Bus 1306, 6:55 AM, January 6, 2011—5:25 AM, January 7, 2011
I arrived in Denver, Colorado with a two hour layover. Let me take a minute to describe to you as conservatively as possible the sheer disgust and terror—which I will refer to as disgerror—that I felt while in Denver’s Greyhound station for that excruciating amount of time. I hadn’t shit in a day. I had been holding out for this exact stop so as not to rush my bowels into a half-assed attempt at a job that required concentration and time to fully accomplish. I moseyed into the men’s room, which was essentially a kiddie pool of urine; luckily for me, I was wearing desert-issue combat boots. No problem. There were five stalls, one closed off with a makeshift sign reading “Out of Order.” I liked these odds.
The contents of the four stalls “in order” were, without a doubt, some of the foulest things I had ever seen. The previous inhabitant of stall number one had taken the liberty of shredding newspaper and shoving the strips deep within the toilet, rendering it entirely useless. It appeared someone had taken this as a challenge as the newspaper was covered in (presumably) human feces. An entire roll of toilet paper soaked in piss sat neatly on the ground absorbing the no-doubt-precious DNA of a traveler gone through. Stall number two’s last visitor appeared to have a serious medical condition that had caused him to turn into a giant turd and then spontaneously combust. I had never seen so much shit in my life. Stall number three appeared to be safe, but upon further inspection, I found a collection of logs that seemed to date back to the early 90’s. A rainbow collage of light browns, dark browns, blacks, and greens gathered in a bouquet around the goldfish graveyard. Sheer curiosity led me to stall number four. I had no idea what to expect and fearlessly opened the door. Surprisingly the best kept of all the crap cabins, number four was entirely out of toilet paper and about to overflow. I watched smiling as a loaf floated ever nearer towards the top of the bowl. On that note, I left thinking that “2 Girls 1 Cup” was child’s play.
I ran into Jason standing in line. We chatted for a bit; he had made his way over to the Ritz-Carlton to use their facilities. Rob was looming around, seemingly scared of everything. Kanja was just about to catch her bus out to Mississippi. I found out that Jason was on a bus that left 30 minutes before mine. This was where our journey together would end. I was on my own again. It was for the best, I thought. I had become irritable and disconnected, and—worst of all—stone-cold sober. I spotted a 7-Eleven across the street and hoofed it over to acquire some sustenance: a Big Az microwaveable burger, a 7-Eleven-brand sausage egg and cheese sandwich on a croissant, and a can of meat sirloin Campbell’s chunky soup. I was set. The state of Washington paid for my meal and it was back to the station, bowels full and stomach empty. On the way in, I noticed a sign reading, “No Loitering, No Alcoholic Beverages, No Weapons. Police Patrol This Area Often.” Two out of three ain’t bad, I thought, stopping to loiter and smoke.
It was while contemplating my strategy for smoking pot in the bathroom that I noticed two young women get out of a taxi and grab their bags. Yowza! They were smoking hot. If it had not been so cold, I might have gotten an erection. I wondered where they were headed, but my thoughts of ménage à trois were ripped clean from my head as two squad cars pulled onto the sidewalk and their drivers walked inside. Apparently they weren’t kidding. With uncanny timing, two men in baggy jeans burst through the door grabbing their nuts like they were going to fall off and shouted, “Who gots the weed?” Perhaps it was my backed-up colon, my fatigue, or the stress of transporting a weapon and controlled substances across several states, but those guys could fuck themselves. I gots the weed and is keepins the weed in my backpack until I’m the fuck out of this police station.
By the time I had gotten back to my bags, Jason was long gone, never to be seen again. I warmed up my croissant, sat down at a table, and whipped out my notebook. The two young ladies I had been picturing naked were not too far away from my table. Had I had some teeth in my head, I might have approached them, but what would be the point? Surely we would be going our separate ways soon enough, and they didn’t strike me as the type to kneel down in a puddle of piss to suck dick for a cheeseburger anyway. It was right around this time I took a look behind me. “Denver Police Department” was scrawled neatly in bold white letters across a glass door. No shit: there is a police station in the Greyhound station in Denver. By the time my head had turned to face in front of me, I saw a man on a stretcher being taken away by EMTs. Wow, Greyhound is dangerous; maybe he used the men’s room! The static snarl of the intercom alerted me there was no more time to admire the bodies of young women, to fear the police or make any second run at the shitters. Load ‘em up!
If I haven’t driven the point home yet, they don’t fuck around on Greyhound. I was behind an elderly woman who was boarding the bus; her son kissed her on the cheek and gave her a hug, wishing her a safe and pleasant journey. “Let’s go! Let’s go! We don’t have all day!” shouted the driver. I said nothing, filed in line and handed him my ticket. As soon as I boarded, I noticed that most passengers had placed an item in the seat next to them to shield the precious second seat in order to sleep. What a fruitless effort that was for most. They sighed with defeat when a boarding traveler asked shyly “Mind if I sit here?” pointing down at the seat. Maybe it was my inner West Coast kid, but all I could think was, “Bummer, man, these dudes need to mellow out.”
Once again in an aisle seat waiting to depart, the driver, Mr. Hasty, was ten minutes late, chit-chatting with the young woman loading the bags under the bus. “You know it’s my last week, right?” He was so jolly and laughing. It could have been that old woman’s last week on Earth, you fucker. “Yeah, I’ll keep in touch.” He sat down and gave the usual announcements: no drugs, no smoking, no drinking, even in the bathroom. They were always very clear on this. It is a federal offense to do anything other than shit or piss in the bathroom. I assume masturbating is frowned upon as well, though they did not specify. Perhaps that’s the one time “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a sensible policy: when masturbating in a bus bathroom. The bus made a light honk with every bump. I put on my damn headphones and curled into a ball beside a fat elderly gentleman who insisted on keeping his legs halfway across my seat. Next stop, Kansas, with one scheduled smoke stop. Great. Did I mention that use of profanity on the bus is strictly fucking prohibited? I told you they don’t deal with your shit on Greyhound.
My cough was worse than ever. I kept everyone awake, I’m sure, but fuck ‘em. At this point, I realized my trip was half-over, or was it only halfway started? It didn’t matter: with roughly 26 hours left on the Greyhell, my optimistic attitude was about as useful as the broken reclining lever on my seat next to Grandpa. Being packed in an uncomfortable tube with strangers for hours on end tends to make tempers flare a bit. I was writing what we were all thinking: “next time, I’m taking Amtrak.”
It was when we pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot in Burlington, Colorado that it occurred to me how many golden arches I had seen near these bus stations. What a sinister scheme the two had going. I had not eaten McDonald’s for months and as soon as I step onto a Greyhound bus, I am downing McDoubles with Mac sauce just to stay alive. When I looked up to order, I noticed on the menu they were offering 50 chicken McNuggets for $9.99. They were just giving these things away now. The thought of 50 deep-fried, batter-coated cluckers made me McCringe. The thought of the people that order and consume an entire chicken made me shudder. The visual of those people having sex made me gag.
In my inventory, I still had my cup of soup and a likely spoiled gas station burger, along with some chips and a can of cashews I couldn’t open for fear it would make the bus smell like a reggae show. I wasn’t going to starve, but I was certainly uncomfortable. I’m sure I looked like shit, which was perfect because I once again spotted the two young ladies I had wanted to pile on top of one another and switch between with each willful thrust until someone died from sheer exhaustion. The survivor would become my wife. I wasn’t even going to look in the mirror. I could tell my neckbeard was in full bloom, my nails were caked with dirt, and my mouth tasted probably half as bad as my breath smelled. The Greyhound endurance challenge was wearing thin on me, physically and mentally. My body had at this point learned to ignore all signs of fatigue or bodily evacuation requirements.
It finally dawned on me that there were several tiny televisions on this bus that had been turned off the entire trip. Was Greyhound once a fine way to travel? Did the founder imagine a transportation service that offered a safe and comfortable way to travel that offered a scenic view of the country, and if that wasn’t enough, perhaps at least a little entertainment to make the time fly? Fuck that: I imagined they added the TVs just to mock the passengers. If they are already there, why not utilize them? For God’s sake, at least play All Dogs Go to Heaven, Air Bud, Lady and the Tramp, even an episode of Lassie!
It was while writing in my travel log that I heard a terrifying announcement: “The Kansas State Transportation Service Authority will be doing an inspection of the bus. Please stay seated throughout the inspection. Do not stand up to put away or take out any items or they will upgrade the inspection to level two and it will take about an hour. Please stay seated so we can get out of here on time.” This would be no big deal if I wasn’t breaking nearly every rule that Greyhound had laid out. Were they bringing in the dogs? Right then, we passed a prison. I realized how stupid it was to keep a step-by-step journal of how I smuggled drugs and weapons across several states. I was fucked. I was going to prison, in Kansas! This was bullshit, marijuana should be legal anyway, and getting drunk on a bus is no big deal; I wasn’t bothering anybody. My knife was a gift from a friend I had known for a long time. My mind raced as the bus pulled into the lot.
A fucking weigh station!? I started to relax, laugh, and realize how ridiculous I had been. Of course they were not coming onto the bus. That would be a huge waste of time. That last week of drugs before I left was really catching up with me. I needed some sleep.
I hadn’t broken into my whiskey for some time, and it looked like it would be a while before I would. I am a trooper when it comes to the game of Whiskey Battle. I go it at double-handed with the intensity of a fucking cowboy. Here I was in Kansas, on a bus for days on end with whiskey, and I just wasn’t feeling it. I suppose I was just too miserable to drink. I stopped thinking clearly at this point. I admired the seats for a bit, a mesh of primary colors that my recently rewired, unwired, and then put-on-a-bus-to-Ohio brain scribbled a description of in my travel log. “The seats are a mesh of primary colors with broken patterns and a bunch of fucking circles. It looks like if someone had eaten a bunch of skittles and McDonald’s fries and threw up because they had too much whiskey.” I remember laughing at this until I began to cough dramatically.
The plains of Kansas left a lot to be desired, even in my overly imaginative, sleep-deprived mind. I had not seen a bar this entire trip and I had not seen a town in Kansas for about 90 miles. No Starbucks, no Walmart, not even a McDonald’s! Having gotten used to the ever-present pines of the Evergreen State, this treeless void was mindboggling. I began to have trouble breathing and nearly fainted from lack of oxygen. I might have been bored to sleep if it was not entirely impossible to pass out in the aisle seat of a Greyhound bus. Fields. Just empty fields for 90 miles. 90 excruciating, visually empty, light brown, dead silent, time-passes-more-quickly-when-I’m-on-acid miles! And then it happened all of a sudden. I thought it was a mirage at first. Could it be? Signs of civilization?
The shit stop was nice of them. My mother texted me at this point, while I was smoking with a rough looking chap of likely Cuban ethnicity.
“How are you?” she asked me.
“I’m in fucking Kansas, there is nothing here.”
“I’ve never been to Kansas.”
“I don’t think anybody has.”
I finally passed a tree. I even took a picture of it. “That tree,” I said out loud, “provides oxygen for the entire state of Kansas and its four residents.” Not a single person on that bus laughed. The man across the aisle looked at me, nodded, and looked away after an almost awkwardly long few seconds. We actually did pass a small township thirty miles or so past the tree. There was a Marriott and a Shell station. I assumed it must be the capital of Kansas, and the Marriott was obviously the capitol building.
We made a stop in Haze, Kansas and the guy in the seat next to me got off. I finally had not only a window seat, but the oh-so-cherished second seat to stretch out on. I took a look around me and spied with my little eye something that started with the letter M. There it was again; it felt like Ronald McDonald was stalking me. I fucking hate clowns. That’s when we picked up one of the biggest clowns I’ve ever seen in my life. I never asked his name, but he sat right across the aisle, next to the rough-looking chap of likely Cuban ethnicity. He chatted away with a pudgy, freckled ginger kid with an ugly goatee who seemed happy just to have someone to talk to. The pudgy kid we will call “Mother Fucker,” which I will explain when the time comes. The clown that just boarded was dressed in baggy clothing, jeans, a hat that depicted a skull in a pseudo-psychedelic pattern with reflective pieces of what looked goddamned retarded. His teeth were the size of Cadillacs, which quite frankly were the closest thing to “gangsta” he had going on. This is when he took from me the title of Dumbest Motherfucker on the Bus. “I’ve been shot seven times and stabbed twenty times.” Mother Fucker was eating it up, now putting on an urban spin to his speech: “oh shit!” Through osmosis, Mother Fucker had become the same rap video that Dumbest Motherfucker on the Bus was imitating. “Yeah, I know, this guy rolled up in his car up on me and was like, ‘what’s up?’ I said ‘nothin’ and he was like, ‘Guess what, pow!’ I couldn’t believe it!” I couldn’t believe it, either. The rough-looking chap of likely Cuban ethnicity and I made eye contact. We knew we were thinking the same thing: was he about to shoot this kid or not?
I eventually found something notable along the side of the road. For miles, which seems to be how Kansas operates, there were one-hundred-foot white wind power units spinning steadily in various order. This was the first sign of life, and the first sign that we had not driven into some strange time loop and were merely replaying the same ten miles over and over again. We managed to make it to a truck stop as I happily clutched my now thawed Denver Big Az angus cheeseburger.
I walked to the counter and asked the cashier if they accepted EBT. She was seemingly eyeballing my Big Az and licking her lips. In hindsight, I doubt that was exactly how it went down, but she was a cow. Of course they didn’t take EBT, and to hell with them! I had myself a prime piece of Big Az angus with gourmet American cheese, sandwiched between a genetically modified wheat sesame seed bun. The instructions said to cook it for one minute and 35 seconds. Fuck that: 45 seconds. I still had not yet shit and the thought that I could be hungry and have to make room for more pissed me off. Everything was just so stupid and I hated it. I pouted.
DING! My burger was ready. I checked for cold spots; the cheese was melted. Aced it. I walked out wondering if they thought I’d stolen it and had a flash of paranoia, but ignored it. Mother Fucker and Dumbest Motherfucker on the Bus were smoking right next to the door. Mother Fucker was also trying to charge his cell phone. His charger had been half-eaten by a dog or some redneck shit like that—I can’t remember—so he had to bend his frayed wires a certain way in order to make the charger work. He had been standing there close to five minutes working his fat little sausage fingers around the thin copper laces that should have shit out on him ages ago. I plugged in my phone; it sure was easy. I looked down at it; it wasn’t charging. “Hey, is yer’s chargin’?” asked Mother Fucker. I should have said, “Sure is, Mother Fucker,” but I had no idea he was called Mother Fucker, my phone wasn’t charging, and I just wasn’t in the mood to fuck with anybody.
I scarfed down half of my Big Az angus and threw the rest in the trash. Cigarettes take priority to food, especially in harsh conditions such as these. I had only a limited time to get my mind and body straight for the next piece of the Greyhound Endurance Challenge, which should really be, if not an Olympic sport, at least a reality TV show. I was smoking American Spirits by this time and to really enjoy an entire one, it can take anywhere from twelve to fifteen minutes. I sat in what I thought was a casual yet attractive pose with my trendy cigarette masking my face just as the two girls I had wanted to fuck to the death walked by and looked at me. I nearly smiled. I should have smiled.
We made another stop in Salina, Kansas. The man who had sat next to the window got off. Score! I had two seats, I just had to pray that nobody lived in Salina, Kansas that knew what a bus was. I could maybe finally rest after all this time, maybe get two full hours of sleep. It was theoretically possible, just improbable. And it was here that I met James. He was just a friendly guy.
“How are you doing, man?”
“Tired, ready to get off the bus. You?”
“The same, I guess. Where you headed?”
“Where are you going?”
“Louisiana, to live with my grandmother. Where are you from?”
“Olympia, Washington. Lots of hippies.” I rolled my eyes.
“Hippies smoke weed, though.” He threw up both his thumbs and smiled ear to ear, looking at me like a tacky commercial. James was a cable guy who had been laid off a few months back and couldn’t find work because of some misdemeanor crimes.
We switched drivers at Salina and the new one just would not shut the fuck up! A normal human being would have gone through his required speech as quickly as possible and got to driving. This man rambled for so long I assumed he was drunk. “For all of you smokers, please do not try to smoke in the bathrooms located in the back right corner of the bus. It is a federal crime and your trip will end here and you will be continuing your trip with the state troopers. All it takes is just one puff back there and I’ll smell it up here and I will turn the lights on and I have a mirror and I will see you. It’s never worked with me before and it’s never gonna work.” He paused for a while, making me think he might be done. But how much fun would that be? “Now, that being said, Greyhound has scheduled me no break stops on this route to Kansas City. I will be making two scheduled stops to drop some people off, but please stay on the bus. I don’t want you to get off of the bus unless the stops are your final destination. We have some people in Kansas City that will have to wait ten hours for the next bus if they don’t catch this one on time, so by God, I’m going to make it to Kansas City, and I’m going to make it on time. If you get off of the bus and it is not your final destination, you run the risk of being stuck there. I won’t be waiting for anybody; I won’t be lookin’ for anybody.” I expected him at any time to end his speech with “we have just arrived in Kansas City.”
It was at this time that Dumbest Motherfucker on the Bus began to talk to James while still seated adjacent to Mother Fucker, who for the time being would have to sit back and simply watch as Dumbest Mother Fucker on the Bus talked to a real live black man. DMFB was obviously excited. He began to tell James stories of his felonies, time in prison, how much he hated the police, and even the drug trade. James just listened, commenting only occasionally. What a friendly guy. What a friendly, friendly guy.
Dumbest Mother Fucker on the Bus got off, finally. This left me sitting next to James. We chatted for a bit about relationships, how women are typically evil and the ones we missed, until we arrived in Kansas City, on time in case you were wondering. I darted off of the bus with the speed of an Olympic sprinter towards the smoking area. I had not lit the cancer torch for four entire hours. I still had to shit, and the cigarette was making it more apparent to me that this was no longer a matter up for discussion, but first things first.
For all installments of “My Love and Peace Letter to Greyhound,” click here.
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
Ben Johnson is not a writer; he just drinks a lot about it.