Saturday, July 31, 2010

Get On The Bus!

There is something about riding through time zones on a Greyhound bus that has the air of an adventure. I'm not saying I need to have my bullwhip and fedora like Dr. Henry Jones, but making a long trip by bus really should qualify a rider to have his own theme music piped through the speaker system.

I think about the red line on the map visual that Speilberg and Lucas use to show what countries Indy is flying through. And Indy charters flights and always take the most direct routes. If Indiana Jones had to complete his excursions via Greyhound, he'd still be stuck on his first picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Getting from South America to Tibet and then to Southwest Asia (the Middle East) would have required stops in Johansburg, Calcutta, Singapore, and a mandatory disembark and bus cleaning in Helsinki. Forget about getting back to the U.S.A. in time to teach classes on archeology to cute co-eds this semester, let alone beating the Germans to the Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis would have had to melt their faces without any help from Indiana Jones; Indy would still be waiting in Port Arthur, Texas for his luggage to turn up from somewhere under the bus, since Greyhounds seem to eat bags the way the clothes dryer eats socks.

Rule #1: You cannot travel by bus if you are in a hurry.

I had a friend on Facebook say that you knew you were ghetto if you were riding on a Greyhound. I'll guiltily admit that I did joke that Greyhound was like limo service for broke people, a group that I freely include myself in until the publishing of my long awaited--and unwritten--first novel.

Yeah, the high price of airline tickets and the full-body cavity searches at the airport can combine to make flying a turn-off--I resent having a woman airport security guard be able to ask me to take off my shoes and belt and not be able to expect her to put a five or a ten in my underwear, cause times are tight and we all have to make a living. And the price of gas makes driving long distance more expensive than a second car note--high-ass fuel prices are part of the gift of eight years of Bushtocracy that keeps on giving. But really, I think the concept of time, or lack there of, really speaks to people of color. Travel the world on CP Time, without having to ride with live chickens. There are no clocks fixed inside the walls of the bus--kind of like a casino. There a few, if any, ways to reference time as a passenger on a Greyhound. The height of the bus makes road signs and city markers hard to read. Unless you're a botanist, trees all look alike and fall into two categories: with extra kudzu vines or without. You get on the bus when the driver tells you too, and you get to your final destination...eventually.

And don't rush the driver or piss him off, because he will leave you on the side of the highway and drive off with all your shit.

Rule #2: You will have to share your seat with multiple people with multiple odors.

The seats on a Greyhound are one part speed dating and one part musical chairs. You will eventually have to share your seat with a stranger. If you're lucky, that stranger might be small enough not to crowd you and cute enough to make you want to start a conversation. But in an hour, the bus will stop for routine cleaning, the seat assignments will shuffle, and either Fat Albert or Uncle Ruckus will be your neighbor and will definiely share the odor of the five to ten chilli dogs they ate at the terminal resturant before boarding. Nature of the beast. If you ride long enough, you will be squeezed, crowded, slept on, drooled on, stepped over, stepped on, and sweated on. You and your neighbor will be sharing DNA.

Rule #3: You gotta let that hygene thing slide a little.

I've learned that most truck drivers keep an empty Gatorade bottle with them in the cab of the truck. Kind of a boy scout's way of being prepared in case of really bad construction traffic or the sudden, urgent need to do something with all 64 ounces of coffee that have been consumed since the last truck stop (Note: never accept lemon Gatorade, Mountain Dew, or Country Time from a trucker if it is served a room temperature).

I think truckers borrowed the Gatorade Porta-Potty from regular Greyhound riders. The bathroom on a Greyhound gives me the feeling of camping, minus the leaves you might use to wipe your ass with. There is a closet at the back of the bus with a big metal hole in it. The hole is filled with blue green water (Glacier Ice Gatorade?). And the sloshing water flows back and forth in a way that's quite hypnotic. Entrancing really. I keep expecting someone to climb out of the hole, maybe Ewan McGregor from Trainspotting or Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings or Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, shouting that the U.S. Patroit Act gives the Bush Administration the authority to inspect my urine and large floaties for Weapons of Mass Destruction, as intelligence assests have hinted that I might have had contact with Yellow Cake. Maybe the hole at the back of the Greyhound is like a Tardis, and the British adventurer Doctor Who will climb out, slightly damp, to enlist my help in saving this time line from being conquered by the Daaleks or the Cybermen.

See, I could find find a Scottish heroin junky, or an ocassionaly invisible Hobbit, or a devious and cranky neo-Conservative, or even a serialized British Time Lord hanging about in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus. What I could not find is a sink with which to wash my hands. Those vain extravagances have been left out of the design. So men, aim carefully and try not to pee on your fingers like you normally do. No dripping on your leg either. And women...well, you all will just have to figure something out, because that whole female plumbing design thing just isn't made for using the Greyhound Water Closet. Can you just hold it until we get to Memphis?

Morning breath, Helmet Hair, Night Sweats, Nocturnal Emissions (depending on your time zone), Morning Wood, the Smell of Fresh Skid Marks in the Morning, persperation, salivation, spontaneous and involuntary ejaculation. Stay on the bus long enough and we all receive wonderful parting gifts. I did mention that DNA would be transfered, right?

But, in the true spirit of the democratic foreskin of our Founding Fathers, everyone gets a turn to get nasty. To be greasy. To be stinky. To be sweaty. To fight to hold in gas after twelve hours of riding, only to have it seep out and then be forced to pretend that the sound and the smell really did come from the seat behind you. To know your breath smells worse than a male prostitute's--just guessing here--but your tooth brush is stuck beneath the bus, so all you can do is try to mask your Dragon breath with a second bag of Dorritos. To know you need to stop in Huntsville, Alabama and take a sink bath, but--no lie--the crooked handwritten sign next to the empty soap dispenser says PLEASE KEEP THE BATHROOM CLEAN. MNGR and someone has written below it "Why? Obviously you don't."

After a full day of bus travel, the Greyhound is a parlimentary of human perfumes, a meritocracy of mustiness. And, to paraphrase the villian Syndrome from the Incredibles, when all of us smell like ass, then none of us smell like ass.

And if your spouse or honey bunny meets you at your home terminal and still hugs and kisses you, then your sweetie has just passed the love and monogamy test and you don't have to check the bed and bathroom for foreign hairs when you get home.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Part-time Schedule for a Full-time Dad

I bought a bright, red Elmo t-shirt today. I plan to wear it with a big Muppet grin of my own. In truth, I’m more of an Ernie man, but I have a two year old who is a nut for Sesame Street’s number one red, furry monster. Seeing Daddy in the shirt will make his eyes go big and all his baby teeth show. I’m selfish. Seeing him smile will make me smile too.

And I’ve been picking out his clothes for the last two years. It’s about time I let him pick out my clothes for a change.

If I worked for Ronald McDonalds and was on fries, I’d be wearing a paper hat. The U.S. Postal Service would have me going house to house in blue shorts, a fisherman’s hat, and a can of dog repellant. Those are five days a week gigs. Hamilton County has decided that I only get to see my youngest boy on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and alternating weekends. I’d like it if I could get more hours on the schedule each week. I keep hearing about a shortage of fathers, but maybe that’s just an urban legend.

But I love the hours I do get on the clock as Daddy. I love my little two year old co-worker. And I’ve even learned to get excited about the red-faced monster that’s on my new uniform. The t-shirt tells the world that either I’m mentally disturbed or I have a small child at home; I like to declare my Dad status. I try not to worry about the misplaced orders of a less than just system that wants to shrink my time with my son. I can’t always be around my little boy, but I feel like I carry him with me, especially when his favorite monster is on my on my shirt.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

I suppose there should be something worrisome about being asked to appear in family court on March 15th. Shakespeare wrote that Julius Caesar was reportedly stabbed to death in a government building. Most U.S. citizens above the age of eighteen are more worried about having their wallets and their bank accounts stabbed to death by the I.R.S. on April 15th, so maybe the whole 31 day period between March 15 and April 15 could be considered a time of bad juju.

But I can only say, without pride or ego, that on that particular March 15th, I weren't scurred.

It wasn't that I was convinced of the righteousness of my cause and knew that I was protected by the shield of justice and the armor of truth. It wasn't because I was prayed up and had an army of warrior archangels going into court with me that morning. I couldn't even claim that I'd filled up on green beer over the weekend and had Lucky Charms for breakfast and had some pre-St. Paddy's Day Luck of the Irish shinning off me that had me looking like I was a refugee from Emerald City and "just had to be seen green".

My lack of fear in family court had to do with the difference between hope and resilience.

When you wear white clothes to that rib joint and pray that you can make it through the meal without spilling barbeque on yourself, that's engaging in hope. But when you not only know that you will leave the rib joint splattered in so much barbeque sauce that your shirt will look like it has polka dots, but you made sure to bring a red and white tie to match, then that is resilience.

For fathers in family court, hope is a reckless thing. Hope will bring disappointment, anger, outrage, tears, and self doubt. Hope leads to scars and those scars scab up, and, if you're lucky, those scabs eventually lead to resilience. We fathers come to know that each court appearance means the legal punches and kicks will be coming, and that's okay, because there aren't any new or suprising places left to kick us anymore.

Those scars and bruises are badges of fatherhood. The family court system may make our skin seem leathery and tough, but we save our soft, caring inner selves for our children that we love and for who we endure.

And as our children age and mature, they are the only judges whose opinions really matter.

This article appeared in the March 22, 2010 edition of the online Cincinnati Defender.