13 May, 2012

Homo Viator (Westward Expanse) – Travel Hungover: Leaving St. Louis

Detachment is enlightenment because it negates appearances. - Bodhidharma, The Wake Up Sermon

When I started this leg of the trip a few weeks back, my plan... in as much as I actually had one... was to head southwest, with an eye on avoiding Texas. The problem, as I discovered, was that because of the way the major bus routes are structured, it's next to impossible to do so without taking several indirect routes. In deciding how best to leave St. Louis... and believe me, I was more than ready; after two full days, I was beginning to feel more like a resident than an itinerant traveler.

The first night was long and a bit lonely... which was something I hadn't really felt in quite a while. I didn't feel all that lonely on my east coast leg, even when I was between the welcome solace of couches and spare beds of dear friends. Loneliness is one of those sensations that digs into your bones and lingers like the cold; it's a very different sort of feeling than being alone. Being alone is a state of being; being lonely is a state of mind. And as I explained to my Dear Sweet Ma in a recent phone call, I am well acquainted with being alone. To tell the truth, I've been alone most of my life. I spent hours alone when I was young, riding my bicycle on the back roads around where I grew up, sometimes parking and walking into the nearby woods or through undisturbed pastures. This is, I suspect, part of the künstlerroman* : something integral to the growth and development of a writer. 

Now, it's true that we're not all lonely sad sacks; in fact, the case could be made... and it has, I'm sure, though I won't bother to look up the citations to prove my point... that a lot of writing that happens in this day and age happens in public, as a part... or an attempt to be a part... of some community or another. On a  pragmatic level, since leaving Pumpkin Hill in late January, you could argue that I've done most of my writing ... this blog, and the associated poetry... in public. In coffee shop, in bus and train stations, on buses, on trains, in friends' living rooms. And since I am doing what I do all for you, Dear Readers (and in the hope that, if you like it at all, that you'll a temporally and geographically fluid creature of the road on the move with occasional donations to the travel fund... much thanks and gawd bless)  there's an element of you all in all that I do.

Yes... there's more of some of you than others. But don't quibble I love you all. And NO, I don't think that's creepy at all.

My initial plan for leaving St. Louis was to take the Los Angeles bound bus. That would take down through the southwest, New Mexico, Arizona, and into Phoenix, where I also have friends, one or two who have offered to let me crash when and if I happen to make it back out to Valley of the Sun. The initial problem, of course, was that it would also take me through Texas... which, no offense to the city of Austin (which I understand is quite nice), I would prefer to avoid. And if I got on the west coast bus I would end up having to spend quite a bit of time in Texas: Pecos and Amarillo to be sure, as well as El Paso. I know this because it's the exact same route I took on my move to Phoenix and eventually my move to Northwest Illinois... which I wrote about in my kindle edition essay, The Greyhound Quartos. Other than wanting to avoid the sketchy bus station in Amarillo, I was also concerned that I was taking a trip I had already been on; in other words, there was nothing new, other than my situation, about traveling by bus from St. Louis to Phoenix.

Most of the other buses out of St. Louis were going east, or south. I wasn't ready to go south, and I had just come east. The only other bus was one going to Kansas City. It left an hour and forty-five later than the L.A.bus, which wasn't going to pull out until one in the morning. And while my intention is to end up, before the end of the summer, in Eugene, Oregon on the doorstep of friend, writer, and Grindbone Brother Noah S. Kaplowitz  before I head back east for some peace and respite in Kentucky and some future planning for a Southern Fried Leg and next year's European Ennui Extension, my initial plan was to loop UP to Eugene after going through California and seeing the Pacific Ocean... not to mention a visit to San Fran and City Light Books (a literary mecca, and home base of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of my few living literary heroes). 

After some thought and some careful consultations... since the lack of sleep and the weight of worry over The Mysterious Box were starting to impact my ability to think semi-lucid thoughts... I decided, finally, to leave my path up to fate and the whim of the great magnet:

If the line of passengers going to the west coast was too long, I'd take my chances on the Kansas City bus at 2:45 am.

So I waited. And I watched Gate 4. The line started to grow around midnight, and by 15 minutes to boarding, it was sufficiently long enough for me to decide that the great magnet wanted me to go to Kansas City.

It was impossible for me to sleep at that point; if I could get comfortable enough and if I did close my eyes... scratch that. I could've slept leaning against a wall full of hot irons at that point. But if I DID, chances were better than average that I would wake up, Still in St. Louis, becoming even more of a resident among the throng of potential passengers, waiting family and friends, custodians, cops, and trepidatious sedentarily challenged souls like myself who, when I took off my boots to simply stretch my toes, cleared out 20 foot radius of space thanks to the righteous stank of my poor old doggies. 

Never mind the fact that, other than a change of underwear, a splash of water, and a fresh application of Old Spice, I hadn't had a shower since Louisville. And I had spent one of those days in between walking around Hannibal looking for the spinning ghost of Sam Clemens. 

Luckily, the Kansas City bus was light on passengers so  that I could stretch out, and empty enough that I could stretch out without having to worry... too much... about offending anyone too much. And since the trip was a good 5 or 6 hours through the dark, I would have some quiet time to sleep.

Which, Dear Readers, I did. Finally.

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As I make my way west, most likely through the Blackhills and into Montana, drop me a line and give me heads up about cheap/free accommodations, shelters, houses of hospitality, etc. Also, if there are any open mics anywhere, either on my way through or on my way back at the end of summer, let me know. I'll recount stories and songs and poems from the road for loose change, coffee, or soup. Really. I'll even shower. Maybe....]