The morning after our return from a whirlwind three-day Missouri road trip last summer, my mother and I again set out in a car and drove. But this time, I would go on alone. Strikingly alone.
Alone, in fact, 24 hours to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Before that day, I wondered that anyone could despise a good long road trip. Today I have no trouble grasping such distaste for lengthy interstate travel. “It depends on who’s in the car,” my best friend Misty always says. Too bad she had been on hospital lockdown from a stem cell transplant the week of June 20, 2008.
At six AM, I found myself at the ugly metal ticket counter of the Nashville Greyhound bus station turning in my confirmation number. As my tickets printed, I turned with a sinking stomach to watch the familiar red Camry pull away from the curb.
Turning back to my bags, I realized I had never felt so vulnerable to the public. Languishing men of all ages flanked the red metal benches, baggy, wrinkled clothes and unkempt hair marking their travel weariness.
I noticed an attractive young Asian woman dragging her little boy in my direction. I asked her destination, and, finding it different from my own, she kept moving, the boy fighting every inch. I chuckled nervously, wondering when my 6:40 bus would pull in.
The sky began brightening from black to gray, and still my bus would not come. It was seven A.M. by now.
“I wonder how I will know which bus it is?” I thought, and dutifully observed the other passengers.
Everything looked so confusing. People cut each other in line every which way. It didn’t help that seating was first come, first serve, and Greyhound sets no limits on ticket sales. If the bus filled before you got on it, you had to wait for the next bus with your destination, be it a matter of hours or days!
I was petrified. To allay the fear, I again scanned the room and noticed the most active travelers assembling near the loading doors. I hunkered down on a bony red bench close to a door in case my delayed transport should suddenly burst forth.
The mantra, “Next time I’m buying a plane ticket,” kept repeating in my mind while bile built in my throat and anxiety threatened to explode in a vicious panic attack.
My eyes darted to and fro throughout the raucous crowd, desperately searching for a kind eye. Two seats to my left sat a graying overweight, middle-aged woman, weariness and depression creasing her brow.
Interested in how these things worked, specifically how self-respecting middle-aged women end up in Greyhound stations at 6 o’clock in the morning looking like they’d travelled all night, I struck up a conversation.
I was rewarded with an apt response. I asked a few leading questions, and off we rode into the drama and pain of this woman’s life. I’m sure sadness swept over my own features when she told of her mother’s recent death and the necessity of getting as quickly and cheaply to rural Tennessee as possible. Plane ticket prices had been too high, so she hopped the Greyhound.
Not to my surprise, she also despised the experience and swore to purchase plane fare the next time a travel opportunity came up. She had been too long from her dogs, stepchildren, and nursing post, in that order.
My nurse friend was also helpful in explaining bus protocol, and I was soon at ease, despite my bus’s lateness. Her bus arrived, and we nodded our farewell. I thanked Jesus for the encouragement.
An hour later, the bus to Chicago was lazily announced over the station intercom. I smiled brightly to myself, giving my steps a little boost so that I could land an early seat on the bus. No bus-missing would befall me that day if I had anything to do with it!
Unfortunately, things often don’t have anything to do with you, so they turn out differently than you hope—as I would shortly see.
But I’ll leave that for another time.