The journey home was always filled with an assortment of the oddest individuals. The first leg of the trip was the Greyhound bus Terminal. It began with a line stretching out the entrance doors following the side walk to the far edge of the building. The cold fall wind bit through my thin jacket and I berated myself for packing my big coat in my tightly sealed duffle bag. I took solace in knowing the bus would be uncomfortably warm once I got on.
I shuffled slowly forward toward the surly ticket booth woman. I was one of the lucky people in line. My mother had purchased my trip in advance and left my ticket waiting at will call. The only problem was the two lines were one until you reached the end of the ragged black rope with the familiar sign “LINE STARTS HERE” written in dusty white letters.
I listened to coughs, groans, and crying babies inside the tiny bus depot. It wasn’t my first time riding the Greyhound. I scanned the deteriorating waiting area with its old torn leather chairs and dirty brown tile floor. The place hadn’t changed since last Thanksgiving. It seemed as if the Greyhound in Norfolk , VA didn’t care about its patron’s opinions of their establishment. Homeless bums littered the chairs acting as if they were taking a trip, but were only inside to escape the bitterness outside. I rested the duffle filled with clothes ready to weather the Boston chill on my feet and adjusted the backpack full of travel supplies on my shoulder. I forgot to charge my Ipod and had to conserve power for the 12 hour trip up north.
It wasn’t my preference to travel at night, but my job didn’t give me the time off until recently and I decided to head home. I had started my second semester of college and hadn’t been home since New Years, opting to stay in town for summer school to finish off another course. I missed home and desired my mother’s home cooking even more. A college meal for a single guy typically consisted of takeout, pizzas, and lots of Ramen noodles. Often, I found myself wishing I was more attentive when my mom was teaching me how to cook when I lived at home. I wasn’t much of a cook. I had managed pasta on occasion and could make anything with directions on a box. My stomach was aching for my mothers food and I couldn’t wait for the Thanksgiving feast.
The surly round faced woman at the ticket booth called “Next!” pulling me away from my thoughts. I handed her my confirmation number and my faded ID card. “Is there your only ID sir?” she asked with a blank stare.
“Yes Mam'” I answered as she eyed the ID.
“I can’t accept this and the ticket is not in your name.”
I stifled the anger I felt inside over my old License, which had been through several washes and become less then presentable from the years riding in my wallet. “Look, I’m tired and its late. My mother purchased those tickets for me so I can go home to see her for thanksgiving. I have the confirmation number and my cell phone’s dead or I would call her. I’d be glad to connect her with you if you have a phone. I’m just a son trying to make it home for Thanksgiving.” I said with the saddest face I could muster.
The surly woman stroked her hair back and glanced at the clock, “I’m not supposed to do this. But I’ve got a son in college too.” She handed me the ticket with a small smile, “Tell your mother I said Happy Thanksgiving”
“Thank you.” I smiled back and headed toward the next line to the bus. I always noticed in places like the airport, bus and train station there always seemed to be a number of lines. It felt as if the entire experience was spent in line waiting for someone to open a door or get things moving. My mind was always focused on not making eye contact with unsavory characters. I felt like I had one of those faces that screamed for people I didn’t know to talk to me. I hated feigning interest, laughing at unfunny jokes, and adding the occasional “Oh yeah?” or “I know the feeling!” It seemed like the lanky white guy in front of me was thinking the same thing. He kept his eyes on the back of the person in front of him and didn’t shift.
I couldn’t help but notice more of the surroundings. The empty vending machines that hummed endlessly and the creak of the entrance door as the line kept moving. The one burly security guard would open and close it as people filed in. He wouldn’t leave it ajar for an instance, probably due to fear of heat escaping the tiny enclosure. My eyes caught sight of a 42 in HD flat screen mounted high up on one of the walls. I chuckled to myself at the thought of the TV being more expensive then anything else in the station. The TV was rotating Headline news doing a report on the hazards of Holiday travel and laughed to myself again.
The line moved up and I was caught in the spot in line where passerby’s cut through. I caught weird girl holding up a card board cut out of Alicia keys in her hands pointing to it frantically. I recognized the girl as the homeless woman who walked the streets of Norfolk holding up random signs and yelling obscenities. She looked strange in her bright pink sweater and overalls. Her hair was matted to the side of her head with lint balls littering the top. Her eyes darted back and forth as she blinked franticly uttering nonsense. She headed right toward the lanky guy in front of me and he artfully dodged her advance leaving me face to face with her. She grunted and smiled sickly tapping the sign.
“I see” I said, “Alicia Keys, that’s neat.” She grunted and went rushing toward the door. The lanky guy avoided my eyes knowing he had set me up for a fall that had only been slight.
After two hours of waiting, the doors finally opened, and the line began to file toward the bus. I handed my duffle to the bag loader and watched him sling it underneath the bus. I was always a stickler for being sure my bag got transferred into the bus. I had heard so many horror stories of bus riders losing their bags at a terminal to never be found again. I boarded the bus and began my inventory of the seats. The trick on Greyhound was to choose a seat either by yourself where no one would sit or to take a seat next to someone you could usually stand. On my last trip I had chosen an old grandmother who was nice enough to talk for a little bit and fall asleep. I was tired from a day of work and wanted to get some deserved rest, so I took a window seat instantly in the front of the bus. My nights of travel had taught me front seats were typically where the talkers and scumbags didn’t sit. I had once rode in the back and a woman who stunk of cheap vodka and stale cigarettes sat next to me. The entire ride I had to keep shrugging her head off of my shoulder and pushing her back into her seat.
It seemed this time would be no different. The bus was almost packed and I had managed to dissuade every boarder from sitting in the seat next to me by plugging in my headphones and turning the music up really load. I found in my years of travel this was the easiest way to force people not to be near you. I was about to relax my chair back when a late group of Spanish men exited the terminal. The first two brushed past my aisle and headed straight to the back, but the last one, a slender man with his hair slicked back and thick coat of cheap cologne flopped into the seat next to me. I could smell the aroma of beer wafting from his skin. The driver cranked up the bus and his monotone voice filled the speakers. He droned through his lists of rules, turned off the lights, and shifted the bus into gear.
I could never sleep on bus trips home. I was always too anxious to get home to my family. Thanksgiving was always a time we all joined together and shared stories. Some of us lived far away from home and others lived close, but it was the feast that brought as all together. We weren’t really celebrating Thanksgiving. We rejoiced in the feeling of having family all under one roof. The women in the family did the cooking, while the men watched football and enjoyed snacks until the big meal. I usually found myself thinking about the cranberry sauce along with the mac and cheese. They were my favorite parts of the meal. Most people enjoyed other things, but my mothers home made mac and cheese was something to weep for.
As I sat there I heard the familiar hiss of a beer can open and checked the corner of my eye to see the man next to me guzzle from a can. I sighed, knowing if the anyone caught him or the driver complained it would prolong the trip. The Greyhound bus ride to Boston for family Thanksgiving always felt never ending.