Kenneth Rosen is a third-year writing student at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Kenneth's clips include publications such as Savannah Morning News, District, District Quarterly, and Ever After Review. Though he spends most of his days as editor-in-chief of the school paper, he contemplates world domination while biding his time writing creative non-fiction and aspiring to also one day become the next Big Lebowski.
A Night at the Station
by Kenneth Rosen
At a Greyhound bus terminal you can become anybody. You can be a fiction or your idol, resurrect a historical icon, or bring to life a character from a book. Have your name ready at the counter, do not stammer. The attendant will ask for your name, but not your ID. The glance she gives me when I tell her that I'm Ernest S. Thompson and that no, I won't be checking any bags, is one filled with disbelief. She types it in anyway and prints the ticket. She's wearing a black long-sleeved shirt with a blue vest and wonders what I'm running from or to, then hands me my ticket.
It's late and the station is virtually empty. It's not as big, or crowded, or well staffed as the one in Jacksonville or Atlanta or New York. Its restaurant is closed, the game room is abandoned and the restroom is being serviced by a haggard man pushing a mop. I find a seat and sit down. The bus, I am told, is en route.
For years I never considered buses, other than the MTA lines in Manhattan, as a viable means of transportation. And for good reason. A young man aboard a Greyhound in Canada was beheaded after being stabbed 40 to 50 times. The young man was 21.
When riding a Greyhound you run the risk of sitting next to a recently-released felon, or a fugitive on the run. Vagrants and runaways, drunkards and addicts can travel around the country anonymously for a small fee.
This trip is only a weekend-long excursion to the Appalachian trail and I have with me my hiking bag crammed with one change of clothing, a small stove and cooking set, a tent, tarp and rain gear, lighters, matches and tinder, and one book. This seat is uncomfortable, but it supports my back and I don't complain. The bus will be here soon so I am relieved to think about the cushioned seats that are on their way.
To bide my time I look around and wonder if everyone else has planned their trips as I have, or more importantly if they've each used their real names. The man two rows in front of me and three seats to the left is wearing a black sweatshirt, his face buried in his hands which are in his lap. No luggage. Imagine how weary he must be since not even I could fall asleep under the blinding lights hanging from the ceiling. Then the door to one of the terminal's gates open and a slap from the outside air reminds me it's December. Staring outside into the windows of a departing bus, I catch the eye of a man sitting by the window before he quickly turns his head away.
In the station, a man not much older than me leans against the blue and white tiled wall reading a book. He's sitting on one of two matched luggage bags. He looks my age only with a longer beard and a beanie cap on with emblazoned white lettering. He's a Yankees fan. Imagine him heading north to see his father. The station is quiet and the shuffling of the few who stand eagerly at their departure gate can be heard throughout.
I'm getting edgy and I need a cigarette. Although the doors lend a view of the entire inside of the station, I bring my bag with me. And so outside beneath a flickering streetlamp I light up and think about the sleepy station.
Cigarettes work two ways: alone time or conversation flares … exactly what this man emerging from the shadows across the street will initiate.
And he does. He wants a smoke. Doesn't ask, but demands. I say sure. He says thanks. What's your name? Lamont. Need a light, Lamont? He doesn't. He needs money for a ticket to get home. Where's home? Atlanta. I say I spent my last dime on my own, sorry. He walks off. I've seen him on Montgomery Street every now and then.
As he walks off he passes a blue and gray sign with white lettering that reads "The Local Police Department Makes Frequent Patrols of This Area. No Alcohol. No Firearms. No Loitering." It's a good thing that they do considering the one security guard is asleep, not far from where the other man naps. I need to keep moving or I'll freeze out here.
Around the side of the building, an old entranceway to the closed restaurant says that the space is for sale, and from what I can see inside — overturned tables, scattered trash — it would be more of a pain than a profitable venture. But no matter, this isn't New York or Jacksonville or Atlanta, this is Savannah and it's the perfect stop for a layover if all you need is some shuteye.
Inside for warmth, I notice some vending machines lined up against one of the walls. I'm soon standing in front of a giant one, paneled red and white with an all glass front. I notice a piece of paper gently tapping against the machines' window from the breeze coming through the door shutting behind me. In bold letters the paper says that Greyhound does not own or operate the machine and that one should "Use At Your Own Risk." I look down the row of automated dispensers and see the same notice tacked to all the other machines. Maybe a snack can wait.
A bus arrives, too early for mine. A middle-aged couple scrambles to gather their shopping bags and a torn duffel before standing in line with a few others. They're heading to Tennessee. They know where they're going and it seems that all their life's possessions are going with them. Their clothes are tattered and worn, images of foreclosure notices, eviction slips and condemned buildings. They will forget this place, moving on as people do, forgetting where they've been only to worry about where they're going.
I know I'll be back. I find my hatred of this seat becoming less of an issue and soon I begin to nod off. Curled up as if I were at home on my sofa, my head bobs trying to stay awake.
But I can't miss my bus. I don't even think there's a public address system here. I need to splash some water in my face. The haggard man is strolling out of the bathroom, mop and bucket in tow.
You would think the forty-odd minutes the janitor just spent in here would have left this place spotless. Instead it looks the way it did when I got here tonight. To his credit the air smells of Simple Green, which is to suggest he probably squirted it once in the air in each stall. I'm not afraid to turn on the sink, but I'm cautious so I use my sleeve just in case.
It's times like these that are so harrowing; when you're in your head, analyzing and reanalyzing, lost and uninterrupted with your thoughts. Discovering yourself and questioning whether what you say is true or if it's all a fallacy — if where you're headed is where you want to be. This bathroom is cold and lonely and comforting. I take my time washing my face, then I turn off the sink.
Stepping out of the bathroom I see another line forming under door B. A man in uniform is collecting tickets and I ask where that bus is heading. To Atlanta, he says. Perfect, I say. I hand him my ticket. He too gives me a look of disbelief upon reading the name. I smile. He hands back my ticket and I walk out into the chilly night, the breeze escaping into the door that's closing behind me. Passengers suck down their last cigarettes outside the bus. The next stop will only be for a few short minutes. It's quiet out here with the exception of the diesel engine's hum.
Climbing onto the bus I miss a step and stumble. Nobody seems to notice so I find a seat near a window in the back. The chair is soft and I'm thankful for its adjustable footrest and its ability to recline.
I can see through the tinted bus windows past the foggy windows of the station. If I squint hard enough I see the shape of a man. His silhouette is similar to mine and the size of his bag resembles the size of my own. In his hand is a ticket. I'm not sure where he's heading, or for what purpose, but I note that he decides to sit behind the sleeping man, his head still in his hands that are still in his lap. It wasn't too long ago that I was sitting in that seat. He turns his face toward me and I look away.