November 10th, 2006
(old post from the myspace)
Last week I went to Nashville for a conference. I gave my first talk at a national meeting. I did not burp into the microphone so by my standards it was a roaring success. There are other things I would like to tell you about that meeting but I can't. I want to keep my job. Just know that, if you ever have a chance to go line dancing with about 60 scientists, you should do it.
What I can tell you is that our banquet was held in the Country Music Hall of Fame. I love that place. If you think that American culture is a compilation of the lowest common denominators (Brad Paisley, velveeta cheese, televised award shows) then this museum will blow you away. Early country music was full of color and energy. Some of the people involved were flat ugly to look at but so sweet to hear. My favorite exhibits at the museum: Koko Taylor videos (Fujiyama Mamma) and Elvis' car with recording equipment in the back seat and real crushed diamonds and gold in the paint. Okay, so maybe some of America's culture was built on some wildly tacky sh*t but as far as low denominators go, ours can be pretty cool.
Of course, there are those lowest common denominators which do not make it into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I'm convinced that those particular "denominators" are all on their way down to Orlando, Florida via the Greyhound Bus. Which brings me to this question- If you could be in any one of the following three places would you prefer to be:
1) Walking at night in Birmingham's Five Points neighborhood when a strange man pulls out his penis and shakes it at you.
2) At your ex-boyfriend's wedding while his mother tells you how forgettable you were/are.
3) On a Greyhound bus heading towards Huntsville, Alabama.
If you picked anything other than the Greyhound bus you were correct. The last day of the conference I decided to skip my ride home with the boss and stick around Nashville for a few extra hours. I have a good friend who lives there and we hadn't had much time to catch up during the conference. We checked out the Vanderbilt campus and then had a nice lunch. I had already reserved my bus ticket for later that afternoon but we got to the bus station early just to be safe.
I was filling out luggage ID tags when we overheard one side the following cell phone conversation: "Well just send me some money. No….send me some money. I have to get out of here! No. No. I can't stay here okay? No I can't go back there. I already TOLD you, if I go back to Alabama I'll be arrested, they got a warrant out for me. Well forget that. He owes me a shit-load of money, just take a hundred, hundred-fifty bucks out of the register and wire it to me! Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? F@CK!"
My friend and I exchanged a look. All I could think was that at least phone-dude wouldn't be on my bus because I was definitely going back to Alabama. The man continued to make phone calls, demanding money and alternately cajoling then threatening to "get completely wasted" if the person on the other end didn't help him.
Meanwhile, two little boys were throwing themselves onto the filthy lobby floor, using their jackets to slid face first into each other. I couldn't figure out who had brought them. There were a number of lethargic men and women in the vicinity but no one seemed to be looking at the boys. They had something about the way their faces were formed that suggested low birth weight and fetal drug addiction. My friend and I stood next to each other for a minute, not saying anything, just taking it all in. "What are you thinking?" I asked him. He raised his eyebrows and said "I'm thinking that I've never been so freaked out in a place before and I just spent a month alone in Africa."
We didn't say much for the rest of the wait. I kept insisting that I was fine and that he could go and he would look around the lobby, smile tightly, and insist that he didn't mind staying. I was relieved when we could finally line up for the bus and he could be released from his uncomfortable vigilance. We said goodbye and I promised to call when I got in. "So if you don't call…by what time should I assume that you've been murdered?" he asked.
No one sat next to me on the bus. The floor-sliding boys were there, just a few seats behind me. They had an old woman and a ten-year-old girl with them. The smaller of the two boys was about four or five. He was having a hard time sitting still. His grandmother grabbed him by the throat and pushed his head back into the seat. He was gagging and she was growling into his upturned face "You sit down you hear me you sit down you hear me you sit down you hear me you sit down you WILL sit down do you hear me…" She finally released his head with a final push into the seat. Able to breathe again, he started coughing and crying which only earned him a slap. I sent a text message to my friend "woman on bus hitting child thanks for lunch was great!"
The bus started out of the station and we were informed that we couldn't smoke, take illegal drugs or consume alcohol. Someone opened a bottle of nail polish and the driver informed us that we couldn't do that either due to improper ventilation. The crack-babies were running up and down the aisle. Their grandmother vacillated between ignoring them, feeding them candy and hitting them. About 30 minutes into the ride, the littlest boy jumped into the seat next to me.
"Me a story" he said. He was holding the cover insert to an Avril Lavigne CD. There wasn't really a story there so much as several mopey pictures of a skinny white girl so I made one up. When we got to a picture of Avril lying on a cot I told him that the little girl was sleeping because she was tired from changing her clothes for all those pictures.
"She not sleepin' she dead" he told me.
"No, she's sleeping."
"She dead cause they kill her dead and she's dead".
He was a creepy little boy.
"Little boy, what is your name?" I asked him.
"L'boy, my name is li'l boy" he said.
"No, your name is not little boy. You must have a name, what do they call you?"
"My name IS LI'L BOY!" He seemed angry.
"I don't think so," I said.
"My name is LI'L BOY and yo name is UGLLLLYYY li'l Girl!"
At that point he looked very pleased with my facial expression and decided to crawl into my lap for a short nap.
My new crack baby had just wandered back to his grandmother when voices rose up from the back of the bus. I ignored them in case they were also proclaiming my homeliness. A man walked to the front of the bus and spoke to the bus driver but then went back to his seat. Moments later the voices rose again and this time I could make out someone saying, "I warned you!"
The man from the back of the bus came to the front again only this time he was yelling "Bus driver I told him and told him, it's about to go down!" The driver pulled the bus over. We were somewhere in Alabama, not yet to Huntsville, and it was early but completely dark outside. By the time the driver got out of his seat a fist fight had broken out. I called my friend to tell him that there was a fight on the bus and I might be a bit late getting home. Li'l Boy decided that this would be a perfect time to start running up and down the aisle again. When he ran by me I hauled him by the back of his pants into the seat next to me. I was afraid he would be trampled. I hung up on my friend and tried to keep LB-Crack Baby in his seat with the promise of cheetoes. He was indignant. His body went completely stiff and then completely limp as he threw himself into the aisle just in time to trip the bus driver on his way back up to the front. I sent him back to his grandmother and gave them the bag of cheetoes and a handful of starburst that were lurking in my book bag.
The fight seemed to be over and bus started moving again. When we pulled into the Huntsville station a few minutes later the police were waiting for us. The man blamed for instigating the fight turned out to be completely soaked in booze. How they even let him on the bus is a mystery to me. According to the people involved he had taken it upon himself to harass a nine year old boy who was traveling with his father. We waited for the police to arrest him and make an incident report before we finally loaded up again and headed for Birmingham.
I called my friend back to apologize for hanging up on him.
"Are you okay? What happened?" he asked.
"I had to get my crack baby out of the aisle to keep him from getting trampled" I explained.
"Since when do you have a crack baby?"
"Since this bus ride."
"You know, it's never boring when we hang out" he told me, but it didn't totally sound like a compliment.
The rest of the bus ride was more uneventful but stinky. A woman across the aisle from me talked to herself constantly in a low hiss but I tuned it out and fell asleep, clutching my purse. Strangely, no one sat next to me even though the bus was nearly full after Huntsville. Probably the fact that I had showered that very day was putting them off or maybe no one wanted to sit next to an ugly li'l girl. What ever it was, I was grateful. P picked me up at the station, wisely choosing to bring her big black dog. She warned me that he was in need of a bath but I just laughed.
"Trust me" I told her, "I can't smell a thing."