“If you really want the underbelly of the American experience you should ride a Greyhound bus across the country,” I suggested to the same English girl.
A blank face of stark fear stared back at me. I felt as though I scared a rabbit out of its brush pile hiding place. This English girl was obviously warned about the Greyhound, and would probably bolt like a rabbit if she ever encountered the people who use this service.
The people who use Greyhound are a slice of America that is not shown on the TV screen, the movies, or in advertising; the people who ride Greyhound buses are the guts and innards of American society: they are the sludge that built up at the bottom of the melting pot that refuses to be cleaned.
To see America, you need to ride the bus — just once — across the country.
I thought that I would warn her some more about Greyhound, in the hope of enticing some strain of curiosity or wonder. Perhaps if I told her how truly awesome of an experience it is to shamedog it across the USA, she may consider it.
“I wish for every European who thinks that they know about the people of the USA to take one long trip on the Greyhound,” I spoke with a laugh, “and I guarantee they will leave the country with a different impression. To travel by bus is to see the underbelly of this culture.”
The English girl did not think that the Greyhound was a very safe way to travel. She thought that if she tried to bus it across the USA that somebody may find themselves murdering her. “But I don’t think it is worth the risks, what if something happens?”
I told her that the worse thing that would probably happen would be that she meets a lot of heroin addicts asking for money.
“How do you know that they are heroin addicts?” she asked.
“They tell you, they lift up their shirts to show you their skinny bellies and gaunt ribs and show you the needle marks on their arms.”
“Why would they do something like that?”
“Apparently, it is profitable being a heroin addict in bus stations,” I replied.
But the English girl did not want to meet the heroin addicts in Greyhound stations. So I told her that prisoners who are just released from prison are often given Greyhound bus tickets to a destination of their choosing, and how she could look for men and women with clear plastic garbage bags full of stuff and know that they just got out of prison.
I almost started telling her about a Latino man that I saw in the Cincinnati bus station that had one of these garbage bags and was wearing a white t-shirt that still had dried blood stains all over it.
I did not think that this would help my case.
I then sought to tell her that she could meet the underside of American culture on buses, but I could only think of all the fat dirty loud people that have been my bus companions across the USA, I could only think of all the ghetto fabs with big diamond earrings triple sized shirts and pants falling down to their knees who would try so hard to intimidate everyone and sometimes yell profanities up at the driver.
So I kept my mouth shut.
There was no convincing this English girl that the experiences to be had on the Greyhound may potentially give her journey across America a real sense of life that could potentially knock her down from her teatotolling throne.
Apparently, the English girl had no interest in seeing heroin addicts, ex-convicts, or the underbelly of American culture. She wanted to see “San Francisco,” “New York,” one postcard image after another, and the inside of hostel walls. This is ordinary, and I could not object.
Hell, Americans don’t even want to ride the Greyhound.
Then I remembered that most travelers travel to see places, to do places, and avoid the sharp edge of life from being stabbed into their guts at all cost.
Most people who travel seem to just want to confirm and strengthen the throne they sit upon, the last thing they want to have happen is to be knocked down off their pedestal to the ground and watch their preheld constructs of culture, the world, and themselves laying in rubble and ruins all around them.
It only takes a moment to smash a world-view that took a lifetime to build.
So I did not tell her about the joys I have had getting drunk with a Native American in the back seat of a Greyhound bus moving across the Midwest; no, I did not go into the story about a wierd night of riding through North Carolina playing leg rub with an Iranian woman who I never did share a word with; no, I did not tell the story about how I was riding up from Miami to Tallahasse in a bus where everyone was singing songs and playing guitars and telling jokes to everybody else.
No, the Greyhound was not made for the English. The Greyhound is too American for that.
Few people really want to see the countries they visit . . .
And this is OK.