The FBI wrote MLK a letter.
He did not comply.
Then his birth became a holiday.
But this not about that.
This is about riding buses.
It begins with a photo of a cake.
The FBI wrote MLK a letter.
He did not comply.
Then his birth became a holiday.
But this not about that.
This is about riding buses.
It begins with a photo of a cake.
Blossoms and a face.
Two buses arrive.
Ring the bell and get off.
Walk back to the stop.
Up a hill and under rain.
"Aloha!" greets a lady.
"Are you a college student?"
"I'd like to be one. I love learning things.
She turns to her companion, "I never know which bus to take. Once I took the wrong one, and I had to run to catch the right one."
Another bus arrives.
Same driver as before.
He acknowledges me with a smile.
The lady greets new passengers.
"Oh! Aloha! You from the islands?"
"Yeah, I lived on Oahu 10 years!"
When you first meet someone from another island, you should give their island a little put-down. Thus the new passenger says, "I'm sorry."
The ancestor of this bridge was wrecked by catastrophic aeroelastic flutter.
The Islander, the new passenger, talks about night fishing. Snorkels, headlamps, lobsters boiling in kettles over driftwood fires —
"Hey!" says the Aloha Lady, "We used to do that in Hawaii! Have you been there?"
Transfer to the next route.
The bus is behind schedule.
The driver rushes.
"Hey! You missed someone!"
Brake and pull to the curb. A man jogs up, steps in, brushes the rain from his jacket, opens it to reveal a child sheltered underneath. Driver waves them past the fare box,
"Don't worry about it."
Arrive downtown, get off the bus —BANG!
What was that?
BANG! - BANG! — BANG!
Retail sales. Racks of ammunition in the window display. Black and white flag, blue stripe down the middle.
Walk under an overpass.
Photograph a distant bridge.
Film a train.
Where is the station?
— across the street.
Wait for the pedestrian signal.
Photograph a discarded kitchen.
Photograph an edible's wrapper.
The signal turns white.
Cross the street.
Sit and wait.
Bag between my knees.
Tickets in an old envelope.
A man cries out, "I'm sick of this place! It's been raining for 6 days straight! I can't wait to get back to California and see the sun again!"
It's time to line up. The driver takes tickets and reads each destination aloud.
"Portland, Oregon ––– Los Angeles, California ––– Memphis, Tennessee ––– Toronto... uh... Ontario?"
"Heard of it?"
"Maybe...where is that?"
"...You're going THROUGH America to get to Canada? — All you got to do is go up!"
Board. Aisle seat. Point the sensor at the window and touch the shutter button.
Pre-flash lights up the man beside me, dazzling him. Place my fingers over the lens before the capture clicks. Apologize. Disable flash, and point across the aisle.
"Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen. Our next stop will be Olympia."
Diesel under pressure.
This is a little bit like last time, which was a long time ago. When it felt like that start of something big.
It has yet to unfold as expected.
Something must be done.
We pass a huge, bright sign:
OPEN 24 HOURS
NOW HIRING ROOM CHEFS
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Everette. If you're continuing onward from here, please be back on the bus in 20 minutes."
Get off the bus. Photograph the bus. Photograph the parking lot.
Headlights illuminate words on the wall:
Go with it.
Remember the first photo. The cake. That was misdirection. Literary technique. The universe teaches through tricks. Remember that failed hypothesis— the one about poetry and prediction.
Reboard the bus.
Photograph the window.
Photograph out the window.
Data, photos, prose, video.
Maybe this time.
The reaction has dynamics.
Looking hot. Good start.
Travel and mathematics.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, you are now on a non-stop to Portland. There are some federally mandated announcements I am required to make. Smoking is prohibited at all times. As is the sale, consumption, and transport of alcohol. Some states have legalized marijuana but it remains federally illegal and is therefore prohibited.
If you are too hot or too cold please let me know and I will do my best to accommodate you. That being said, passengers in the rear of the bus will be warmer, because that is where the engine is located."
Try to photograph the scene. But the CCD is insufficient. Only bright spots make an imprint. Headlights, streetlights, buildings, and sensor displays.
This is the perspective of a self aware space telescope looking into a mirror.
It sees a civilization, on stage, at night.
Stars become lights.
"All those going to Boise Idaho and beyond, line up at gate 11."
"FUCK!" says Boy, "That change machine doesn't work. FUCK!"
"Hey!", barks Mom, "Don't curse like that!"
"Well what am I supposed to do?"
"Go to the shop and ask them to give you change."
Boy goes. Returns empty handed.
"They'll only give me change if I buy something."
Driver steps to the head of the line, "Families? Any families? Disabled? Handicapped, blind... deaf?" — "Alright, all the rest of you can board."
"Hey!" cries a guy at the head of the line, "Why do those people get to board first?"
"Stolisizim. Ever heard of it? Marcus Aurelius. Look it up."
He takes my ticket.
Doesn't look at it.
"Where you going?"
"I believe ya. No sense in lying this early in our relationship. Here's a re-board pass for ya. You'll need that in Boise."
Board the bus. The engine is off. Acoustic insulation turns the interior into an anechoic chamber.
"Where you going?" - "Salt Lake." - "You live there?" - "Nah, just a transfer to St. Louis for Memphis."
"What you watchin'?" - "Spider Man 2." - "Oh the good one... but hang on bud — you got a knot in your cable — I hate that — OK, there you go. Now you got some slack."
Driver leans in, "Hey, anyone leave a coat and blanket out here? Maybe the kid with the bicycle?" - "Yeah!" - "Well come and get it. You're gunna need it about half way between here and there."
The bus awakens with a shudder. The driver maneuvers it onto the highway and takes it up to 68 miles per hour. He pics up the PA mic.
"Hello everybody. My name is John, or Mr. John, or whatever you like. It doesn't matter. Just today I've been called everything but a Child of God. Emergency exits are labeled at their bases. Rumour has it a kick will push 'em out. Never seen it myself. Next stop, Hand River. That'll be about twenty minutes from now. When we get there we'll see if anyone else needs a ride."
Vegas Kid gives his attention to free poker on his sensor. Stops after a few hands.
Up ahead, a woman sews beads to a piece of leather.
She has a ring on her thumb.
We pull up to a stop, "This is B-dullas," announces The Child of God —"There aren't many services this time of night; except for a soda machine and a smoke shelter. Don't wander far if you plan on getting back on. We won't be here long."
Need sleep. Need to work. Make a story, collect data, do something. To earn money you must make things, sell things. Don't just flicker.
Come on, get out.
Photograph the front of the bus.
Return to my seat.
"Thank you everyone," says Child of God, "I appreciate everyone staying close — it helps keep us on schedule."
Sleep. Wake. Where is this? The announcement forgotten before the pen is ready.
Just make something up.
Night on a container ship. Far out at sea. No sails. Only petroleum.
Child of God has left the lights off as a courtesy to sleeping riders.
Watch the smokers.
Watch the truck-flow.
Doze, head against the window. Eyes open, now and then, in a state between sleep and awake.
Looking down at a beach, orbital vantage point.
A scrolling 2D projection of high-dimension data. It could be a chart of profit and loss.
Up, down, up, down, bankrupt.
Remember once, in Africa, on an overnight bus. Two men driving in shifts. One worked the wheel while the other slept in a cabin below deck. At some point in the night, the bus braked hard. An elephant crossing the highway. The sudden change in momentum threw the man out of bed — "AIE!"
Back then the idea was to write a story about a one-man band. He and his machine. I wrote the story in nightclubs, under strobe lights and kwaito beats, and then a pickpocket stole notebook. Left me with only my pen. I fell into a spiral.
We pass the burned out remains of a tractor-trailer truck.
Vegas Kid uses his sensor to make a call: "Mornin' Pappa. I got some bottles for $5. The label says 50mg. The cheapest I could get. Yeah, there were bottles for 75mg but those were $10 — Ok — Hi Momma. Wake up — get some coffee — hang on — yeah, my phone says it's 7:55 — Ok — Ok — Don't forget to pick me up."
Child of God speaks into the PA:
"Alright folks. This is Ontario. Ontario, Oregon. This is the destination for three of ya. We're going to be making a ten minute stop here. It is a community centre. You'll see a brown door that leads to a restaurant. Please use it. We will depart in about twenty minutes. Then we'll cross the Snake River and then we'll be in Idaho."
There's a sign on the wall:
"This ODOT ConnectOregon project is funded by Oregon Lottery dollars."
Photograph in panoramic.
"Alright folks, thanks for stickin' close. We're right on time. Twenty minutes we'll be in Nampa. Then we'll go to Boise. There you get a new driver; a better driver, and a crew will refuel the bus and give it a quick mop and pick up any trash.
Nampa is next."
Watch the road fly.
Highway: endoplasmic reticulum.
Details to a scale.
Highway: superconducting rail.
All can agree we be the cause.
Stop briefly at a gas station.
Green dinosaur mascot.
A bottle of injection molded polyethylene terephthalate contains a carbonated caramel coloured solution of non-nutritive sweetener.
Sensor charger, sensor cable.
Aft, someone's sensor rings:
"Hello?— No, not yet — not until tomorrow, at 6... 8. I'll be back tomorrow at 8. Ok, goodbye."
Again: "Hello? — Yes sir, but we need to look at it — I think it will be $125, but maybe it will be less than that. Yes sir, we are professionals — Ok, I'll see you tomorrow at 10am— Ok, 9am."
Exit the highway, enter Boise — capital city of a state with a potato stereotype.
"They've been doing a lot of dairy farming in Idaho." says the driver.
Arrive at the station.
Forty five minute wait.
Photograph the floor.
Vegas Kid walks up.
"You haven't slept have ya?"
"Yes, I slept."
"You did? I didn't. I've been awake since 8 AM yesterday."
"Gotta crash sometime."
"When I get home. When I get there, I'm gunna take a shower, take a couple hits from my new vape, and sleep."
Driver waves his hands through the air, checking the temperature, "Yup — yup — feels about right."
Mom and Boy tease one another:
"I'm gunna tape you to the front bumper — the bugs'll git in yer mouth!"
"I'm gunna tape you to the toilet seat — and it's a bad toilet!"
"Good! Then I can take big dumps!"
"Welcome aboard this Provost. A French Canadian bus. A heavy bus. A good ride, folks. I'm always happy to catch a Provost.
For those of you who want to see antelope, look out the window in about 55-65 miles.
Remember folks, no marijuana, no way, no how. Not on this bus. Have a good ride."
Flip through the sensor history. To the start. Image 0 — MLK, out of context. Inadvertent inclusion. But then, maybe, the context will widen into relevance.
Page forward –––– stop at a photo inside a moving bus. A man looking out the window. Vents look like wet piano keys. Musician on tour, live on the road, generating interstate. Chords modulate with location. Tune colours until they fit. Make notes. Take note. Make something. Write something that does that.
"We're going to be crossing the Snake River in the next two minutes. Be prepared for a change of scenery before we enter the city."
The bridge obscures the canyon.
Enter the city.
"This is Twin Falls. We're going to be here for twenty minutes. There is a Subway."
The bus parks at a gas station beside a vehicle dealership.
Get off the bus and run.
Leave all but my sensor.
Run to the canyon.
Hold on a sec, this is a sub-trip.
Capture a photograph.
Sensor software crashes. No time to wait. Trigger a reboot, and run —
— reboot fails, reboot again.
Arrive at the Canyon
Camera ready. Capture this →
Launch the panorama application.
Reboot and run —
Leg cramping, out of shape.
Everything I own is on that bus.
Walk quickly. Where is the bus...
Oh, there it is.
People idle beside it, unhurried.
Re-board and watch a man scroll through his feed.
"This girl has Downs Syndrome. But she is still beautiful. Share if you agree."
Press a finger to my wrist and count the beats, surreptitiously. Seems like ten a second.
A new passenger boards.
She chooses the seat beside me.
Plugs her tablet into an outlet and starts playing a game.
I feel weak. Out of shape. Dying?
Don't worry, don't worry, don't worry.
"As we cross the bridge, look to the right, in the distance not too far, you'll see the place where Evel Knievel tried to jump Snake River Canyon in 1974. Everything went fine until he got about half way across. Then something went wrong and he had to pull his chute. He went back to Montana. He didn't try it again. Today they'll let anybody jump from the bridge for $55. When you get to the bottom, you gotta hike back out of the canyon. Hahaha!"
Mom says, "I think my blood sugar is low."
Boy says, "Mom, if your blood sugar is low then you gotta eat a doughnut or drink some soda."
"— I guess..."
"Mom, let me use your earphones. I want to put yours and mine in at the same time. Then I can watch Journey to the Center of the Earth— in ultrasound!"
"You're going back to school when we get home."
"No! I don't want to go to school! I like doing this better than going to school."
"Well they keep calling me, telling me you need to come back."
"Awh! Then they're a bunch of Germans!"
Driver says, "Those are the Wasatch Mountains, ladies and gentlemen."
A memory — back to that bus in Tacoma — the one that blew past the man who turned out to sheltering a child under his coat. On that bus a man seated behind me was talking to a man seated across the aisle, saying "I like a snack, late at night. And so do my cats. We all share a snack late at night."
Their conversation turned to the death of parents and then siblings contesting will and testament of parents.
"I just let my brother take it all."
"My sister locked me out and evicted me."
The girl across the aisle snaps pictures of herself — smiling, not smiling. Looking, not looking. Chin up, chin down. Mouth closed, slightly open. Makeshift backdrop, her leopard-print blanket — shoulder exposed, biting her lip. Sensor higher, sensor lower.
Tremont. Mountains look like a snow-covered koppie. Probably an illusion.
Mom and Boy get McDonalds.
Mom unpacks the food, "Here's your two chicken sandwiches, two apple pies, two hamburgers, and two fries."
"If he eats all that he's gunna be sick!" says the woman beside me, not pausing her game.
"Well he can eat a whole Domino's medium by himself, so he's going to be fine."
Advertisements along the highway:
"This is Fatherhood. Free Courses."
"Utah: 60 Years of Helping You Grow."
"Think Young, Drive Young."
Enter Salt Lake City.
Pass a gravel park in front of what looks like a city theatre. A big tour bus parked in front. A camera crew setting up. Many people around — sitting, standing, waiting in line for food from a gas barbecue. Actors?
What's happening here?
"That's where you could get something to eat," says the driver.
Disembark at the station.
Connection in two hours.
Time to wander.
Exit the station.
Retrace the route, back to that movie scene.
Pass a billboard advertising a vision of the future.
Pass a tree in bloom.
A barefoot woman carries shoes in her hand, wearing sores around her ankles.
Pass a junkyard.
Pass a little heap of discarded clothes.
Black-marker graffiti of a cartoon cat.
Mobile police surveillance station.
Arrive at the park scene. Walk to the center, to a row of boulders. Sit on one. I feel out of place, but do not look it.
Observe a small group of well-groomed, well-equipped youth who film themselves providing hotdogs to addicts.
FUCK YOU TORTURERS!
YOU STOLE IT!
FUCK YOUR MOTHER IN THE ASS!"
"Ah shut up!"
Details resolve. People on their backs, on old blankets, under blue-tarp tents. Groups and loners. One inspects the contents of a tiny bag while another nervously keeps watch.
The ground is a mixture of gravel and needle sheathes.
A family moves through the mass. Clean and conservative. Father, son, and three daughters. One of the daughters approaches me, smiling, holding out a neatly wrapped package.
Decline, "No, thank you."
"That a sandwich?" asks the guy on the boulder beside mine, "I'll take one!"
A car rolls past, windows down, music up. Stops at a clique in an alley. Lets a girl out. The clique welcomes her back. The car backs out and slowly drives off, music up.
Private security patrols across the street. Bouncers for The Gateway Mall.
An unkempt guy sits on the sidewalk, back against a wall —drawing in a notebook. Small twinge of jealousy. I never liked competition.
A ragged man approaches. His eyes are dull and glazed.
"Spare some change for a coffee?"
Turning to the next passerby, he asks without bothering to look:
"Spare some change for a coffee?"
"Eric! God dammit! We live on the same fucking block! How are you gunna be asking me for money?!"
Membrane potential. Solute gradient. Water leaking through a break. Neighbourhoods operate as cells and organelles. Receptors surrounded by supporting cells.
An embrace in the middle of the street — "OH! I haven't seen you in forever! How are you!" — three people; a pair and an acquaintance. Weathered addicts, plain as day. One of them observes me filming something. He says a few words to his friend — she says, "Yup! Yup! He sure is!"
Walk toward the light rail. Catch sight of a woman. She sticks out from far away.
Cross the street, step onto the transit platform, to get a better look.
Read the map while there— Oh, there's a planetarium on this line.
Two parents push a loaded double-wide stroller out of The Gateway Mall. They are addicts, plain as day. They have two babies, pristine and clean.
"FUCK!" shouts the mother — a show for the security patrol — "A Coke is like TWO DOLLARS in there! Come on babies, let's go to the planetarium."
What time is it? Better go back to the bus station. But first, let's pause, for a car pass into an underground garage. The driver wears a sneer.
A RESTAURANT FOR YOU!
Return to the bus station. The guard at the entrance gives me a cursory look, and stops the man behind me, a ragged man carrying an enormous pack — "May I see your ticket, sir?"
The man struggles to remove his pack. Twice his size. He forces a hand deep into the tightly packed interior, pulls out a crumpled ticket.
Smells terrible. Sour acrid gel. He joins the line to Denver and the line gives him wide berth. He makes a good character in this story.
Look at the other passengers. Some are familiar, some are new. The Vegas Kid, gone. Mom and Boy still here. The Hunch is new.
We board the bus. Driver says, "Denver is 500 miles from here. We're gunna be makin' six stops along the way. Gettin' into Denver around 6:40am.
Next stop, Evanston, Wyoming."
The Destitute has two seats to himself. He curls up and seemingly sleeps. Frequently scratching himself in mad bursts, cursing torment, hissing "I'd like to give you a fist hair cake!"
*twitch twitch * scratch-scratch- scratch*
"....this policy of procedure..."
Rest stop. Get out.
Photograph. Think software.
The Hunch is out here, no jacket, smoking, shivering, watching me.
He asks, "Where you goin'?"
"Oh — they got good weed up there."
"I love bubble. Love the taste. Sticks to your tongue. But it's hard to find these days. Everyone's doing dabs now. I don't like dabs. They make my throat burn. I make my own bubble. Three bags, an electric mixer, and a bucket of ice."
Back on the bus, The Hunch talks to Mom,
"You seem like a good Mom. My mom used to lock me outside when I was three."
Once in a while the driver speaks quietly into the PA, announcing stops.
"Next stop, Rock Springs."
Doze until daybreak.
Head against the window.
Hear the engine and road via bone conduction. Diesel, asphalt, steel.
Driver speaks quietly over the PA, "We got one more pickup..."
A nature preserve. Creep through the empty lot. Pause in a cone of greyish illumination. Peer into the shadows. Nothing there. "Oh well," says the driver, and shifts the bus back into gear.
Cars go, and stop, and go. People watch their sensor feeds.
Get off the bus.
Enter bus station.
Stand and await boarding gate.
Observe other passengers.
A man who needs a phone.
Laundry bags as travel bags.
Grey sweats and disposable shoes.
He has money, but no change. No sensor, no credit card. Needs help.
He tries one guy, but that guy has no sensor.
Tries another guy, but that guy "only got data".
The answers visibly confuse him.
He looks at me. Looks at my green bag. Decides not to inquire.
Couldn't have helped, anyway.
No SIM in this sensor.
Board the bus to Omaha.
The bus is nearly full.
Film a garbage truck emptying a dumpster.
A new passenger boards.
He sits beside me.
Driver opens with a speech: "No smoking, no drinking. Don't even try it. There are sensors all over this bus. I know everything. I can see everything. If you do something, and it is not allowed, I will know. I will take you off the bus and give you straight into police's hands. Now think about that."
We hit the road.
The Muskrat makes a call,
"Mom, I just quit."
"You did what?!"
"Mom, listen, I got the opportunity of a lifetime, working side by—"
— his mother cuts him off, her voice is serious. He the one listening now.
—"OK, Mom. Talk to you later."
Colorado rolling by.
Are these highlands?
The Muskrat flips through his feeds.
Stops at picture of a rat strutting beside a gutter, smiling, captioned:
"Started at the bottom — Now I'm here!"
A call, from a friend, who asks "whats up?' — "Yup, I got my paints, and I'm gunna paint some shoes. Yup. Talk to you later."
Back to the feeds. A thread titled "Thickest White Girl Contest."
Dials, "Hi Mom, could you ask Dee for $20 for me? I'll pay him back tomorrow — yeah ok, never mind then. Yeah. Yeah. We'll talk about it when I see you."
Suitable for cinema.
A man squats with two tall energy drinks, a cigarette, and his sensor.
Prison on the horizon.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
Gentle and murderous.
The Hunch tells a story of how he and a friend drove to Omaha in a hybrid. It broke down along the way, on a Nebraska interstate. A state trooper pulled up behind them. They had half an ounce of bubble hash in the glove-box. "My friend had an outstanding warrant for a DWI hit and run." So they split the half, and each ate a quarter.
"It made me trip. You should try it."
Lexington. "This is a lunch stop. We will be here for 30 minutes."
Queue up in McDonalds.
Muskrat in line before me.
He asks for a cup of water.
Behind me is the man who needed a phone in Denver. He is standing in line with someone, "I appreciate you lettin' me make that call earlier."
"No problem man."
"Whatever you want, let me know and I'll pick it up."
"Alright, the Big Mac Meal then."
"Ok, you got it. Hmm, I don't know what to get myself..."
"Well, when's the last time you had McDonalds?"
"Thirteen years ago."
"Oh— man! Whatever you get is going to be great!"
I missed an opportunity.
I buy two apple pies for $2.
Reboard the bus.
Regain road speed.
Offer The Muskrat an apple pie.
"Oh! Thanks man! I really appreciate it!"
Driver hits the brakes.
Pulls to the shoulder. Parks, unbuckles, then charges down the aisle. He's going to kick someone off. He pounds on the toilet door.
... no answer.
Tries the latch — it opens.
... nobody in there.
Collect more passengers.
Muskrat's sensor rings. "Hello? — Yeah, ok Mom. Yeah — hmm mm. — yup, I'm eatin' an apple pie — ok, bye."
Scrolls through his feed: A picture of a cartoon bear striding through a forest, smiling happily, "Just Keep Doing What Your Doing And You'll Write Your History!"
A series of international ISO graphical symbols with the words: "Ten Reasons Why Women Can Be Sluts But Men Can't."
Stops at a simple written list:
— "Weed don't cheat."
— "Weed won't break your heart."
— "Weed won't leave you for a raggedy bitch."
— "Weed won't lie to you."
Stop at an electrical substation.
Here departs the man with the laundry bags. He exits the bus with barely-contained elation, and gets into a waiting car. His mother is the driver. She smiles widely.
Pick up a lady and her lap dog.
Pause for a smoke break.
Then back up to speed again.
Muskrat gets a call:
— WHOO! Are you serious!?
— How much does housekeeping make?
— WHOOO! YES!
Stop under a roof labled "Bus Depot." Load more passengers. Nearing max capacity. Among the new is a girl with a thick accent. Backpack, cheery, verily unfamiliar with this form of transit. She asks no one in particular:
"I sit anywhere?"
"Anywhere there is an open seat!"
She sits somewhere.
"THAT'S MY SEAT I NEED THAT!"
A memory, of a man in Lusaka who spent his days smoking cigarettes and spitting on the floor. He was on vacation, he said, from his job as manager at a steel mill. Sometimes he would talk with his wife and child in Shanghai.
There were harvest mites in that guesthouse.
Hot water soothed the insane itch.
Join a queue and wait to move.
The Tourist waits behind me.
The bruised lady approaches her,
"I just want to apologize for yelling at you earlier."
"Oh that's ok."
"It's just that I have a concussion and I need two seats so that I can sleep. I'm sorry if I didn't explain that to you."
A portable air conditioner and a blanket on the floor.
Tourist asks me, "Are you traveling?"
"Yeah. You too?"
"Yes, I am going to Chicago. I am doing couch surfing."
"Cool. Where did you come from?"
"Where in South America?"
"Nooooo, sorry, SOUTH-ern Neb-raska."
"Noooo, sorry, SUTHURBAN, Ne Raska."
"Oh, you live there?"
Board the bus.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard. I will be your driver tonight. Behind me is a cooler. If you open that cooler, you will see bottles of water. You are welcome to take what you need — but, if you do take one, I ask a favour, of you. And that favour is— please hand me one, as well. Thank you."
TVs flicker to life. The CEO welcomes us aboard. He describes the amenities and safety features provided by his company. Seat belts and bottles of water.
Beside me is a man. Across the aisle, his wife. The man turns his body toward his wife, and falls asleep.
Wake somewhere— Iowa City?
The seat beside me is unoccupied.
New passengers boarding.
A man completely clad in denim.
Pants, shirt, shoes, socks, hat.
"Hi, how are you?" and takes the seat beside me.
Bus filling up.
"Anybody want to move their seat so me and my girl can sit together? I'll pay $5 to anyone who moves so me and my girl can sit together."
"I'll pay $10! To anyone who'll move so me and my girl can sit together."
"You — what about you?"
"Oh, not me. I have a concussion."
"Well I'm not playing games."
"Well I have a concussion and need to lay down so I can sleep."
"Well I'll pay $10 for you to move to an open seat so me and my girl can sit together."
"Well you said you ain't playin' games, but you playin' games."
"I'm gunna POP OFF! I just got out of PRISON and I'm going to POP OFF!"
Denim Man leans close and says quietly, "That guy has been tripping all day. The last bus driver said he didn't think the guy was going to make it."
"I'll pay TWENTY dollars to anyone who'll move so I can sit next to my girl!"
The guy behind turns to the lady behind him (the bruised woman), "Hey, how about you come sit next to me and we'll split the money?"
Now the bus is full, and here we go, "Next stop, Iowa City."
"I'm from PHIL-UH-DEL-PHI-AH! Two time MMA!"
"Shhh..." pleads his girl.
"Fuck Minneapolis! Fuck Chicago! I'm from Philly!"
A baby laughs, somewhere in the back, gurgling.
Happy little creature.
"To all the people with kids, I do apologize. I HIT LIKE A STEEL BRICK!"
"Garret!" implores his girl, "Sit down!" He ignores her, goes to the back of the bus, looking for trouble.
Returns to his seat.
"Where's our money? Where's my hat? No I don't want to kiss you! WHERE IS OUR FUCKING MONEY!"
"Shhh!" says his girl.
"If that's the way it's gunna flow-out then that's the way it's gunna flow-out...When's the next cigarette break... that's all I'm gunna say."
Iowa City comes, goes, and now that glow of Chicago. Rays of yellow light shining out. Red Line clattering along the far south mid-line.
We pull into a bus bay.
Welcome to Chicago, IL.
Climb out and walk in through the one-way door.
Wait for the next bus.
Watch the scene.
A squad of eight paramedics approach a man seated on the floor. They put a mask over his nose and mouth, connected to a green canister labeled inflammable.
"We're going to take you with us."
"No, no, I'm fine. I got a bus to catch."
"Sir, you can't even breathe on your own."
"Oh, ok...let's go then."
He's loaded onto a stretcher and rolled out the front door.
A security guard calls out after them, "Great job as always guys! Thanks a lot!"
Bus to Detroit, now boarding.
Give up a ticket, get in..
Choose window seat.
Time of day, color of sky.
"Good morning!" says the driver.
"Psssh... no it's not," mutters the guy behind.
"Does this bus have wifi?"
"Stupid question," mutters the guy behind.
Sun comes up.
Enter, then leave, Benton Harbor.
"Excuse me, do you know how to connect to the WiFi? It's not working for me..."
"Well you're the tech whiz... going to Michigan State..."
"Yeah, that's what they tell us. But now I'm 30k in debt. No, wait, that's my brother. I'm more like 15k in debt — I think."
"Uh huh. They tried to get me in there. But I didn't fall for it. I did it a better way."
"What did you do?"
"Police academy. They paid for my college."
"Oh! Then I got a question for you..."
"When is it ok to plead the fifth? I mean, is it ever ok?"
"Were you in court?"
"Then it's fine. What were they asking you anyway?"
"They were asking me how much I made."
"What were you selling? Drugs?"
"I was selling stationary. Here's a sample."
"Oh, nice, that is cool."
"Thanks! Yeah, so, my boyfriend, he knows these people who are like, running this diabetes organization in Sri Lanka, and I was like — do you guys, like, need help marketing that? — because I could totally help. So, like, I just copied the patterns of saris."
"Cool. Yeah, you don't need to tell them how much you make. I don't."
"Yeah that's, like, private, right? But, wait — so — are you like, retired... or...?"
(An inaudible communication)
The girl responds, "Oh! So, where could I get some?"
Driver annouces, "We're going to be stopped here for about twenty minutes."
Get out and photograph the bus. Feeling dread. Empty belly. Hungry fear. Driver walks past, catches my eye, and nods toward the convenience mart,
"Pick yourself out somethin!—"
Buy a bag of super spicy chips and a bottle of water.
Then, somehow, the bruised lady reappears. This is a surprise. Last sight was in Chicago, leaving the bus station through the front door.
The bruise is getting better. But her hair has become worse. She takes a seat near the front.
A woman with a kind face begins talking to her. Describes her son, her nephews, her husband, her church, her brother-in-law in New Orleans. Smiling all the time, she talks as if trouble weren't real. Then asks, "And you? Where are you going?"
"Home, to Detroit."
"Where you comin' from?"
"You were visiting someone?"
An answer comes, but in a low voice, explaining privately.
"You went to Los Angeles without knowing anyone there? Girl, why would you do something like that? Now listen, I'm gunna tell you, I have a girlfriend who does hair. She doesn't charge a lot and she does a good job. She does nails too. She does mine. I'm gunna to give you her number and then I'm gunna call her and tell her to expect you."
"Girl, you got great eyes. Look at those. Do you do your own eyebrows?"
"Yeah! I do..."
Through the outskirts and through towns. Ann Arbor. "There's the City Hall. You never want to go there..."
The woman turns the conversation to a man seated nearby. He has been listening and smiling.
"You're a player, aren't you? But you're generous. I can tell. I know the type. How old are you? Take off your hat, let's see your hair — oh, oh, oh! Look at that— You still got all your hair. Nobody your age looks like that. You look like you're 20. You treat your women right, don't you? I can tell."
"Oh no, I lost my phone. Where is my phone... can someone call it...my number is—"
The Player calls.
The woman says "Thank you."
She got his number because she knows The Concussed needs a number. She sees two needs and a way to meet them. Matchmaking.
Some are mothers to the world.
Get off the bus. Wait for the one to Toronto.
Here it is.
"Everybody please have your passport and ticket ready."
"Ok, here we go!"
Roll through the city and enter the Windsor Tunnel. Driver says,
"One more thing: recently the Americans have started stopping the bus when we try to leave —
They don't always do it but you never know.
It might happen today.
Also please turn off your cell phones! They get mad about that...
Yeah, here we go. We've been stopped. Ok, ladies and gentlemen, please, have your passports ready. And try to be nice to them. Maybe they'll be nice to you."
Turn the camera off.
Two armed men board the bus.
Fight or flight.
The driver greets them, cheerful, "Hello! You again!"
The lead emits a smile.
The driver continues, "Always, when you two are working, you stop the bus. Always!"
The officers are armed, armoured, and wearing border agency logos.
The driver steps aside.
"Have your documents ready for inspection," orders the lead.
The second officer remains in the background — the spotter.
The lead moves down the aisle, stopping at each passenger.
He takes their passport. He casually flips through the pages.
He asks questions using a deliberately suspicious tone:
"Where are you going?"
"How long were you in the US?"
"What were you doing?"
He chastises one woman, pointing to something in her passport,
"You are not allowed to stay after this date."
She nods a little bit.
"DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"
"Yes," she says.
The spotter has locked eyes with me.
The lead has arrived at my seat.
He wants my passport.
Hand it over.
"How long were you in The States?"
Shakes his head— Excuse me? Eyebrows raised as if surprised.
Frightened, I answer: "November 20th." But that's not right. I don't know dates.
"I'll bring this back," he says, and goes to service remaining passengers.
Once all the passports have been collected, the two agents get off together.
They carry the stack of passports to their private office.
They return a short while later.
The Lead at the front, handing back passports. The spotter following.
The Lead passes my seat without returning my passport.
He only says, "Do you have any other ID?"
The spotter stops. He watches me.
What should I do?
Unzip my jacket pocket, reach in, feel around for ID. Pull it out.
The lead returns. He takes the ID, glances at it, orders:
"Stand up and empty your pockets."
Toothbrush, miniature tube of toothpaste, sensor, notebook, pen, and a handful of change.
He picks up the notebook and flips through it.
"Turn your pockets inside out."
Random crumbs and some lint.
"What about your jacket? Anything more in there?"
Just the old ticket envelope.
He reaches straight for it, excited.
Looks inside — empty.
Holds up to the light — empty.
Then points to my sack. "And this? What's in here?"
At the top, a clear plastic bag of toiletries. Holding it up high, he brings it close to his face and gives it a good long look. Then he shines his flashlight into the sack. Sees everything: A computer, bag of clothes, sleeping mat.
"What?", feigning surprise— "No clothes?"
"And why do you have this?" He asks absently, holding both my ID and notebook in one hand.
"Well? No answer, huh?"
"I don't understand what you're asking."
He drops the notebook onto the pile spread over the seat.
Gesturing over it, he says "Go ahead and put all that away."
"I'll bring these back," he says, waving my ID documents.
He and his spotter get off a second time.
Repack the sack and tuck my pockets back in.
A hush has filled the bus. The engine is dead. No one speaks.
The driver comes over, "Man, what did you do?"
"I don't know. Probably raised a flag."
"It's always something man..."
A long time passes. Nothing to do but submit to procedure.
Watch the facility outside. Agents directing traffic into inspection lanes.
What could be next? Strip search. Confinement. Deprival.
Time passes. Feels like an hour.
Here he comes, the lead, sans spotter.
He boards the bus and walks down the aisle, staring straight ahead.
He's going to walk past me again.
But then, at the last moment, stops.
Holds up my documents. Says nothing.
I reach out and take them from his hand.
"You're free to go."
Driver leaps to the wheel and bus comes to life before the officer has fully descended. We're running 45 minutes late.
But still need to go through Canadian Customs.
Get off the bus, line up, give your passport, undergo an interview:
"What do you do for a living?"
"I write software."
"How long were you gone?"
"About six months."
"What were you doing?"
"You write software? Or fix it?"
"I write it."