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Riding The Dog, Part 4: Faceplant Position

Last in a series.

Part 1: Midnight Bus To Markham.

Part 2: Celebrating Incessant Monotony Since 1961.

Part 3: Meet Me At The Esquire Lounge.

The St. Louis Gateway Transit Center sits directly across the way from the Scottrade Center, home to the NHL's St. Louis Blues. There's a game tonight, which explains why every road in the vicinity looks like every road the day before Woodstock. The sheer amount of backlog suggests either the Blues are doing well this season or a wacky local radio station just dumped a shitload of free tickets out of a helicopter as part of morning zoo promotion.

The Gateway Transit Center is shared by Greyhound and Amtrak, but the definition of "shared" is more like what you'd get if you put two snotty 4-year-olds in charge of divvying up the last cookie in the jar. The Amtrak section is spacious, loaded with TVs, contains a ticket/check-in desk worthy of a small airport, and bustles with activity. Greyhound's portion isn't so much as a station as just one long, fluorescently overlit hallway with benches against the wall, and bustling with all the cheer of a refugee camp. Not only that, but every TV set bolted to the ceiling has been pointed to face the walkway rather than the benches, where they'd be far more useful.

TVs.jpg

This is great for pedestrians who like to walk around all distracted by whatever channel has been randomly left to drone on until the set dies, but not so much for people stuck on a bench for an hour or two until the next slow bus to China shows up.

But there are phone-charging stations among the benches, and the terminal has Wi-Fi that actually works, so at least there's that. I'm well past the point of being even mildly interested, so I move on.

* * * * *

It's after 5 p.m. A slow rain is falling outside, and it's a humid-feeling 60 degrees - which, if you smoke, is perfect weather to be exiled outdoors to foul the planet. And in some way, the dead-still, warmly-damp air feels perfectly fitting for the kind of bluesy/jazzy rainy-night atmosphere that old movies like to paint of places like St. Louis and New Orleans. I step outside the main entrance, and the second I light up, I'm directed to the smoker's Siberia half a building away by a rather imposing-looking terminal employee built to let the world know he means business without having to say it. There's a few other social outcasts there, and small talk abounds.

I'm standing next to a gangly, underfed-looking fellow in his twenties on his way to Chicago to visit his kids he hasn't seen in a few years. Judging by his demeanor, my best guess is the reason for that involved county jail somehow, but common sense advises against asking strangers in a strange town too many personal questions.

"See that guy over there?" Underfed Stranger asks, pointing off toward the darkness.

I don't see anyone, but in this sort of still-cordial situation, it's often best to just play along.

"What about him?" I ask back.

"He'll want to sell you pot. Don't buy any."

"I wasn't planning on it."

"He'll fuck you on the price, and his stuff is shit. I can get you better stuff cheaper."

"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind if I run into any secret shoppers."

* * * * *

Back inside the terminal, my big-ass duffel still in tow, I briefly consider waiting out the next 30 minutes on the Amtrak side and watch some TV while soaking in the ever-changing human landscape darting about. However, Amtrak passengers are of different stock than Greyhound passengers. They dress considerably better, their luggage doesn't look like it came from a South Chicago rummage sale, they don't sit around looking like they'd rather be anywhere else as long as anywhere else wasn't here. They look . . . rested.

I decide against using this as my waiting room after I notice a few official-looking fellows in suits stationed about here and there, doing little except keeping an eye on things. I size them up as Amtrak security agents who have undergone extensive, top-secret training to instantly recognize Greyhound passengers looking to scab some free TV on the clean and pleasant Amtrak side of things, and quickly hustle them off to the Greyhound side with the rest of the riffraff.

When you're a stranger in a strange town still a few hundred miles from your destination, the last thing you want to do is make waves, so I shuffle off to the bus-passenger gutter, where my kind certainly belongs.

* * * * *

I board the 6 p.m. bus to Springfield, Missouri, that will whisk me along the final, four-and-a-half-hour leg of this holiday adventure. Well, whisk isn't exactly accurate, since that's a description for plane travel and teleportation. On top of that, the pleasant steady, bluesy drizzle has turned into a steady rain.

And once again, our driver is Greyhound Annie, who informs me that since my big-ass duffel doesn't have a bag-check ticket attached to it, it has now become a big-ass carry-on. I use my hat to mark the last open seat, which is next to a young woman with a dead cell phone traveling to the Rolla stop 'n' drop and could she please use mine to arrange for someone to pick her up? She appears to be a year or three out of high school at best, and has the haggard appearance of someone with far too many children to constantly attend to. Her wardrobe seems to be dictated by whatever's good in an apartment building dumpster, and she smells vaguely of barn.

Greyhound Annie, doing her final aisle-walk with all the pleasantness of a Stateville prison guard doing a bed check, informs me I can't stash my bag under the seat, so it'll have to go into the overhead bin.

Y'know that one annoying dickhead on every plane blocking up the aisle for everyone else because he's trying to shoehorn a 10-pounds-of-potatoes carry-on into a compartment engineered for only three pounds of potatoes? Well, that guy has now become me. When you're in a spot like that, you're not only trying to accomplish things as quickly as possible, but at the same time, you're trying quite desperately out of common decency to keep your crotch out of the face of whoever has the misfortune of being in the seat directly beneath that overhead at the moment. Your heart races, your forehead starts to sweat, and you begin to relate to what claustrophobics go through on an ordinary day.

On the way back to my seat, I instantly recognize this bus as a throwback to those of my Greyhound cattle-car 1980s past: The aisle seems barely wide enough, the seats are short enough to see the back of everyone's head, and as it happens, I'm in the seat row directly behind the wheelchair-access seat row, which I don't think was even a thought in 1985. This meant the seat-row forward of mine has been moved about a foot back, giving me and Rolla Girl barely enough room between kneecaps and the seatback to fit a fist. And believe me, I have small fists.

* * * * *

It's possible to sleep on a bus, albeit not very comfortably or well. The bus version of a Tempur-Pedic bed experience covers four basic positions: 1) Upright, 2) Leaning sideways against the window, 3) Sprawled across two seats if nobody's next to you, or 4) Sprawled across one seat with your feet in the aisle if you're not in the window seat.

Or, as Rolla Girl preferred, 5) Faceplanted into the back of the seat in front of her. Given the total lack of distance between her forehead and seatback, this wasn't as much of a stretch as it might be on any other bus. It was no surprise that she kept waking up every minute or two, which brings us to Position 6: Using the person next to you as a pillow.

We've all seen this sort of thing on sitcoms, but when it happens to you in real life, there's no laugh track, and the only thing running through your mind is, "Great. Now what?" That's a valid concern, especially if you're not an insufferable dick - or, at the very least, someone with a tiny bit of sympathy for people who measure their sleep deprivation in years, not hours. Do I just let her keep snoozing as she is, or do I start tossing and turning in a very un-obvious way hoping she'll wake up, feel a little embarrassed about the whole thing, and go back to Faceplant Position? Or maybe just stay awake and let her sleep-deprivation stopwatch keep ticking away?

Rolla Girl answers all my questions by going Faceplant-My Shoulder-Faceplant-My Shoulder-Faceplant-My Shoulder-Faceplant-My Shoulder, which could possibly be some sort of bus travel record. All in all though, the whole thing isn't all that horrible or creepy, so I decide to just let it slide and be thankful she's laying there with her head on my shoulder instead of in my lap.

Because then, we'd have a whole 'nother social-manners situation I'd prefer not to contemplate even now, writing about it a few weeks afterward.

* * * * *

For those of you who may be wondering whatever happened to the comedian known as Sinbad, his career was "Appearing Live!" at the Underwood, according to the billboard along Missouri's Interstate 44. The billboard doesn't seem to know what sort of business the Underwood is, or where in Missouri it may be. Neither does Google.

Still, Missouri's I-44 billboards - and believe me, there are plenty of them, which is either a testament to the power of advertising on a large, beacon-worthy scale or just because Missouri happens to be really enchanted with billboards - are informative and, in their own ways sometimes, amusing.

On this leg of the trip, I'm reminded that there's no better fudge than the fudge in Uranus (yes, Beavis, I get it), and that there exists a vacuum museum somewhere along our direction dedicated to vacuum cleaners.

How the equally-nearby Meramec Caverns manages to stay in business with competition like that is a mystery to me.

* * * * *

My holiday adventure comes to an end at the Springfield depot just past midnight - a good hour-and-a-half behind schedule - in the midst of one of the laziest storm systems in recent history to dump enough rain on the lower Midwest over the next three days to make Noah rethink his decision to abandon a perfectly good boat somewhere on Mount Ararat.

Greyhound Annie announces that, given the weather, everyone will likely get no further tonight than Tulsa for the foreseeable future. Which probably means everyone on that bus is still sitting around right now in Tulsa, looking all bewildered. And oh, by the way, everybody - given the current delay, the hour-and-a-half layover in Springfield is being reduced to a 15-minute "coffee stop."

I wedge my big-ass duffel out of the overhead and catch my ride home - not just glad to be home, but especially glad I'm not going to be one of those poor souls who discover there's no food, let alone any coffee, to speak of in the Springfield station, particularly at midnight.

Somehow, that struck me as being the perfect nail in the coffin of a perfect family holiday.

-

Comments welcome.



Permalink

Posted on February 10, 2016


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Charter Schools Complicit With Segregation.
SPORTS - USA Gymnastics Bans Illinois Coach.

BOOKS - The Randomness Of Harvard Admissions.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Public Lands Matter.


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