Dog Stories

by Will Sanders on May 5th, 2010

I hugged my sister, a good hug to last another year.  I told her what a great time I had had with her kids, my nieces.  Little Emma had been following me around hollering “Bunka will Bunka Will” she couldn’t say Uncle.  And Lucy is three weeks old and I held her and woke up every so often in order to stretch her little spine and wiggle her little butt, mostly she stayed sleeping, occasional crying spell aside.  My mother was there too last week, what a great time.  Her and I took little Emma to Chuckie Cheese.  Emma being a two year old found much more joy in plunking the little tokens into the slots in order to see the lights flash than she would have had she hung around long enough to play any one video game.  She ran from slot to slot and made sure none were hungry, my mother and I behind her running to make sure she was in my eye sight and not abducted by moonies or priests or horrific clowns.  Some guy in a Chuckie cheese giant head rat like mascot costume was hanging around and Emma made the connection to Mickey Mouse.  She drug the poor mouse around the room carefully pointing out each wonderful glowing light to the guy in the giant rat costume; “Look Mikey mouse!  Look Mikey Mouse!” I told Emma she was going to get us kicked out of that place for copyright infringement but she didn’t seem to heed my warnings.  Then she found the air hockey and refused to leave.  I played her four or five games in a row.  Neither of us cared that it was supposed to be a game with a winner.  Also, I think I was the only one in the room who noticed the lack of robot animals playing the banjo like when I was a kid.  Also, the pizza sucked out loud.  I mean worse than CC’s sucked.

So I hugged my sister and went inside the Grey hound station, this was Memphis.

Earlier that day I felt a little sad when I got off the phone with Carson.  I felt like I had said I was coming to Mobile to visit him and his wife Cat and had backed out, it was a little bit more money than I had figured on, and it was weighing heavy on my mind as I waited in line at the station to buy my ticket to Atlanta.  A dude started into me about his hard luck story, something about his money coming western union and western union being closed until the morning and did I have any money for him to get a cheese burger and these cops out here be hustling a niger just for drinking a beer, it’s like he be smoking crack, and you know he just can’t be doing that no more.  So I gave him a couple of bucks, which made him smile.  He started telling me I was a real fucking person and he was sick of these people in Memphis not smiling when you smile at them, not like in his home town, not like in Mobile.

And there it was, an odd coincidence that felt like a sign of some kind.  Easily dismissible, yes, but odd.

I got to the front of the line and asked for a ticket to Atlanta.

“Just out of curiosity” I casually asked the lady, “when is the next bus to Mobile?”

“Oh we ain’t got no more buses leaving to Mobile tonight”  She told me.  Which was fine.

“Wait, oh ok.  Yeah we have one more leaving at 9:30.”  I looked at the clock, that was in ten minutes.  The nagging voice of crazy started going in my head.  “You got a five hour layover in Montgomery starting at five AM.  That bus won’t get there until 1 in the afternoon tomorrow.”  It was now 9:20 at night..  In my head I could hear the voice of the infinate daring and taunting me, ‘Mother fucker you call yourself a backpacker, YOU AIN’T GOT THE SAND!’

“Cancel that ticket to Atlanta, one for Mobile.”  I heard myself say it and I couldn’t believe it.  Who says you have to be in Indonesia to have crazy adventures?

Quick story about the Grey Hound ride up.  On the way from Atlanta to Memphis a week before I was sitting behind a fat guy, well fatter than me, and he had a camo ball cap that said ‘kiss my bass’ with a picture of a fish.  His shirt had a deer with big antlers which read ‘deer hunters get the biggest racks.”  He sat down next to me at the Birmingham station and started telling me things.  He was a trucker and he was tired and he had been doing it for so long.  I listened, then he wanted to know my deal.  ‘what do you do, where do you do it?’ And I told him I was a teacher in Indonesia.  He seemed unimpressed.  ‘I used to be in Russian special forces’ he told me confidentially, ‘I been all over the world’.  Somehow this seemed doubtful, and it was the start of his long monologue of fictitious nonsense. My favorite part was where he told all the other truckers on the bus that their 70 hours a week of driving was nothing, back when he was a trucker in New Zealand he used to drive 175 hours a week.  Quick, what’s 7 times 24?  Go.  The trucker on the isle across from us said, “ya’ll had to be driving 48 hours a day.”

But that is why I love Grey Hound.  Almost every trip comes with a story, all the drivers are hard asses and all the riders are half crazy, ex cons, soon to be cons, drifters, some drunk, some high, all armed with stories true or otherwise.  All usually ready to pass the monotonous hours telling the stranger next to them what ever thoughts or stories they have rattling around.

The other night I got on in Mobile, my friend Carson having no idea I was coming, and sat next to a kid, a 17 year old looking white boy with a ski cap and pants built to be worn several sizes too big.  My other option was a fat lady who took up both seats so I took the skinny kid.  We didn’t say a word to each other, I just sat down.  His arms were puny sticks covered with tatoos in Latin.  I took a sleeping pill and was out like a light.  I slept with my arms crossed over my sizable belly.  I had a vivid nightmare that I had accidentally planted a bomb which killed many people and was now running from the cops.  I woke up suddenly when the kids head was resting on my elbow.  I decided he had fallen asleep that way so I nudged him.  He moved his head but minutes later it once again came to rest on my elbow.  Again I nudged and when his head again he came back it dawned on me that it wasn’t unintentional.  This was some kind of signal, he was cruising for johns to meet him in the mens room of the next rest stop and this was his way of letting me know.  I worried that his signal would become more direct, I suppose he was expecting me to do something to let him know back that I was interested, which I most certainly was not.  I thought of his parents, worried sick someplace.  I thought of what a lousy way that must be to spend your teen years, no proms or sharing your first beers and cigerettes with friends nervously behind the highschool stadium, this kid was working his way mens room to mens room to where ever he was going if he had a destination at all.  And I was sad for him.  And I was unable to keep my eyes open from the sleeping pills.  I wondered if it made him feel easy or safe.  And it occurred to me that strangely it didn’t bother me, I suppose it should of but it didn’t.  I passed back out and we stayed that way for several hours until Birmingham when I had to change buses, passed out hard with a 17 year old gay prostitute sleeping on my arm.

When we got to the station the kid who had been jabbering away on his phone to someone in Mandarin was freaking out.  Everyone was telling him this wasn’t the bus to Mobile, I stepped up and told him I was going to Mobile.  He was literally running around the station at full speed.  He spoke almost no English and I knew the panic on his face from when I lived in China.  He was worried because the ticket office was closed for the night and he needed to get to mobile.  I asked to see his ticket, he didn’t understand.  I showed him my ticket and pointed to my eyes and he started freaking out worse.  I took a deep breath, and at 3 o’clock in the morning at the Birmingham bus station, for the first time in maybe two years, I started speaking Chinese.  He was surprised, to say the very least.

My Chinese wasn’t great when I left China, it was much worse now, but I was able to at least talk to him, and between his shaky English and my threadbare Mandarin we were passing.

The Americans were asking each other which bus to get on, it was a heard of people left to fend for themselves in the dead of the night with no Grey Hound representative anywhere.  I finally asked a cop about what my friend should do and he said to pay the driver and give the driver his ID until the next station.  When the driver showed I had the Chinese dude follow me and I asked him how much and was able to translate.  The Chinese guy said in English “Too much.”  And I turned to the driver and said “Ti gui le.”  But we were got on and we made the bus.

In Montgomery my new friend Zhoudi treated me to breakfast.  He saw me walking from the station and followed me.  I told him I was going to Mcdonalds and he said “Bu hao.  Waffle House.”  He had the T bone, he asked me about the grits and I couldn’t really tell him in either language.  He tried them and spit them out back into the bowl.

We tried to sleep for the next few hours we had each made a little bed out of metal chairs pushed together.  I may have gotten an hour that way, on the other side of the room my Chinese friend seemed to be out cold.  Metal chair bed was near the video games, the one on the end was a hook that lowered into a bed of tightly packed stuffed dolls.  Every few minutes a voice from the machine said

‘There’s no limit to what you can win.’ or ‘Now it’s finally your turn to win.’  I looked at some of the faces sitting around the Grey Hound station that morning, they seemed unconvinced.

Then my Chinese friend and I talked for a while, him in English and me in Chinese.  He told me he was going to be a cook at a restaurant and his mother was in Mississippi and his Father was still in china.  He had landed in New York and taken the Bus all the way down south and had been for the past few days.  I told him that I live in Indonesia, I had to draw a lot of maps for that one.  Then I drew a family tree and started teaching him a little English vocab: mother, father, brother, sister.  Then month, year, day.  He taught me the words in Chinese and we passed the hours that way.

Montgomery to Mobile had the same driver from the night before, he recognized us and laughed, he gave us high fives.  A dude sat next to me who was on his way to work a back ho cleaning up the oil drenched beaches from the recent BP disaster.  He told me he had decided that morning to leave his wife.  She found him packing a bag and he told her he had a job for the next few months in New Orleans.  He explained that he was sick of her taking zanex and drinking red wine and spending all his money and yelling at him all the time.  She either had to quit taking the zanex all the time or he wasn’t coming back.

She was fine a year ago, he told me.  She used to have panic attacks so a doctor had prescribed three zanexs a day which had transformed her into a different person.  I couldn’t tell if he was the sort of guy who was that open with strangers in regular situations or if he just needed someone to open up to, but I was the guy and we talked about him leaving his wife for a few hours.  Sounds like he is doing the right thing to get out of a bad situation and I told him so,  but it sounded very painful for him all the same.  He had tried everything he could think of, he told me, and now he was just sick of it.

After talking about that for a while the conversation switched to construction equipment and his trans am which he has been restoring and souping up.  At the rest stop the guy got me a bag of doretos, which I hadn’t asked for just to be nice.  It wound up being the only food I had between 6 am and midnight.  Nothing like a good solid road diet.

At the mobile station we waited alongside the building for our bags.  One guy was impatient.  He stood over six feet and was covered with small tatoos, biker looking eightballs and dragons and naked hula woman, they looked like decals all over his huge arms.  This was a big and mean looking dude.  A small old man in a security uniform quietly asked that we please stand behind the yellow line.  The big guy started towards the bus and the old man stood in his way, calmly and serenely saying “Please wait behind the yellow line.”

But the big guy had already seen his bag and didn’t want to wait.  He started screaming ‘fuck you’ into the old mans face.  The old man didn’t stir or lose his cool.  A younger guy working the bags and came over, he asked what was the problem.  The old man, in a slow drawled southern cadence said, “Well this guy here just said something about wanting to get his teeth broke.”

To which the big guy hollered “Fuck you, you fucking ugly ass fuck!”  But he walked away and stayed behind the yellow line.  Steaming but compliant.

For the last time I tried calling Carson to let him know I was coming.  All night I had worried that it would be an imposition, but this time I reached him and he told me to look out front for my limo.

Out front Zhoudi ran up and gave me a big bro hug and we shook hands.  He said “good bye friend.”  And I said “Zi jien, wo da pungyio.”

And across the parking lot was a big black cadilac Limo that Carson had borrowed just to pick me up in style.  My man Carson has more style than anyone I know, by the way, and he told me if I had given him more notice he could have picked me up in a red double decker bus, he knows a guy.

He also has gotten me a job washing dishes at his bar to pay for my trip.  I start tonight.

4 Responses to “Dog Stories”

  1. Will Sanders says:

    I was so excited to read an American adventure. And this lived up to it. Great read, Sanders.

  2. Loretta Paraguassu says:

    Your stories got to me. I couldn’t stop reading. It made me remember long ago journeys by Greyhound between San Francisco and Mexico. The characters, indeed. It’s a whole different world. And the bus stations! You did make me remember.
    Happy trails. You’re a great storyteller.

    • Will Sanders says:

      Wow. thanks. Yeah, grey hound really is it’s own reality for sure.
      thanks for reading, and thanks for the kind words.

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