch to help take some of the load off of the back and more onto the hips...nice. Clothes, freeze dried fruits and various foods, flashlight, tiny propane stove, writing materials, harmonicas and a backup pair of Keds sneakers in case my dogs got tired of my Fry boots. Bring it on!
It's always a bit chillier just before dawn. I got that shiver as I stepped off the bus in Jefferson City, Missouri, that's as far as my money would take me. A couple of tired old folks waited to board the bus, I slung on my pack and headed into the station to wash up. The once cream colored tile floor was now yellowed with age and spotted with old gum that had been spit out. Here and there a cigarette butt was crushed out on the floor. A dingy sign announced "Cafeteria" but it was closed...just some candy machines with the usual fare. The men's room smelled of super strong ammonia, had to use it to overpower the stink I guess. Took off my pack and splashed water on my face and looked into the mirror. Less than a year ago I was in high school with hardly a care, the face that stared back was already looking old...could such a short time on the road already take its toll? I brushed out my hair, wiped my face and hands and put my Stetson back on, the same Stetson I had bought in New York across from the Port Authority at "Knox Hats", my beautiful cowboy hat already stained from the rain, the 3X beaver needed brushing and cleaning...oh well. I stepped out into the dawn as the sun peeped over the downtown skyline...the same trash in Minneapolis was now here in Jefferson City, imagine that. A couple of stew bums shuffled over to a church down the block for a handout and some religion...I headed for the highway south.