Posts filed under ‘Writing’

I Must Look Non-Threatening

I don’t know what it is about me that makes random strangers want to stop me for information or conversation. Maybe it’s that I look like I know where I’m going — even in foreign countries. I still remember the first time a French person asked me for directions in Paris. “Now I must really belong here,” I thought.

Sometimes I wonder if I give off some secret pheromone that whispers “good listener” or even just “too polite to tell you shut up.” A few days ago, I sat down on the bench in the subway station to read my magazine until the train showed up.

As I’m reading the first paragraph, I realize that the man sitting next to me is talking to me. And we’re not talking friendly chit-chat, he’s off and running with a full-blown rant about the subway conductor who closed the doors in his face and how rude all the public transit personnel are, and don’t I think they’re rude too. I nod and make agreeable noises, wishing he’d let me go back to my article. After a minute or two (which feel like twenty or thirty), the train pulls in and I melt into the crowded car.

I get to my destination and board the bus for home and the guy in the seat behind me starts talking to me about the latest headlines from Iraq. At first I can’t tell if he’s seriously agreeing with Bush and the neo-Cons or if he’s being sarcastic. I say something vague, hoping that he won’t go off on me, and he tones down the irony. Thank goodness, he’s just an eccentric with no boundaries, not a right-wing wing-nut with no boundaries.

Nothing tops the experience I had on an overnight bus trip I took from New York City to Columbus, Ohio to see Earl Scruggs play banjo at a bluegrass festival. I was digging through some old computer files recently and found this journal entry I wrote after the trip:

I settle myself into the line for the 7:05 p.m. Greyhound to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati (continuing on to all points through Dallas). I’ve arrived far enough in advance to score a good position in the queue and hold out hope that I may yet scramble into one of the coveted front seats where my view won’t be blocked by another seat.

While I’m silently debating whether or not to take my homeopathic sleeping pills now or once I’m on the bus, a strapping woman in her 30s blusters her way into the line. I’d seen her earlier when I was buying my ticket and noticed that she seemed astonishingly dressed-up for a long-distance bus trip. Her long auburn hair is twisted up into a knot. She’s dressed entirely in white — from the short blazer and camisole to the matching mini-skirt and strappy spike-heeled sandals. She carries two matching pieces of hard-shell, sky-blue American Tourister luggage — the old-fashioned kind from the days before suitcases came with pop-up handles and wheels.

When she plops her luggage and herself into the file of waiting ticket holders, I can see that she’s not as put-together as I thought. Her fingernails are talons. I can tell they’re real, not press-ons, since two are noticeably shorter than the others. The front of her blazer is tinted with faint pink blotches as if she spilled grape juice or wine down her front, but couldn’t entirely scrub out the stains. When she parts her lipsticked lips to smile, I can see that half of her front teeth are missing. The ones that remain are gray, angular stubs.

She rummages through her purse and asks the air, “Does anyone have the time?” This is the moment of truth. If I volunteer, I may have a companion for the trip.

I imagine my mother warning, “Don’t talk to strangers!” and blurt out “6:30.”

We exchange pleasantries — “Where are you going?” “Where do you change buses?” I tell her I’m going to Ohio. She used to live in Ohio. She hates Ohio.

She is going to Kentucky. The dispatcher at the trucking company where she works is sending her on a twenty-hour bus ride to a town in Kentucky that I’ve never heard of. He could have given her a rig to drive there, but instead, he’s making her take the bus. She vows revenge. “When I come back that truck’ll be broken. I’ve had one day off in the past five years — when my truck broke. This way, I’ll get him and a day off. He’ll never send me on another bus trip.”

When we board the bus, Penny — somehow I’ve found out her name — chooses the free seat next to me. She tells me about the house she’s building. Actually, she doesn’t know where she’s building it yet — maybe Alaska, maybe upstate in Sullivan County — but she has architects working on the design. She’s disgusted with their inability to translate even her most basic ideas into blueprints. The bedroom is the biggest point of contention. The architects are stymied by the waterfall and the stream she wants flowing past her bed.

Although she’s mentioned a fiancé (a fellow trucker), he doesn’t seem to be involved in the creation of The House. In fact, it sounds like she hardly ever sees him. His driving schedule and hers rarely overlap. She spends more time with her dog — a ferocious-looking wolf hybrid — that she bought for protection on long runs. “My company,” she confides, “carries expensive cargo.” She gives me no more detail than that.

By the time we pass through the Delaware Water Gap, sunset has given way to twilight. There’s not much to see out the windows, so both of us nod off, snoozing through the long-dark stretch of central Pennsylvania.


6 November 2007 at 21:07 2 comments

Let the Posting Begin

Welcome to NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) here at Omnivorous! The party formally gets started later today with my first official post of the month.

Last year, I managed to post every day from December 1 through 24 as part of my Swedish-inspired Julkalender project (sort of like an advent calendar, but digital), so this year I thought I’d up the ante by tacking on an additional month of posts.

If you’ve never visited before, feel free to look around and comment. I don’t really have many etiquette rules other than a standard “please play nicely with others.” But, then again, my blog marketing has thus far consisted of occasionally mailing or IMing a link to a friend who I think might be amused so it’s not like I have a hoarde of commenters.

Anyhow, if you like what you see, I hope you’ll stop back this month, and next to see what I’m up to.


1 November 2007 at 12:13 1 comment

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