Archive for Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Trip was a real eye-opener

March 28, 2001

This column could be funny. Many outrageous things have happened since I left for a writing conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, then rode a Greyhound bus to Mobile, Ala., for Baker's Habitat for Humanity spring break trip. I could tell you what it was like to see the south from the back of a Greyhound bus. I could joke about how my small bladder turned the 14-hour bus ride into a tour of the south's most disgusting restrooms. I could make fun of all the weirdoes, addicts, bums, single moms, runaways, fugitives and dropouts in one place at one time, all bound for Mobile, where they would gather at the annual "Extremely Shady Persons Convention." There were enough characters aboard that bus to fill a whole year of columns.

I could write about how I felt as the only Caucasian in the Houston bus station. I could tell you about the woman who sat across the aisle from me, who was one trip short of a round trip ticket. I could explain that she got off the bus at each stop and picked up a payphone receiver and went on about her new fianc a 2-year-old, who sits on her lap, whose mother is supporting the marriage. I could tell you that she didn't dial a number before talking. She just talked.

I could call her crazy; I did, many times, as she danced in her seat to the beat of her musical key chain. I could attempt to capture the way she turned every object in her possession into a percussion instrument, keeping the back of the bus awake. I could tell you that her antics were in good company and that my silence was in the minority.

I could go on. Instead I should tell you what children look like when they stare out a bus window, waiting to see where their new life will start. I should tell you how easy it is for some to sleep when they finally sit on something soft. I should tell you that all of my textbooks, term papers, academic scholarships, honors courses and awards didn't make me any smarter than the next guy riding on a dark Louisiana highway.

I should tell you that the 14 hours I spent praying to God that I make it to Alabama alive paled in comparison to the prayers of the other passengers; the woman across the aisle with three kids and no carry-on luggage. The teen-age girl in front of me who tried to pacify her baby from Houston to Lafayette without the help of her husband, who sat caddy-corner, oblivious to his baby's cries or the fact that his wife hadn't stood up for eight hours.

Almost two weeks have passed since I stepped onto the bus in Corpus Christi, but I can still see the faces of those passengers. I remember the way they looked out the window, memorizing each billboard and city we passed, as if they would never again see such a sight. I can still feel the way my stomach twisted into a knot each time the bus driver stepped off the bus leaving me alone with them.

This column could have been funny, but I would have been the punch line. The joke would read something like, "How many people does it take to teach a junior in college about the real world?"

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