I really dislike riding Greyhound buses. They always run late, the seats are narrow and uncomfortable, and they are frequently packed with people like a huge can of sardines. Most of the people who ride them use Hefty Lawn garbage bags for luggage, and do not know the meaning of the word "soap." I'm not being critical of their choices in life, but when you are packed into a crowded space with people, good hygiene is helpful and appreciated.
The last time I rode Greyhound was just over a year ago. I had dropped a car off in Alabama, and there was another car waiting for me to pick up in Little Rock. The car was going to Portland, Oregon, a good long run and a chance to get some decent money.
When I got on the bus, I could see that it was crowded as usual. There was only one empty seat, an aisle seat next to a man who strongly resembled singer Barry White, only bigger and bald on top. I could see that the extra large sized gent was taking his seat and half of mine, so I had no option except to squeeze myself in. I cursed myself for my inability to sleep on Greyhound.
Only on this trip, I did fall asleep, and was out for four hours. I must have been extremely tired. When I woke up, the man next to me had his head resting in the middle of my chest, snoring happily. He was heavy into dream-mode, even sleep talking in a basso-profundo voice similar to Barry White. As soon as his words became clear, I could tell that his dreams were of a romantic nature.
"Baby. Oh baby," the sleeping man purred. "I love you, baby. You know I do." I looked around to see if anyone else could hear this, as the man continued. "Daddy's been good to you, baby. You know he has. Now come on, baby, give Daddy some sugar." That's when the man began to nuzzle his face into my ribcage, and that's when he went too far. I slapped the bald top of his head, and he sprang awake and yelled, "Get your hands offa me, you faggot!"
"Just keep your hands to yourself and leave me alone." The man pressed up as much as he could against his window, trying to get away from me. I looked forward and could see the Bus driver staring back at me in the rear view mirror.
Our next stop was a small town in Mississippi, where the driver announced we'd have a short rest stop. I climbed off the bus, and the driver grabbed me by the shirt and yanked me out of the line of people exiting. "Come here, you." He pulled me around to the other side of the bus. "OK, now what do you think you're doing?"
"Beg pardon?" I was truly mystified.
"I don't like to have my passengers disturbed. Now I don't care if you want to live some alternate lifestyle, but I won't have you pressing your perverted desires onto my other passengers."
I smiled and shook my head. "You don't understand, I--"
"I don't want to hear it."
"But if you'd just let me explain--"
"I do not want to hear it! You are a troublemaker, and you're off my bus."
"Off your bus? What will I do?"
"You can catch the next bus, comes through here tomorrow about this time. Maybe you'll think next time before you start molesting strangers."
The driver walked away, lighting a cigarette. I looked at my watch and saw it was just after midnight. Seeing that I was stuck, I could only attempt to make the best of a bad situation.
I walked through this very small community, and it was as quiet as a ghost town. In the distance, I could hear a dog barking. I walked up one street and down the next, then found myself in front of a Diner. Lucky for me, it was open 24 hours, and I went in and parked myself at the counter.
"What can I get you, honey?"
I looked to my right and saw a waitress approaching me. She was sort of plain, but had a winning smile and a friendly face. I needed some "friendly" about now. "Coffee and a menu."
"You got it." She brought me a menu, then gave me a cup and poured coffee into it. "I'm Tina and I'll be happy to get you whatever you need."
"Hi Tina, I'm Bill Thomas, nice to meet you."
"What brings you out so late? I don't usually get too many customers on my shift, just a few travelers now and again." I told her my story, and she was aghast. We got to talking, and I soon found that she had a much more fascinating story than I did. She was 28, a single Mom with four small kids at home that she was raising alone. She also had to care for her grandmother, Mee-Maw, who was non-ambulatory and unable to do anything around the house. Tina had lived a tough life, but I was amazed at her sunny demeanor and bright outlook. She said that she believed in God, and that if it weren't for Him she'd probably never make it. I was full of admiration for this woman, and told her so. She said what she'd really like is some good sleep, but that she had her hands full with the kids and housework.
I sat there for hours, and watched as she worked hard cleaning the Diner. She made me some of the best pancakes I've ever eaten, and when I said so she beamed with pride. She said that since I was going to be stuck there for a day I should come to the house and she'd make me a real nice dinner, and I could meet her kids. I was surprised that she was so trusting that she'd invite a complete stranger to her house, but there was something special about this woman that made me want to know her better. In all my years of driving, nothing like this had ever happened. But I had nothing better to do, and lots of time to kill.
When she got off work at 6am, we walked together back to her house. She apologized for not having a car to drive us in, but I told her that I get enough driving all the time. Her house was very old and modest, and all was quiet when we arrived. I saw that the grass in the yard had grown pretty high, and inside things were a bit messy. With all she had on her plate, I couldn't fault her. She told me that she needed to lay down for a while, and said I could stretch out on the couch if I'd like to. The kids would be waking up soon, and she'd have to get them breakfast.
I laid on the couch and looked around the room. I can't explain exactly why, but I felt compelled to do something. I went into the kitchen and saw a pile of dishes. So I found a sponge and some dish soap, and started washing. I wiped down all the counters and the kitchen table. When I got done, I moved into the living room and cleaned up there, then the den, then the dining room. The kids woke up and asked me for breakfast, so I got them all some cereal. And I taught them to play the "quiet game" so Tina could sleep a bit longer. Mee-Maw was the next to rise, and she sent the kids outside to play while we talked. She told me that Tina's Ex had been very abusive to her, and the gal finally had the good sense to get away from him. Mee-Maw said that she didn't know what she'd do if Tina didn't take care of her, but that they were barely getting by.
When Tina got up at noon, she apologized for oversleeping. I had just made sandwiches for the kids, and then I asked if she had a lawnmower. She blushed and said she couldn't let me mow her lawn, and I told her it would be a pleasure. She agreed with me that time rolls by faster when you stay busy.
I found things to do all day at her house to help out, and it made me feel good inside. Before I knew it, we were having supper. Tina was a good cook, but obviously had meager fixings in the kitchen. It was amazing that she made such a good meal from what little I had seen in her pantry and fridge. I played with the kids for a while after dinner, then said I'd better be on my way. It was still five hours until the next Greyhound bus would come through, but I thought I'd go back to the Diner and sit quietly and do some writing. She gave me a hug and I gave her my cell phone number to stay in touch.
As I walked back, I passed a small grocery store. Tina had told me it was the only one in town. I went inside and grabbed a grocery cart, and filled it up with milk, bread, butter, cereal, chicken, ground beef, pasta-- basic stuff. As much as I could afford, anyway. Then I asked the manager if I could borrow the cart if I promised to bring it right back, and he said OK. I went back to Tina's house and set the stuff down on her porch, then knocked on the door and started to push the cart away. Tina came to the door as I was passing her neighbor's house, and I waved at her. She yelled something at me, but I couldn't quite make it out. I didn't do it for thanks or some type of reward, I just wanted to help someone out the way people have helped me out. Like in that movie, PAY IT FORWARD.
I boarded the Greyhound bus just after midnight, the last time I'd ever ride on Greyhound. It was an unexpected detour in my life, but it had been a real good day.