Showing posts with label bus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bus. Show all posts

19 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, Part 1.1: The Chaotic Columna Ceruluia


"It couldn't have happened anywhere but in little old New York." - O. Henry


City of prose and fantasy, of capitalist automatism, its streets a triumph of cubism, its moral philosophy that of the dollar. New York impressed me tremendously because, more than any other city, it is the fullest expression of our modern age. -- Leon Trotsky   


[This blog is dedicated to Ashley Vedder and Stephanie Stobaugh. To Ashley because I'm visiting her home turf while she slings beer back in corn and god country, and whose hugs I miss ; and to Stephanie because listening to her talk about New York is almost as exciting as experiencing it for the first time.]

Riding through the Lincoln Tunnel on a bus stuffed to the shell with people is probably as close to remembering the experience of being born as I will ever achieve, and as close to that buried memory as I want to get on this side of mortality.

Almost my entire context for the City of New York rests entirely on unreliable sources; mainly television and movies. I can think of countless fictive versions of the city, from Law and Order and Seinfeld  to When Harry Met Sally and The Devi's Advocate.  Of course, each of these versions is rooted entirely in someone else's vision... the camera, and behind that, a director. The city then becomes at ones a set and an actor at the same time; sets tone, mood, and contributes in the way an unnamed but unmistakable extra contributes to the frame. Cinema and television, boiled down, really is a frame by frame proposition; much in the same way that a poem is always about the single word. One bad frame can throw off an entire scene, and a bad scene can destroy an otherwise good movie. One misplaced word in a poem can do the same thing.

Thank the gods for prose -- at least here, we have a little slop room. Though not much.

The bus was expelled at a traffic snail's pace from the tunnel and into the underground garage of The Port Authority. Then, after squeezing myself out of the confines of the bus -- which, at this point, makes me consider the train a far superior and gentile form of mass transportation -- I found myself in a massive underground garage that led into the bottom level of station. 

[NOTE: Having at least a casual understanding of Dante's Inferno is helpful understanding the City of New York. And I mean this not as a negative, merely as map key.]


My first thought was to look for my friends, Susan and Steve, who had graciously agreed to put me up for a week at their place in Queens. Unfortunately, that was washed away by two other immediately prevailing impulses. For one, I had the strong desire to piss. (As I have explained... most eloquently, I believe, in The Greyhound Quarto, I try to avoid a lot of food intake while in the process of traveling, but do work at staying hydrated. The body is, after all, 70% water. (For me, maybe a quarter of that is beer, and other quarter bourbon and gin, and another quarter is coffee... but still, all liquid.)

The other impulse was far less of an impulse as it was the immediate sensation that, if I stood still too long, I might get run over by one or all of the hundreds of people around me who seemed to know exactly where they were going.

Luckily, the people who run the Port Authority realized that unless there was clear signage pointing out where people could piss that they would, in all likelihood, piss anywhere; I spied the restroom sign and made for it immediately.

With that weight off my mind, I looked around for my friends; not knowing whether one or both of them were going to meet me and not being sure where, I decided to take the escalator I noticed to my left to the next level; my thought was that maybe there was an actual waiting space up there, or that there was some restriction on non-ticketed people by the gates. 

There isn't. Traveling by bus, and by train, lacks a fundamental paranoia that has been embraced by the air travel industry. And maybe with good reason. As the bus rolled towards the city and I got my first glimpse of the skyline, I was struck by two things: that New York is far more immense than ever portrayed in any movie or television show; and that something is missing.  I thought about a conversation I had with my friend George, who grew up in Long Island, about New York after 9/11. He said one of the things that was difficult for him to grasp was having to look at the skyline and have it look so different. There was sorrow, he said, in knowing it will never be same. 

Riding up the escalator and into another artificially lit level, I paid heed to the repetitive recorded feminine voice, telling me not to stop at the top and to keep walking. I found a column to stand near, in front of the Greyhound ticket office. Still no sign of Susan or Steve. I checked my cell phone -- the battery was near dead -- but realized I didn't have a corresponding cell phone number for either of them. I decided to message Susan -- who I talked to most frequently over Facebook -- and see if maybe she was online, or maybe had a way to access those messages over the phone.

She messaged back, thankfully. Steve was there to meet me, and she recommended that I stay put and she would try to reach him on his cell. Of course, I had trouble imaging Steve with a cell phone... much in the same way I had trouble imaging my friend George with a cell phone. They're symbolic of a sort of frenetic narcissism that runs contrary to both their natures. 

Waiting there, near the column in the front of the Greyhound Ticket office, I was nearly run over by two little girls, no more than 8 years old, playing tag; they were using the column as a defensive/offensive structure to catch each other. Twice the same man came up and asked if I had any change. 

You know I'm good for a little if I have it; but when I KNOW it's just a hustle... which I knew it was from the fact that 1) he looked a bit too appropriately dirty and 2) he kept going back and talking to another person, who was clearly his friend and who didn't look appropriately dirty at all... and when I have to watch my pennies ... which I do at this point because the cost of laying out my travel plans back through the Midwest has left me nearly broke, and I knew I'd need money for mass transit... I do hesitate, just a bit. I hope the universe forgives my still present worry for self-preservation.)

I hadn't seen Steve since leaving Cincinnati, but I remembered him as a quiet and gentle soul who was much engaged with his own thoughts, his own teaching and writing process.  But I also thought that maybe he had one -- maybe at Susan's insistence -- just to be able to keep track of one another in a place as large as New York. (The only reason I ever got a cell phone was at Melissa's insistence, because our schedules were so at odds and because she wanted to be able to find me in Cincinnati without having to run down a list of phone numbers of various coffee shops, bars, libraries, and friends.)

After having no luck and after Susan suggested maybe having him paged (I wondered at the horror of that... not only the process of trying to find an actual PERSON to do that and the terror of hearing one's name over the loudspeaker, like being beckoned from the depths of Hell.), I decided to go back down to the lower level in case I had walked past him in my rush to not get squashed and to empty my bladder.

The buses were more or less empty and the throng of people that had pushed me, spermatozoa like, through the doorway. And there, standing as if he has always been standing there primordial, separate from the passage of time, as if the Earth and the whole of  The Port Authority had risen up around and engulfed him without his even noticing -- was Steve.


[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
  1. Passing the link around.
  2. Graciously donating to the cause using the button on the right hand side of the screen, or by going to paypal.com and donating to mickp@gmx.com. THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT. If you DO decide to donate, I will mention you in the blog. Promise. 
  3. Contact Catherine Sellers at Greyhound, 415-331-6049. Tell them you are asking about a sponsorship when the operator picks up. At this rate, they really ARE losing my love to Amtrak. But I'm no easy whore. No. Really.
THANKS FOR READING AND FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!]


22 January, 2012

Porkopolis In the Ice and Rain: Part 1

"The shit that used to work won't work now..." -Warren Zevon, "My Shit's Fucked Up"


Cincinnati, Ohio --


1.

Whenever I'm in Cincinnati, I always know exactly where I am. For all it's faults -- and it has more than a few -- Cincinnati has always felt like home to me.

I don't know how many times I've been in and out of the downtown Greyhound bus depot; when I think about it, the weight of them seem to amount to more than the actual number, leaves me feeling like I've been through the bus depot here more than anyplace else. Actually, my first long bus trip was on a Greyhound from New Orleans to Lexington, Kentucky. I don't think I left from the Cincinnati station until the move out to Arizona... and that was a three day bus trip.

But I digress... it's so easy to do when you fall out of time except for when you're catching a Greyhound bus.

Once we got east of Chicago and a little more south, the weather cleared up; and except for some traffic delay trying to get through traffic in downtown Indianapolis, the trip ran on time and I made it to Cincinnati without shitting myself or dying of thirst.

And allow me to shamelessly plug (in the hopes that perhaps, upon reading my well crafted words that Greyhound Bus Lines will see it to their advantage to let me ride for free and extol the virtues of seeing America via bus. Of course, if Amtrak gave me a the same deal, I'd just as quickly extol the virtues of seeing America by rail.


(Is that whoring? Maybe. But I'm trying to see visit my daughter, see America, and do it without going bankrupt. And while I do have what could be termed a "hitcher's thumb," I'm certain that I'm not pretty enough to be picked up by anyone except a serial killer who prefers chubby Irish German wayfarers.)


Not my thumb.
I can't tell you enough, faithful readers, just how much EASIER Greyhound Express Routes are. The buses are newer, have free wifi, and more leg room. Moreover, on this particular trip, the bus didn't have more than 10 people on it. So it wasn't a sardine can and I was able to stretch out in relative comfort.

(If this seems like solid schmoozing to you, please contact David Leach, President and CEO of Greyhound Bus Lines and remind him that they need all the good press they can get.)

Pulling into the Cincinnati Depot then, was only fairly anti-climactic... I disembarked, rushed in, and found the cleanest possible bus station toilet to take what can only be described as a near mystic shit.

(BTW: this is a random chart describing how hitcher's thumbs, a recessive trait, are passed on.  Non sequitur? Yes. Ask if I care. Go ahead. I wanted to find a picture of a nasty public toilet. This is better, no?)


Since my bus was a day earlier than I had told anyone, I was -- as you might recall, my few and far between faithful readers -- I was a bit stuck for a ride. My first attempt to get a ride had fallen through anyway, having been in touch with Alex the Feminist Super Warrior, a friend and former student who, for reasons still unclear, seems to enjoy hearing from me from time to time. Alas, she was scheduled to go to Columbus to some rally or meeting or Tits Only kind of gathering. And I knew better than to expect her risk pissing off feminists... because this is something that should only be done when ABSOLUTELY necessary.*

My second attempt was also a failure. I checked with my older brother. But he was in Atlanta on business.**

Considering the possibility that I would end up taking a taxi or... if  had no other choice, a Cincinnati Metro Bus, I put in a call to another old friend, Eric M. I met Eric when we were both teaching at Northern Kentucky University, and he later became my boss at the now defunct Center for Access and Transition at the University of Cincinnati.*** 

Luckily, Eric M. was home and nothing better to do -- or so he led me to believe and I allowed myself to think -- and he agreed to pick me up. 

It's always good to see old friends. Of course, I was famished, and thirsty, so Eric drove across the creek (aka, The Ohio River) to  Covington to The Cock and Bull. The Cock and Bull is located in the part of Covington referred to as The Mainstrasse. It's worth checking out. Not only does The Cock and Bull have enough beer for even the most casual beer aficionado^, but the menu prices are (city) reasonable.

This is only SOME of the on tap beer at the Cock and Bull. I would've posted a picture of the burger, but it didn't last long enough. It was delicious. Medium Rare, baby!)
 After a few beers and some much needed conversation, Eric M. drove me out to Anderson, one of the burbier places in the Greater Cincinnati Area. My Mom lives in Anderson, in a condo she bought a few years after my dad died. Eric M. has had a hell of year, and I've had what can be described as an interesting year... especially the last month or so... and we traded war stories and showed one another our scars. Eric M. is one of the majority of people who have, in one way or another, been screwed over by the economy. And because of the sheer number of Institutions of Higher Stupidity within the Greater Cincinnati Area, it's hard to make a decent wage as a college teacher. He's not married, which is probably one of the couple of things that's saving his ass from destitution. But he does have mortgage, a cat that's been old and sick for as long as I can remember, and very nearly Zen Garden -- pretty impressive for an Italian Catholic -- he spends a lot of time and money on when it's gardening season. He's also a good writer... when he actually writes. 

He's also had to deal with finding a the body of a dear friend and fellow tutor after he didn't show up for work. Adam, the friend ... though not a friend of mine ... committed suicide. I've sat with people when they died, and I've found people in conditions that could have led to their deaths. But I've been fortunate thus far, not to have to find a friend who killed himself. FORTUNATE.

Eric isn't the kind of person to call himself a victim of the times... he's too old fashioned and manly to do something like that... but I found it telling when a man whose ability as a teacher and a tutor impressed me early says to me 

"I don't know. I think I might be close to selling out."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"To the highest bidder," he said. 

[More later in the week, faithful few. I need to thank Eric Collins for his generous contribution to the re:visionary fund. If you like what you're reading at all, please think about donating to keep me on the road so I can keep writing about the America that everyone sees and no one talks about. Also: the phone number for the Greyhound Bus Lines Corporate Offices is: 214-849-8000]


*I know this from experience, dear readers. Oh yes. I know.
**My brother is one of those guys who gets Frequent Flyer Points and classifies the Hampton Inn as an "alright" hotel.
***This program was geared for students whose reading, writing, and math skills weren't sufficient to get into Freshmen General Ed classes. The program was eventually canned because UC cares more about looking good than education. If you are so inclined, email Greg Hand, VP of Media Relations, and tell him UC is proof of the decline of American Education.
^I define a beer aficionado as anyone who knows that Budweiser, while it's cheap and will get you drunk, really isn't beer. It's the chilled and homogenized piss of bourgeois beer makers who drink real beer and laugh at middle American schlulbs who don't know the difference.)


21 January, 2012

Ahead of the Storm


Shadows pass on the other side
of frosted glasses. I can make out
trees, the shapes of hills, traces
of Interstate 74. 45 minutes out
I know intuitively where we are,
silently lip the names of the places
like a prayer: a mantra meant
to keep myself focused.

                  Shadows punctuated
by glaring fast food signs. Rolling
down the hill, I start counting
the minutes until the cityscape
will come into view. Shadows
surrounding the lights of houses,
street lights. Anonymous beacons
for other weary travelers.

Shadows engulfing what I leave
behind me. Seven hours north, echoes
of tears where once there were kisses
the warmth of your eyes
the inadequacy of it all
the absurdity of it all. I let
the shadows wrap themselves around me
as the city comes into full view.



20 January, 2012

Harrison Street Station Run Through

"I love it when a plan comes together." - John "Hannibal" Smith 

The original title of this entry was going to be "2AM Harrison Street Station Blues." It's nice when a snazzy title happens to pop into the brain... I usually labor over, over criticize, change, despise, change and finally give up on titles. I've always struggled with titles in the same way I struggled with long division when I was a kid. I know it ought to be a simple thing, but dammit, my head just can't seem to wrap itself around it.

I was planning on writing it because even though I managed to get a ride into Chicago from Jim "No Toll Is Going To Slow Me Down" Beaudry, I had it stuck in my head that my bus was going to leave on Saturday, January 21st, and 12:15.

So there I was, sitting at one of the places available to plug in my netbook so that I could both charge the battery and check Facebook, listening to music through my ear buds, when I heard an announcement about an express bus to Cincinnati getting ready to board. "Hmmm," I thought. "If I had known there was a schedule for today, I would've probably taken that one instead."

I was about to go back to my music, my Facebooking, and my emailing, when I decided to go ahead and look at my ticket... the one I had bought a few weeks before and had sent to me in the mail. I looked at the date.

It read January 20th.

I looked at the date and time on the task bar. SHIT. That was my ride they were calling out.

I rushed packing up my computer, grabbed my other bag, and headed for the Express loading area. I looked at the date again, double checked it with my phone... because I didn't want to be the stupid schmuck  who tried to board the bus 24 hours early. My cell phone display confirmed that today is, for REALZ, January 20th.

I got in the short line, and when I got to the driver checking tickets, he didn't shoo me away; instead, he pointed to the bus and said "The same bus will take you all the way to Cincinnati."

So here I am, aboard the bus headed out of Chicago heading south and east. The world outside looks like a Cohen Bothers movie. All gray and white, to the point that it all looks almost dead body blue. (You remember that color from the Crayola box, right? ) The bus is on the empty side. I don't know if it will stay empty all the way to Cincinnati -- we have one short pick up stop in Indianapolis -- but so far, so good.

There's only three problems.

1) When I arrived at the Harrison Street station, they were cleaning the men's restroom. And by the time I noticed they were done, I had to get on the bus. That means at some point, I'll have to use the rolling outhouse in the back of the bus. If you here a large plop, that wasn't a mystic shit. It was me falling down the rabbit hole.

2) I didn't buy a bottle of water because I figured I had time.

3) I'm not quite sure who's picking me up in Cincinnati yet. Or, indeed, if I can prevail upon anyone in this weather to drive downtown and pick me up.