Jesus is more than my pseudonym. I'm am fully convinced that I am the Second Coming. If you don't believe it, I understand, I can't prove it, but my entire existence constantly reminds me that I Am. God, I wish I had more miracles than love and the interpretation of symbolism.
I left Knoxville with 4 bags weighing 136 pounds and one man, traveling 1000 miles with, no money, no clue, and no turning back.
Chapter 1: God in Heaven, No
I checked my bags and sat down on a bench in the corner of the Knoxville station next to a man reading a book titled Great American Poetry. It was just one of many poetry books in his stack and I remarked,
"I see you packed the important things. Do you write your own poetry?"
"When I get a chance", he replied and we started a conversation about genres and styles, inspiration and starving. He reached into his bag and pulled out a cigarette roller and I watched in amazement as he rolled like so few people do; he rolled like me. We both sat and finished our cigarettes and as his bus departed, he left me with these words,
"Find your own style and always remember to write for yourself."
It was nearing my departure, so I walked over and placed my bags at the end of a long line and waited for the call. Soon enough the driver started checking the tickets and letting passengers into the bus, one family at a time. As I neared the front of the dwindling line, he called "One more seat!", let a lucky man escape, and we watched in silence as the door slammed, the horn honked and we were left with no bus, and a 27 hour trip, quickly turning into 42. The next bus left in five hours so we waited in the gritty light of the smoking section and inhaled our anger as we watched the less fortunate non-smokers solicit prostitutes and the services of the dealers as they began to pass their time.
I sat and smoked with a 59 year old truck driver I will call Semi. She was going back to Pennsylvania to see her boyfriend and to get her new rig so she could start hauling cross-country. She was determined to work until she could retire with full social security, but now, she wasn't cruising, she was angry, almost enough to use her truck-driver vocabulary. But she didn't and kept it hidden as she smoked Pall Malls with a lumberjack traveling to Buffalo. We crushed out another butt and the Asheville bus arrived, and with it, my angel.
I first noticed her pony tail bouncing as she swayed to the music of her head-phones. She wrapped herself in a fluffy, baby-blue blanket and we exchanged our first glance. She spotted the payphones and after several failed attempts in placing a call, asked,
"Does if anyone have a cellphone I could borrow?"
There were no offers so I offered her mine and she made her call, thanked, and I walked outside for another cigarette. I nodded at several fellow smokers milling around the ashtray and told one punk, not to "Throw down on K-town". Then I walked inside and found Ms. Baby-blue, sitting in my seat and talking to Semi. She smirked, Semi jonesed, and after a few minutes of conversation, discovered that Melissa, from South Carolina, was 18, going to Indianapolis (as I), extremely afraid that she wouldn't make it, and this, was her first trip away from home, alone.
Chapter 2: Knoxville to Indianapolis, Melissa Was the Holy Spirit
The hours passed and our bus arrived. I asked Melissa, "Do you want me to save you a seat?
"Sure", she eagerly replied and we departed the Knoxville station. But there were no empty doubles on the bus and so she took the seat next to Semi, and I sat across the isle from her and from Jim.
Jim entered the bus wearing a cowboy hat, carrying a guitar and a fiddle, and pushing a wine crate down the isle with his boots. He kissed his mullet-headed woman goodbye and said, "I'll see you at the Oklahoma state line." The bus departed and I chatted some with Melissa, but mostly we pretended to sleep while comforting each other with soft gazes. Our blankets matched our eyes and after a while, I gave her my pillow and she fell asleep on Semi's shoulder while I began talking with Jim.
Jim played in the Cripple Creek Bluegrass Band and was taking a vacation till he was relaxed enough to return and resume his fiddling. But tonight he wasn't playing a guitar, he was playing me and decided that I needed to be told about Jesus. He talked and talked and I, barely had a chance to get a word in between his repeating questions,
"Nathan", he would say, "If you want, we can pray right now and you can accept Jesus into your heart."
"But I already have Jesus in my heart", I would say. But Jim, dismissing my honesty would start over and I realized that he wasn't going to quit until he felt like he saved me, or made me feel guilty. So he asked again and this time, I responded,
"Jim, you know what, I think I am ready for that prayer. Would you lead me in it?"
So he prayed, and I repeated the familiar words. And like that was not enough, he kept going. Ten or fifteen minutes, a jagged prayer, interrupted with Lords and protection and evil spirits and plenty of other words rendered meaningless through repetition. He finally quit, lowered his hat over his eyes and drifted off to sleep. Semi and Melissa had woken up and witnessed the entire spectacle and I was rewarded with a friendly kick from across the isle and a quiet laugh of admiration and accomplishment for silencing Jim's incessant monologue.
Chapter 3: Hell Shone Red in Ohio
We slept till Cincinnati and that was where bus number 0666 was parked. I shit you not. I saw it on the back of a parked greyhound as we rolled out of the Cincinnati station and that, was the most resurrecting moment of my life.
We arrived in Cincinnati, set our bags behind others at gate 16, and waited for the start of the madness. There was no one with a uniform besides the driver. There was no security or comfort besides our warm blankets, so I handed Melissa my phone and told her I would stay right next to her, whatever happened. She called her mom and ate a blueberry muffin before taking some medication. Curious, I asked her, "What are those for?"
"I have an ovarian cyst and this is meant to reduce the pressure." I was shocked at her honesty and she continued, "But occasionally, they have to take a big syringe and needle and remove the fluid." I empathized as much as a man could, and looked at the growing line and counting the people, started to get worried.
"I'm afraid that we aren't going to make it on this bus. There are too many people in front of us."
She looked at me, eyes of steel and with faith and determination said, "We are making this bus, I assure you, we are not staying here any longer."
It arrived and we assumed our places in line and waited for the call. It came and I could not believe what I saw. In the space of several heartbeats, an ordered group of travelers became a herd of wild cannibals, us included. There was no line, there was not order, only a rush for the few precious remaining seats on an already full bus. I have never witnessed something like this with my own two eyes. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie, it was some third world shit, and right at that instant we saw the truth of America: a quiet, sad truth, hidden from the reality of TV, ignored by the comfortable who change the channel to something farther away and less painful.
We were at the end of the line and the driver, raising his voice, called for all the passengers transferring in Dayton. That was us, so Melissa shoved a couple of frantically screaming ladies aside and slogged through the crowd towards her freedom. Her ticket was accepted and she stood on the stair of the bus and watched as I made my run, struggling with my four piece of luggage. I dropped the suitcase and decided that I could make it minus the extra weight,with just three. I parted the waves with my push and as I reached the driver, I handed him my ticket. I was almost denied, due to my now flawed itinerary, but seeing grace, he cleared me. I glanced back at what I had left and saw a young Hispanic, holding my case and handing it to me he said,
"This is yours."
We left our hell, confirmed as I saw the 666. She whispered soothing words from over the seat as we shared a touch and she said,
Chapter 4: "I won't ever leave you again, I promise."
Our coach rolled into the grey factory town of Dayton Ohio and stopped in the empty quiet station just minutes after sunrise. Melissa and I chatted and were given some breakfast from another Knoxville escapee who survived the horrors of the last stop. We shared the orange juice and struck a conversation with a young black woman, several seats down. She was headed towards Las Vegas with her baby and was looking for a couple of hydros to make the trip go a little faster. I offered her some of my Lithium but she declined and decided to smoke. I said I would join her and unable to take her child, Melissa offered to hold him and so Vegas set him down in her arms and she wrapped the blue-polyester blanket around his tiny feet and hands. We smoked half a cigarette, talked about the problem of racism in America, and both feeling concerned for our responsibilities returned back inside to our babies.
We had an hour left to wait so we sat rubbing shoulders as I opened The Illustrated Man and read Melissa The Last Night of the World from within the black binding. She followed the words with her eyes and every time I would flip the page, she would inch nearer with anticipation. The bus came and went and we were on it. This time, a gracious man switched seats with Melissa so we could sit together. I tried not to touch her with soft caresses as she was going to see her boyfriend, but never once did she ask me to stop. She just looked at me and pressed closer. Indianapolis arrived and we departed and said goodbye. We wished each other all the best as we embraced in an endlessly too short, hug. She left for Danville, gate 3 and I for Chicago out of 8. I sat next to a conversationless, white haired lady and dreamed about iced tea and sweet southern accents.
Chapter 5: The Sears Tower Struck
Chicago was a five hour wait, so rolling a smoke, I saw a lonely girl, sitting cross-legged on a suitcase and we began talking. We discovered that we had much in common and one of Stacy's concerns was her $4900 medical bill, created by an unconvinced doctor of an ovarian cyst within her body. I said,
"That is so weird, you are the second girl I've met today who told me that. What are the chances?"
"I got it because I was really stressed out about all the guys in my life. I was living with four of them and they kicked me out of the apartment I was sharing because I didn't get a job. Now I am going home to Sheboygan."
We talked, then jonesing, walked out for a smoke and met one of her acquired traveling friends, just returned from a failed attempt to smoke a blunt. Walking in South Chicago, looking for some kill, his wallet was stolen in broad daylight by two of his fellow homeboys. This got me worrying about my baggage and so I returned to my line and sat and watched. I sat for a few minutes, then turned around, and saw, just laying her backpack behind mine, a woman and a smile, a true angel, dressed in a green corduroy jacket. Minneapolis was our destination, but we had much more to talk about than that, for as she spoke with an dreamy hint of a German accent, she said,
"I went to see the Sears Tower and I have never been so disappointed."
"Oh, why is that?"
"It is such a waste of cement. Ugly glass, black and boring. I took a tour and they don't even tell you the cost before taking you up to the top and herding you through an antiquated museum of pointless pictures. Then they lead you out on the observation deck, which is not a deck because you aren't even outside. Then, they snap your picture before you can decline and charge you 13 dollars. And to top it all off, a black guy, who worked there, gave me his number and said I could call him any time. I was disgusted, I complained to the management."
"13 dollars", I said, "That's an unlucky number, you should at least get a chance to jump for that price.", we laughed and I continued, "I am sorry that you are on my bus today because I am having the worst luck on this trip."
"I am having great luck so far, so I will give you some of mine," she said as offered her hand and we shook.
"I'm Nathan", I said, "And what charming German name were you blessed with?"
Chapter 6: "Carolina"
We exchanged stories and I discovered a glimpse of her life. She has dual citizenship and is living in Montana where she goes to school, studying architecture. She is almost finished but hasn't found the answers in her education or anyone who really understands her. She is lost in a world that doesn't consider the complexity that exists outside the boundaries of American culture. We understand you Carolina, we really do, and you are one of many refugees who refuse to dissolve into the pop-trash of our society. It was said a long time ago:
"I'm empty and aching and I don't know why. Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, we've all come to look for America."
We talked about the problems facing this poorly directed country and I could spend the rest of my life talking with her, but one phrase, made her shine. Witnessing a single mother with three children, she said,
"Those are the real heroes of this country. Michael Moore should do a documentary of a trip on a greyhound bus."
"Yes", I said, "But he would never get an accurate story, for the moment the cameras started, everyone would change. But you could document it Carolina, you have power to capture this hell. And people will believe you."
"I'm not much of a writer," she replied, "I could take the pictures, but I would feel bad that people would think I am capitalizing from their poverty and pain."
We agreed and after an hour and many conversations, our departure came and we left on a full bus for the Cities. With no empty seats, I could not sleep and after a few hours, arrived in Madison. To my relief, my seat-mate departed and I was blessed with enough room to stretch my legs and get a little rest. I looked towards Carolina and noticing her neighbor was one of the few also gone, I whispered,
"You weren't kidding about that luck; you are sharing it today. We both have a little room to sleep."
We slept in the rhythm of loud engines and watched the moon speed us towards our freedom and the end.
The Minneapolis station is the closest I have been to heaven in a long time. There was a clean bathroom, a play area for the children and bright colored signs marking the gate numbers in appropriate colors:
Carolina and I waited for her bus and as it arrived, we shared several moments of goodbyes,
"Here is my address", I scribbled as I gave her my onetreeplanted.org. "I try to write something positive every day." She smiled, modestly, and one for which I would die, and left, out of the only gate she could:
Gate 7, For Luck.
Day 1: saving cedar shingles from the old wash-house.