The Bus Ride From Hell

146072-004-2B38877C

There will come a point at the end of your life where you reflect back on things you have done, the good memories you’ve made and the regrets you have, whether it be peacefully on your deathbed, or in the seconds before you die in a horrible accident. I’m not sure how I’m going to die, but I am one hundred percent sure that when I think about the important decisions I made in my life, the good and the bad, the one that’s going to haunt me the most is the time I took the greyhound bus from Fort Pierce, Florida, to Memphis, Tennessee.

It was the summer of 2014, and a very hot one at that, but my spirits could not be dampened, because despite the misery of living under those devastating meteorological conditions, I was about to have a two week vacation. My wife and I, taking our first trip together as a married couple since our honeymoon, were going to go visit my dad in Memphis for a week, then go spend a week at the beach in Destin with my mom’s side of the family for a week after that. I was getting to spend a substantial amount of time with my family that I hadn’t seen in a while, and I didn’t have to worry about work for two weeks, so I was about to be living a pretty stress free life. I just had to get out of Fort Pierce first, and since I wasn’t confident enough to drive my car on the interstate, for fear that the speed alone with shatter it into a million little pieces, there was no way I was going to drive it across multiple states, which made the getting out of town part a little more difficult.

Based solely on the fact that it was much cheaper than flying, we decided to make our trip to Memphis via Greyhound, the bus not the dog, though I can’t imagine that riding on the back of a bony dog would have been much more uncomfortable than the reality we ended up with. Fort Pierce was only the second stop on the Greyhound’s journey through Florida that began in Miami and ended somewhere less fun, presumably, but even so, the bus was already packed by the time it arrived at the truck stop gas station by the interstate. My wife and I waited in line to board, and once our tickets were scanned and we made our way onto the bus, it was clear that there was no room for us to sit together, so she took a seat near the front, and I walked to the back, plopping down on the seat next to a guy whose head was completely under a blanket, presuming correctly that if he was sleeping then I wouldn’t have to talk to this guy for the four hour trip to Tallahassee. Unfortunately he snored most of the way, so even though he wasn’t badgering me with conversation, he still managed to make the first leg of the trip an annoying one.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Tallahassee where Leticia and I were reunited in the greyhound station that somehow smelled worse than the overnight train, the “Trenitalia,” that runs from Rome to Paris. Fortunately, we were able to sit together for the rest of the trip, which seemed like it would never end. We would ride on the bus for a few hours, then make our next stop, where occasionally we would change buses, and then start the process all over again. Shortly after four in the morning we arrived at the Atlanta bus station, which thanks to my extensive research beforehand, in an attempt to ease my nerves and make me feel better about riding on Greyhound for the first time in my life, I read some pretty horrible stories recounted by passengers passing through the Atlanta station. Like a gentleman, I let my wife exit the bus before I did, which also meant that I could kind of use her as a human shield if something were to go down, not that I was thinking such terrible thoughts.

I was carrying a bag over my shoulder as we stepped out into the muggy Atlanta night, and some guy who was just hanging around by one of the street lamps stepped up to me and asked if I had a laptop he could borrow. I told him no and then he pointed at my bag, the kind of bag that were clearly built to carry computers, and asked what was inside. Luckily I had left my laptop at home for this trip, so I was more than happy to open up my bag and show him the contents that included an extra t-shirt, my toiletries, some snacks, a book, and a notebook, none of which interested him, so he let me go inside while he went looking for his next target, and luckily, I didn’t get approached by anymore strangers for the rest of the trip.

From the time we left Fort Pierce until the time we arrived in Memphis, the trip took about a total of twenty hours, which is almost a full day that I will never get back. I feel like when you look back on bad experiences, you can find one or two positive things that happened or something meaningful you can take from the bad experience, but that’s not the case here. Not only was the trip incredibly long with a maddening amount of stops, but the whole on bus experience was awful, from the signature stench of Greyhound, which smelled to me like sadness and body odor, to the uncomfortable seats left my butt incredibly sore after only about six hours, which left me to shift every few minutes for the remainder of the trip, endlessly searching for a more comfortable position that just couldn’t be found. Sure we paid less money to take the bus rather than flying, but what we lost, all that time and our innocence, was worth way more than the money we saved. Hopefully I never find myself riding Greyhound ever again, but if it does end up happening, maybe I’ll get lucky and be stuffed inside somebody’s suitcase under the bus, because I would much rather be a decomposing corpse than to willingly ride that bus from hell ever again.

Advertisements

The Ticket

IMG_5090If you’ve never driven on US 64 West, you’re not missing much. It’s a miserable stretch of highway that I have to drive on when I’m going from Memphis, to Searcy, Arkansas to visit family and then vice-versa when it’s time to head home. It’s a road I take out of necessity, and nothing more. It’s a really easy drive from Memphis to Searcy, which is nice, but it’s almost entirely spent on this one highway which definitely has it’s drawbacks. If you’re hungry and looking for something to eat, you better not be too picky, because if you pass up a McDonald’s in Wynne, you might not see another place to eat for the next half hour, and the same goes for gas. Don’t wait until you absolutely need gas to stop for it, because there’s no telling where you’ll be when the light comes on. You could be passing through a small town that has a disgustingly dirty gas station that your forced to go inside of because you can’t pay at the pump for whatever reason and smell the various array of scented sprays that are there to distract you from the fact that you’re in the middle of freaking nowhere and everything in every direction smells like cow manure, or more likely, you’ll be on a long stretch of road with nothing but cotton as far as you can see, and no sign of a gas station anywhere, and if you run out of gas on the side of a mostly deserted highway, you’ve just become the lead character in a horror movie, and nobody wants to go out like that.

I went to Searcy for Mother’s Day weekend, to see my mom, so I was headed back to Memphis Sunday afternoon, listening to 90’s hits on the Pandora station and trying to stay awake as I passed through town after sleepy town and counting down the minutes until I would get home. It’s not that I was fleeing Arkansas as quickly as possible despite the fact that I hate driving through those tiny towns, but the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs was set to start in half an hour, and I really wanted to be home to see as much of that as I could. Driving on highway 64 isn’t just annoying to drive along because there aren’t many options to stop for food and gas, but also because most of the way, it’s only a two lane highway, so you inevitably end up behind someone who is just out for a nice country drive and has no awareness of the speed limit or the person behind them who might be trying to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. Also, the speed limits decrease as you enter into the small towns and then go up once you get further away on the other side, so keeping track of what the speed limit is at any given moment, isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

I was driving through a town I couldn’t name at the time, but now know the identity to be Parkin, when I saw a police SUV in the oncoming lane, headed in the direction that I was coming from. I was going pretty fast, because at the moment I was the only one in my lane so there was nobody to slow me down, and I didn’t give much thought to the police officer since he too was driving instead of sitting on the side of the road with his radar gun pointed at me, but just before we passed each other, he flipped on his lights, and I turned to my wife and told her I was about to get a speeding ticket. We held out hope slightly that the officer had just received an urgent call and just happened to be passing me when he was given orders to turn around immediately and head to the scene of the crime, but that notion was completely vanquished as he pulled his car right up behind me. The officer was nice, although I can’t say the same for my two Chihuahuas who began viciously barking as soon as he showed up at my window, and continued to do so until he walked away, and despite the pleading from Jack and Mocha, I was still issued a ticket for driving 68 in a 55. I’ve gotten two speeding tickets in my life, and both of them have been on highway 64, so I guess it’s probably time for me to stop speeding on that road, or maybe better yet, and I don’t know why I didn’t think about this sooner, just stay out of Arkansas altogether. I’m joking, I’m joking. There’s no way I could ever stop speeding.

The Cost of a Burger

IMG_3328Have you ever looked at a chicken clucking around the barnyard, and thought to yourself, wow that feathery creature would be absolutely delicious dipped in honey mustard? Or have you ever looked at a cow, other than your wife, and thought to yourself how you would just love to gobble it up, hooves and all? You probably haven’t, because that would be incredibly weird to look at a living animal and see something that you want to eat, yet we eat those very same animals every day. So what if they don’t the same or even remotely recognizable as the creatures they were before their trip to the slaughterhouse, they are still the same animal. Maybe their feathers have been plucked and their hides have been turned into leather belts for the very cowboys that raise the cows and chickens just to one day kill them.

It probably happens on a day like today, with rain pouring down and thunderstorms rolling in. You wouldn’t want to waste a beautiful sunny day inside the slaughterhouse, no on the rare April day in North Carolina when the sun fought it’s way through the clouds, as a farmer, you had to take full advantage. When the sun was out there was no time for the animals, because there were much more time sensitive things to take care of, like getting all your crops planted early enough in the year, which took a good bit of skill to maneuver, because if you tried to plant too early, the ground would still be frozen from the winter and would be impenetrable, and if you waited too long the rainy season would appear leaving the ground damp and sometimes under water, for the majority of a month, and by the time it dried out again, you’d be behind schedule.

The animals could be taken care of before the sun came up, like the milking of the cows or the gathering of chicken eggs, tasks that didn’t require the natural sunlight to directly affect the business. If he really wanted to, he could have flipped the switches in the slaughterhouse and got things cranked up and ready to go after the sun went down and he was done working outside for the day, but the one time he’d tried this his kids, as told by his wife, were up all night screaming in terror at the horrible sounds that were coming from out behind the main house where daddy was “working.” In addition to the lifelong scarring of his children, slaughtering the animals overnight wasn’t ideal because once morning came he had to put his current project on hold while he went about his normal daily routine, and if there’s anything that he’d learned during his years as a farmer, it’s that when you start doing something that is very bloody and messy, it’s best just to push through until the end, because once you stop and you get that god awful smell washed off of you, it’s a lot harder to make yourself go back to finish what you started.

As the wind blew the rain in sheets that rattled the high window of the slaughterhouse, the cows stood in a line, not perfectly still, but as still as you’d expect a herd of bovine to be in a fairly tight and confined area without much wiggle room. Moos could be heard filling the space that was growing warmer by the minute as the cows exhaled, sending a small puff of steam floating purposefully up towards the ceiling. The clucking of the chickens were gone before the cows entered, and the furry beasts had no idea what was waiting for them on the other side of the door. One by one, the line moved forward slightly, and the cattle behaved like cattle, following the cow in front of them. Now all the animals are dead, but at least we get fried chicken and hamburgers. Seems like a fair tradeoff.

The Worst Part of Bowling

IMG_0061I was watching bowling yesterday, not because I wanted to watch bowling, but because it happened to be on the big screen television in the restaurant where I happened to be eating lunch yesterday. Whenever I’m at a restaurant with TV’s, it’s like I can’t help but to look over at them every twenty seconds or so, and it doesn’t even matter what is on. Of course if there’s a good football game on I’ll be looking at the television with more interest, but even if it’s an infomercial, I can’t help but continue to look over at it because that’s just the kind of focus that I have, the kind that can be derailed by moving shapes on a TV screen that I can barely see out of the corner of my eye. It demands to be noticed, and never the biggest advocate for self control, I give in.

So there I was sitting at a restaurant with my dad, and after some hillbilly country show that featured a room with a depressing amount of wood, the walls, tables, and chairs all made out of the stuff that looks like the decaying rot where you might find a wasps nest, bowling came on. I think USA was having a shows nobody cares about weekend marathon, and from what I saw, they were doing a bang up job with the lineup. If it wasn’t bad enough that I had to watch bowling, I had to watch bowling while eating lunch, and there are few things I can think of as unsavory to see while eating a smoked sausage dog than out of shape sweaty men lunging forward to roll their yellow jaundiced looking ball down the lane with disgusting grimaces of intensity.

As I kept watching, unable to pull my eyes away no matter how much I would have liked to, I noticed that surrounding the bowling teams were bleachers filled with hundreds if not thousands of apparent bowling fans. Due to my lack of focus and the big screen TV in the restaurant where I was eating, I was basically forced to watching bowling, but here were these people, these fans, who more than likely paid human money to be there, were not only willing to watch one of the most boring activities you will ever witness, but they’re willing to throw away their Sunday afternoon to do so.

Maybe you think I’m being a bit harsh about bowling, that it’s not really as boring as I’m making it about to be, but have you ever been bowling? Bowling itself isn’t so bad, and I actually enjoy going every now and then, but the worst part about the whole experience is having to watch everyone else your playing with while waiting for your turn. Am I wrong? Of course not, you bowl and then have sit in agony on the uncomfortable plastic chair bench while you have to pretend to be interested and excited for everyone else who is bowling with you, all the while you’re really counting down the frames until it’s your time for your thirty seconds in the stoplight before getting two gutter balls and starting the process all over again. And god forbid there’s a child present. Sure kids are cute and all blah, blah, blah, but have you ever been bowling with one of the little brats? The whole game has to shut down while the sixteen year old manager of the bowling alley brings out one of those special converted old people walkers that have now been twisted and reshaped to resemble metal ramps that the kid can push the bowling ball down to make the experience easier, and over all more fun for them. But what about the rest of us? Your three year old isn’t going to remember this two years from now, but I’ll take to my grave the hatred I have for that little punk who is drawing out an already unbearably long bowling game. Any way, my point is, I can’t believe people choose to watch bowling, and that they actually pay money to watch it. For me, it would have to be the other way around; if I’m going to waste my Sunday afternoon being bored out of my mind watching bowling, someone’s going to have to pay me to do it.

What Would You Do for a Barbecue Sandwich

Imagine standing in a dirty restaurant with cracked floors and water marks on the ceiling. If there’s ever a that can depress you instantly by its aesthetic, it is here. I’m standing next to the counter awkwardly, trying to stand close enough to it so that I’m out of the way of the customers who walk past me talking loudly, but not so close that I’m basically in the kitchen. It’s really a fine line, and unfortunately I wasn’t so great at toeing it. I was basically face to face with the sweaty woman in the kitchen who was making my food, which was fittingly disgusting, just like the restaurant in which she was working. She looked up at me, wiped the beads of sweat off of her forehead with the back of her gloved hand, the same gloved hand that was preparing my dinner, and then, realizing she’d just made a mistake, uttered an expletive and then began to apologize, only it wasn’t an apology for the completely unsanitary act of drying her sweat with the same glove that was making my sandwich. No, she apologized because she forgot that I wanted the brisket on the sandwich sliced instead of chopped. At this point I didn’t care, I was just ready to get out of there as quickly as possible.

It all started about an hour previously. I was at home watching pre-draft coverage of the NFL draft that was taking place that evening. I always love the first round of the draft, because there’s just so much excitement and hope that whomever your team picks might be the one to lead them to a Super Bowl. With about an hour to go until the draft officially began at seven, my wife and I began to discuss dinner, and what we were going to eat. Neither one of us the most decisive person, it took us a good twenty minutes to decide on getting sandwiches from Top’s Barbecue, which is right down the street from where we lived. That being the case, I waited until about 6:35 to go and get the food, leaving plenty of time to get back in time for the start of the draft. I pulled into the drive-thru, which is where I normally order when I go to Top’s, because of the previously mentioned depressing aesthetics of the restaurant, and it makes me feel better about eating the food from there when I don’t have to actually go into the restaurant and see where the food is made.

I was sitting in the drive thru line for five minutes without moving forward at all, so when the car behind me and the one in front of me both gave up and drove off, I was free to do the same, only instead of leaving like they did, I just pulled to the front of the restaurant and went inside. There was no line, but there might as well have been for how long I had to wait at the counter for someone to come and take my order. Someone acknowledged me as soon as I walked in, which was nice, but it took several minutes for someone to come and ask what I wanted. I ordered two of the jumbo brisket sandwiches, with coleslaw on the side. She asked if I wanted the brisket chopped or sliced, and looking at my phone, realizing it was nearing ten minutes to the start of the draft, I chose sliced, because that seemed like the quicker option so they wouldn’t have to spend time chopping it up. I waited and waited at the counter, and still my food was not done, which is when I sent my wife the eloquent text message, “Top’s sucks,” but I should have waited another minute to send it so there would have been adequate sentiment left to express how I really felt about the person making our sandwiches wiping her forehead with her hand and going back to work without changing gloves.

It was after seven by the time I finally left Top’s with the two sandwiches I had ordered more than fifteen minutes earlier, but luckily by the time I got home, the boos being hurled up at the stage at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, had lasted several minutes, so the draft was just now starting. For all the time spent getting those sandwiches, I vowed that this better be the best freaking barbecue sandwich I’d ever tasted, and it turned out not to be so bad. I just tried not to think about whether the meat was moist from barbecue sauce or employee sweat. Take it from me, food is much easier to swallow when you don’t know the answer to that question

The Taste of Purell

IMG_4999The first time I tasted Purell was in second grade, standing outside of my classroom door just after recess, my second favorite school subject aside from lunch. My teacher, Ms. Gass or Mrs. Throneberry, I don’t remember if she got married before or after the Purell tasting incident that year, was squirting sanitizer into the hands of all her students as we made our way, single file, back into the classroom. If I may veer off course for just a moment, how lucky was I to have a second grade teacher named Ms. Gass? To a young boy, nothing is funnier than the noise your body makes when you fart, so imagine how utterly hysterical it was to call my teacher Ms. Gass. Sure, there are teachers who earn unflattering nicknames behind their back, but we actually got to raise our hand and address the teacher as Ms. Gass, and it was the greatest thing in the world, and I think the fact that it was not only allowed, but what we were expected to call our teacher, it made the situation even funnier. I digress.

There I was, in the hallway outside of my second grade classroom, repeating the same routine I’d been through every other Monday through Friday of that school year. Kids are dirty, nasty, filthy creatures, so it only made sense that after we were released into the even filthier outside world, that we would be given a single squirt of Purell upon re-entering the classroom. I was still young enough in these days to spend recess on the playground rather than on the blacktop parking lot that would become our recess mainstay in the next year or so. Life on the playground was a simpler time than recess on the blacktop, though we didn’t know it at the time. On the playground the worst thing that could happen was that your shoes would be full of little rocks by the time the whistle blew to herd us all back inside, or maybe you burned your legs on the tall metal slide that became a torture device in the middle of the day with the sun high in the sky, but these were nothing compared to the problems that arose once we were older and were allowed to leave the semi-safe confines of the playground.

On the blacktop, when we started playing competitive sports at recess, things took a turn, and a funny thing happened, we all became really competitive. It seemed like there were always arguments and people getting mad about a no foul call on the basketball court or claiming that they weren’t actually touched with two hands as they scrambled to make the game winning touchdown, but these were problems to be dealt with at a later time, unbeknownst to us second graders. Since all of our recess period was spent on the playground, our hands became filthy from picking up handfuls of pebbles out of our shoes and touching all of the dirty playground equipment, that in my eight years at the school, I never once saw being cleaned, hence the teacher doling out Purell when we came back inside.

I held out my hands, cupped so as not to let any of the sanitizer fall to the floor, a big no-no that when done on purpose would get you a stern look and perhaps even a timeout at the following day’s recess. Ms. Gass or Throneberry, whichever teacher was mine at the time, pushed down on the nozzle and the hand sanitizer landed in a goop on my open hands. As taught and then practiced, I started rubbing my hands together like I was washing them, rubbing the Purell into my skin to sanitize all of the germs that had taken up residence on them in the last half hour, but an unexpected twist occurred. I must have punctured my hand on one of the rocks I’d pulled out of my shoe earlier, because there was a small cut on the interior of my palm, and when the hand sanitizer came into contact with the open wound, I felt a stinging pain like nothing I’d ever felt in my life, and out of instinct, to stop the stinging I brought my hand up to my mouth to suck on the cut to make it stop hurting, which turned out to be a huge mistake. The good news is that I forgot about the stinging in my hand for a minute, but that’s only because I was tasting the most vile substance that had ever come into contact with my tongue. It was probably my worst moment in the second grade, but at least I learned a valuable lesson from it, and to this day, I’ve never tasted Purell again.

A Mouse in the House

I’ve had rats in the tub, squirrels in the walls, and roaches in the fireplace, but with the exception of a couple of roaches, none of those creatures actually infiltrated the interior of my apartment. Sure they were incredibly annoying, heard scratching in the walls and under the bathtub at all hours of the day and night, but they were heard and not seen, so I always had the option to pop in some headphones and pretend like I was living in a more desirable situation, but something happened the other night, something unprecedented in our time since moving into the apartments nearly two years ago, something that will completely rip apart the fabric of our peaceful lives and push me to the brink of insanity as this new problem plays mind games with me.

It was a few minutes after three in the morning, which I know because I pressed my phone to see the time so I could see how much time I had left to sleep. Nearly four hours, nice. The over the counter sleeping pill that I take does its job fairly well, which is nice, but it also dries my mouth out which makes me wake up incredibly thirsty, which is not so nice. To combat this, I normally have my forty ounce water bottle on the table next to my bed so I can take a few sips when I wake up, but on the night in question, when I rolled over and reached my left hand out to grab for it, there was nothing to grasp except for a nearly empty green bottle of the Polo Ralph Lauren cologne that has been close to running out for months now. I’ve never drank cologne before, but I don’t imagine it would be a very pleasurable experience, and it’s really kind of expensive to anyway, so I set the glass bottle back down and got out of bed to go get some water.

I walked down the dark hallway, stepping left to avoid the scale right outside of the bathroom, less because of the pain it would inflict if I walked into it barefoot, but rather because I didn’t want to know what it had to say if I somehow happened to set foot on it. I walked across the cold linoleum by the front door and turned right into the kitchen where I could make out the silhouette of my Takeya water bottle, the moon coming in through the blinds faintly illuminating it. I flipped on the light so I wouldn’t spill water everywhere when I poured it from the gallon jug in the refrigerator into the bottle, but when I started to pour, I saw something gray move down around by my feet, causing me to jump back and spill some of the water anyway. I looked around, frantically searching for it, but it had disappeared, but I knew what it was. I was now living with a mouse.

I’m not a big fan of rodents, and quite frankly I never have been, but thankfully in the past when one of them as weaseled their way into the house, it was when I was still living at home and there were responsible adults around to take care of the situation. I’m supposed to be adult now, and while my age would suggest that I am in fact able to handle adult situations now, I don’t really feel like an adult, at least when it comes to the not fun things like having to take on a mouse in the house. I can just totally see myself setting off the mouse trap and having to end up in the emergency room with a broken finger or something. I went back to bed and haven’t seen it since our first encounter the night before last, so I think the best course of action is to feign ignorance. I was wearing gray sleep pants and I was very groggy from the sleeping pill, so I suppose it’s possible that what I witnessed was just the hem of my pants and I just perceived it to be a mouse. I think I’ll choose to believe that version, because it’s a lot less disgusting than the alternative.