The thing most people don’t realize is that bus routes are more circuitous than direct. There are depots that operate like hubs. Sort of like airports. So even though you can look on a map see a direct route from, say Louisville to Denver, the fact is you never go the most direct route. You may transfer buses two or three times, which is pretty typical for cross country trips.
So anyway, the route I was on took me through Laredo. It was night and the city was all lit up with neon, which stood in contrast to the darkness that sat like a wall across the bridge in Mexico. We rolled into the city and I at least three drug deals and one pimp hustling a john who refused to pay for services rendered. A lot of people were out. It was a maybe a Friday or a Saturday. As we got closer to the station, the bus driver told us that unless Laredo was our destination, we should not leave the station because we would not be let back in, even if we had a ticket. The station was buried under the bridge that goes across to Nuevo Laredo – this was before the travel advisory they released a few years back about Americans disappearing once they cross the border. I won’t like. I thought about checking it out; I’d never been to Mexico. But, I also didn’t have a passport, and the days of being able to your driver’s license to border hop were long gone. And, you know… the job interview. So, when I got off the bus – I was waiting on a transfer bus west – I walked inside past a policeman wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with an AK. The station was empty except for one guy who was stretched out across a few chairs that he pulled together to avoid sleeping on the floor.
My layover was a little over an hour. The bus station was old. After a certain point, most Greyhound stations look alike. Some have more bells and whistles than others, but there’s a lot of consistency in the colors and font styles… you know, that McDonald's kind of thing? At some point someone in their marketing department decided that stations built or renovated after a certain year needed to have a more consistent look. Maybe they were able to get that industrial gray and blue paint in bulk. The walls were a dingy brown that looked like it had been left standing after the Spanish-American War. The ticket window was closed and locked. There was a space against the far wall where pay lockers probably used to be. There was one payphone that probably worked because there was a sign over it advertising a special rate to call Mexico. All the windows had heavy metal grating over them, making it next to impossible to look outside. Not that there was much to see. The station was beneath the bridge that stretches over the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo and what few lights there were right outside the station did nothing to cut the darkness.
The ticket counter was closed, but the bathrooms weren’t. I went and splashed some water on my face. When I came back the man sleeping on the chairs had begun to snore. They were these deep, snorkeling, passed out drunk kind of snores. I sat down in another seat that wasn’t too close to him. I’d had longer layovers. I waited something like seven hours in Chicago for a transfer. Late night layovers are a little worse, though. You don’t really want to go to sleep in case you miss the call for your bus. And I wasn’t sure this was the place I wanted to miss my bus, anyway. Seeing it in the daylight was no incentive either.
And I know what you’re thinking. Why think about being stuck in Laredo when I have a job interview in Phoenix? It’s hard to explain. I always have this inclination to shoot myself in foot, I guess. To run contrary to what I probably ought to do for no other reason than it’s contrary. I’m working on it.
Anyway, so I’m sitting there, nodding off but trying not fall asleep. Then someone says Have you seen the tattooed pig?
Well I open my eyes. The guy who was asleep is sitting up and looking at me.
Have you seen it yet?
He was getting a little impatient. The tattooed pig. Have you seen the tattooed pig?
No. Can’t say I have.
The man sighed like he was annoyed or disappointed. His lips flapped when he sighed, like a drunk in a 1950’s sit com.
You will, he said. You will see the tattooed pig. It will all make sense then.
Ok, then. Thanks.
Did you know there are carnivorous pigs in southern Arizona?
No. I didn’t.
He shook his head a bit too vigorously. Yep. Be on the lookout.
Sure thing. I’ll be on the lookout for a tattooed pig.
The man frowned. No. That’s different. The tattooed pig doesn’t run with other pigs.
Ok, then. I was a little confused, a little jealous because I really wished I had some of what this guy was on.
When you see it, it will make sense.
I was about to inquire further about where one might find a tattooed pig…or for that matter, why anyone would tattoo pig. I was also a little curious about what it was that I didn’t understand that seeing an ink stuck pig would clear up for me. I was about to ask when the door opened the armed cop looked at me.
You waiting on a bus to Las Vegas?
Well, it’s here. Get a move on.
So I grabbed my stuff and headed towards the door. The cop acted like I was interrupting his busy schedule of standing there looking bored and heavily armed. It was obvious the bus had pretty much stopped just to pick me up. I’ve noticed that bus drivers hate the one person pickups. They’re normally at out of the way or under used stations, and they almost always cut into the regular schedule. I boarded and found an empty couple of seats… meaning I would be able to stretch out and relax a little for the next leg. Before we pulled away from the station two cops came on board. The one in front had a drug sniffing dog. The other checked everyone’s ID against their bus ticket. After each of the 20 or so passengers were checked, they exited the bus and we started moving.
The bus didn’t move more than maybe a thousand feet before it stopped again. We were still underneath web of concrete created by the interstate and the bridge. This time two different cops and a different drug sniffing dog got on and checked everyone’s ID against their tickets. Again. This time, the one checking tickets asked me where I was headed.
Is that your final destination?
Depends on how do at the blackjack tables.
I’m on my way to Phoenix for a job interview.
He looked at my driver’s license again. Then he looked at my ticket, which he held in the same hand so he could keep his other hand free to sit on the butt of his gun.
The cops left the bus, but then they opened the bottom of the bus and set the dog to sniffing all the checked luggage. After a minute or so, they pulled one of the bags out. The cop who didn’t have the dog boarded the bus and asked one of the other passengers, a dark complected man who was probably in his mid 30’s (around my age) to please disembark the bus and speak with him. The man obliged.
People are, for most part, looky-loos. Generally, if there’s a wreck on the interstate it’s not the accident or accident clean up that’s causing the delay. It’s the damn rubberneckers slowing down to see there’s a dead body they can gossip to their friends and families about. We’re basically obsessed with what’s happening with other people, you know? I mean, we can’t help ourselves. Maybe it’s some latent ESP linked kind of empathy from when people were more connected. Maybe it’s schadenfreude. Maybe it’s a way to prove to ourselves that we’re still alive, like trying to catch a corpse breathing during a funeral.
But this time, NOBODY looked. Nobody on the opposite side of the bus got out of their seats to look out the window. Most of the people who were sitting on the side of the bus that had a view weren’t looking, either. As it happened, I was sitting on that side of the bus, which was not the driver side. And, I didn’t have really turn my head and look like I was obviously gawking, so I was able to watch as the man spoke with officers. They directed him to his bag and most likely asked him to open it. The bag was a large duffel bag with a single zipper. The man shrugged and unzipped it. One of cops reached in and pulled out a bag of what looked like coffee beans. They talked some more and walked away from bus. In a few minutes the cop who was holding the coffee bag gave it back to the man. Neither cop had their hand on their gun. They laughed and the man even pet the drug sniffing dog. He put the bag of coffee back in the bag and zipped it up. The driver came back from around the front of the bus, where he was probably smoking a cigarette, and put the duffel bag back under the bus and closed up the compartment. The man re-boarded the bus and sat back in his seat, and the driver boarded right behind him. In a couple of minutes we were moving again.
We were not stopped again on our way out of the city. Rolling west, Laredo shone like neon pyrite against the cloud covered darkness. Across the Rio Grande, the absence of any lights at all stood out more than the lights of Laredo, spreading like giant black wings over the landscape.
I went to sleep thinking about tattooed pigs.
I was lying on the bed, trying to take a nap. It seemed odd to me that I was laying on our old bed in that white box condo in Tempe, since we hadn’t lived there in years and since Gayle and I hadn’t been together in a while, either. In the dream I was exhausted. I felt like I’d worked three days straight and I could barely keep my eyes open. I knew she was around somewhere. I could hear Gayle in background, talking on the phone. I thought that was weird too, since I wasn’t entirely sure what her voice sounded like anymore.
Part of me – the part of me that was awake, maybe – tried to tell the rest of me that it was only a dream. That Gayle and I weren’t together anymore. That we weren’t living in Tempe anymore. But in the dream it was like anything that happened outside the dream was actually the dream. We hadn’t left Arizona. She didn’t leave me for the neighbor woman. Like it was all some weird nightmare, or worse, some alternate reality I was switching back and for into and out of. Each switch meant I had to take time to remember… each reality had its own memories and its own time lines and I had to reboot… sort of.
I looked over and the screen doors to the patio were closed but the blinds were open. The balcony was gone, blown away by the dust. Then I realized the bed was in the living room and not the bedroom. Was that a detail from another timeline, another reality? I told myself to lay there and reboot. What was real (at the moment) would return to me shortly and the confusion would pass. So I turned my head to look out the window. The dust was blocking out the sun. It was then I started hearing the wind and the sound of rocks and palm tree parts hitting the building. There was a low level shaking to everything. Like an earthquake that wasn’t an earthquake.
Then I heard Gayle and could make out her words. She was in the backroom, talking on the phone. He won’t leave, she was saying. He won’t leave and we’re going to die here.
I started to get up, trying to call out that we could leave, that there was still a way. I tried calling out that I was sorry but that I had a plan. I knew how we could get out. I knew I didn’t have a plan, but I knew if I thought about it hard enough that I could pull an idea from the reality where we left and were safe from the relentless dust storm that was wiping everything around us off the face of the planet.
Is this what it was like in Ephesus? I wasn’t sure where that thought came from. Another me. Another timeline in another reality. Maybe the me that had been at Ephesus. Didn’t Ephesus sink into the river? I couldn’t remember. I wanted to ask a different me that had actually gone to seminary.
THERE’S NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SINKING IN WATER AND SINKING IN SAND. IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME FROM PENTHOUSE OF HYATT IN DUBAI.
I didn’t know whose voice that was. For a second I thought it was my dad’s voice. But I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like either and the memories of other time lines were starting to fade, blow away like the dust was taking them away, too.
I tried calling out again. Gayle was crying the way she cried whenever I was too drunk. I tried calling out, asking her who she was talking to. She wasn’t answering me.
It’s ok, I said. I’m back now. We can survive this. I tried sitting up again but something bit from bit my arm. It hurt all the way up into my shoulder. I looked over on Gayle’s side of the bed… the one nearest the sliding doors… a pig with giant tusks had bitten my wrist and was trying to drag me to the other side of the bed and onto the floor, out into the storm. It was an angry looking pig with tattoos all over its face. The skin was wrinkled and grayish black. I managed to shake my wrist loose, which caused it to throb and caused blood to get everywhere. I tried calling out for help. If she would get off the damn phone with her dad and get that fucking pig away from me, we could escape. I knew there had to be a way.
But the pig latched on again and I could not shake it loose. As it pulled me over onto the floor on the other side of the bed, the glass sliding doors shattered and everything was obliterated in fury of dust and stone and uprooted everything.
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