Wow, we’re tired. Made it to NC after a full, full day in Richmond. After breakfast, we returned to the station to find the next bus, there being a choice between Norfolk and Fayetteville. The coin flip chose Fayetteville, which left a couple hours to go find something “good” to do. Jay figured the nearby Salvation Army store would be a good start, plus he wanted another shirt and a new hat for me. My ratty old Pilsner Urguell hat, which has served many a tennis round, lawn mowing and other sweaty, stinky endeavor, seemed to Jay like a good idea but has come to offend him. So while he
browsed the racks, I got to talking to Pete, the cashier at the Salvation Army. Pete agreed with me that ratty old hats can be endearing, and we together developed a sorry theory on why kids get tattoos these days, since ratty old jeans no longer offend or express. (This got me reminiscing over my favorite old torn pants and shirts.) I asked Pete how many times a day did a customer not have enough to get something they need, and he stared back at me a second while grasping very clearly what I was saying. “All the time,” he replied, very seriously. “All the time.” Pete was thrilled by the idea of just a little bit to help someone, but store policy is it goes to through the office. All good, so long as it can help someone. He assured me it would.
From there we wandered off, finding only a Humane Society (sorry, Mom, no achingly lonely Shih-Tzus just waiting for you) and a rather cool old industrial area that’s in the process of gentrification by turning the old warehouses and factories into “lofts.” It was a long walk, but on a gorgeous day, fine. Nobody to meet though, so we were anxious to get back to the station. I was hoping to find “Painter Man,” whom I’d met earlier in the day at the station. He was on his way to Orlando where he had some work lined up. What he really wanted was to go to Miami Beach and help out with the Miami Heat celebrations. Smiled at that idea, he sure did. But he also smiled — and he blew me away — when he spoke of his profession. Learning that he’s a painter, I showed him an awful color in a Greyhound ad, and saying, “Imagine it’s even worse, blurred and light grayish and on my neighbor’s shutters.” He gasped and said, “No!” He then pointed to the wall straight ahead, and said, “When I paint it, I want people to say, ‘wow!’ that’s what I want.” Painter Man got me right then and there. What an inspiration. He wasn’t there when we got back, so I’m sorry to have missed Painter Man, if not to help out a little, then to let him know how awesome he is.
On the way back in to the station, a young man approached me and asked for some help with train fare. He was very animated and had a long story, which I promptly ruined by asking him questions. “Where you from” (“Hartford.”) “What’s the best restaurant near Trinity?” (“Uh…”). “Why don’t you just fly to Florida, it’s cheaper?” (“What?”). And so on, and he responded by telling me about his high school sweetheart who was now a big shot in DC, and then Jay came up and asked what was up. Scam Boy immediately returned to form, and said to Jay, “Look, he got me off my pitch, so let me tell you what I need.” Jay wasn’t impressed, so I told Scam Boy to hold on, we’d get our own tickets and then talk to him. We got our tickets and as we turned around, Scam Boy came right up, “Look, I have to get to the shelter but I really need a hundred bucks to get to Florida….” Jay shook his head. “Sorry.”
Here’s the thing, and aside from the illogic of getting to the shelter and going to Florida on the next bus, but whatever: no one has asked us for a thing yet. Well, Tony said he was thirsty, and he wanted seventy-five cents for a local bus. But no one we have run into came asking for help. We have just talked to them and laughed together or shared a story, and it’s been wonderful. Scam Boy has his gig going, and it’s not part of what we are doing.
We got in line, near the end, and an older and a younger man were there, trying to figure out the process. “Where you going?” asked Jay of the older man, whom we call now, “Jamaican Dad.” He replied something unintelligible. He was trying to say, “Ocala,” which we practiced with him a few times, and he laughed with us, agreeing that yes, if he was going to go there he should know how to pronounce it. Then, as the bus began to load, the younger man said goodbye and left. The older man looked at us both, very proudly, and said, “He’s my son.” He was just happy to say it. But now he has to go to Ocala. And we’re all getting on the bus. As the line proceeds, we hear a lot from the man behind us, a short man with sleeve-less shirt, tattoos, and a bit of attitude. He’s kind of angry at something, which is normal, I mean, he’s in a Greyhound terminal. But his stories are too full of resentment: two doctors fixed his shoulder wrong (and he’s suing). A woman ran into him (and he’s suing). A job in Albany owes him money (not sure if suing). He was too much the victim and had no warmth for anyone else. Gonna leave Tat-Man alone.
Among the very last to get on, there are only a few seats. Jay sits next to a young woman, and I take the isle seat behind him, next to a woman who has a bundle of stuff on her lap. She doesn’t object, but doesn’t say much. To our right is a man in a wheelchair that is strapped in place by the handicapped entrance. Two older men are behind him. Jay speaks with his neighbor, Pregnant Solder, we’ll call her, and she is pleasant, although her story is confusing. We will wish her the best. The man in the wheel chair is pleasant and it seems he just lost a leg while in the military. He doesn’t share more details than that, although he seems a touch old for combat, but who knows and it doesn’t have to be from combat. Very tough, whatever the story. The men behind us to the right are a lot of fun, and I share shipping business stories with the trucker. He’s got a great one about a load of kegs, some of which burst and left a trail of foam behind him from Milwaukee to Nebraska.
Mary, though, my seatmate, is something. Haitian woman with two kids, on her way to Florida for the first time in two years from a
job a university in Bangor, Maine. Well, God Bless America, but, Bangor? Wow. What a brave woman! She works hard, but she gets part of the summer off, and her daughter wants to go to college there. She has an elaborate story of a man in Florida who was to help her our with some things, but when he got access to her bank account, ran off with $10,000, and again another three thousand. She says that God will take care of him, but I she knows his mother and maybe she can speak with her. Despite the hardship, Mary displays a kindly soul. She laughs heartily, and even tries to speak with me in French, trying to coax out my old abilities. Was kind of fun, and very playful of her, betraying a happy side. I pointed out the billowing clouds of the front that was approaching, and Mary spent the rest of the trip watching the sky and pointing out to me an interesting formation or break in the clouds. Mary just makes you happy, and when I asked her if I could take a picture of her to remember her by, she was embarrassed and said no, and I said no, it’s okay, I just want to remember you, and she said, oh please do , and please pray for me. I pointed to Jay’s head, in front of us, and said he will pray for her, too, and she was so pleased.
We left the bus with some good conversations and memories, and gave an envelope to Jamaican Dad, to Pregnant Soldier, and to Mary. We wish them all the best!