March 25, 2017… Day 65

I was out and about and away from Internet most of the day.

Forgot to mention I saw this guy at an intersection yesterday afternoon.

I was in a crowded city bus. People in cars were joyfully giving this guy dollar bills up and down the lane next to us, and everyone on the bus cheered when they saw another person had handed him a dollar. The other side of the sign reads, “Family needs blankets, food, and miracles.”

I spent most of the day on a Greyhound bus heading south from Seattle to Portland and points south from there. The bus was delayed two hours leaving, and the Seattle Greyhound station is small, so there were a lot of us packed into a confined place for a long time. Just as I got there, a man about my age came in with his mother and grandmother–they were Ethiopian. The women were dressed in whites and beiges with white lace up over their hair. The son addressed a white teenage girl who was slouched near her mother, and asked her to look after the two older women and make sure they got on the bus all right. He had to leave and was just dropping them off. The girl and her mother took their responsibility very seriously. Their names were Abby and Bambi, and they swept me into their custody as well.

The thing I noticed at the bus station was that I was surrounded by a higher than usual (for me) density of immigrants and people of color, especially black people, but I was also surrounded by more white people who seemed like they could’ve been Trump voters than I was used to. It made for a potent mix. The Bolt bus that goes straight from Seattle to Portland with no stops, is mostly tech kids and college kids and arty 20- and 30-somethings, with laptops and cappuccinos and knit beanies. Various ethnicities, but a certain type. The Greyhound bus gets a few of those but is mostly like the bone-weary, multi-generational, multi-racial heart of working class America.

I used to joke that everything I knew about prison life, I overheard on a Greyhound. I retired that joke, but pretty much as soon as I sat down, I began to hear about how in prison these guys used to wrap ramen, pepperoni, and string cheese in a tortilla and call it a burrito. The person speaking was a big beefy, ruddy, white guy about my age who was traveling to Kelso, Washington from Montana to see his teenaged son. When he wasn’t talking about that stuff with the guy across the aisle from him, he was talking to the young man and woman behind him, who were barely older than his kid. These two, who might have been 19 or 20, had just met and were hitting it off like gangbusters from the moment she asked if the seat  next to him was taken.

They both had the hallmarks of counterculture–face piercings, tattoos, dyed hair, edgy hairstyles. But they were also just coltish young people who talked about Harry Potter and guffawed over-earnestly at each other’s jokes. They talked eagerly about their growing up years, in that ping pong back and forth of people who haven’t learned to be good listeners yet and don’t really care.

The boy was of German extraction, he said. His grandfather came from Germany when he was 9 years old, and then fought for the U.S. in World War II. When he got back, he never wanted to hear German spoken in his home again. So the boy’s family, he said, was split between Nazi-sympathizers and pentecostals. He was in the pentecostal side. Then he said he was raised to not believe in the intermingling of races.

Yes, she replied, her grandparents fled from Germany to Ukraine during the war. She doesn’t say, but there is an implication that they were German Jews. Maybe I’m wrong. They intermarried with Ukrainian Baptists. This girl described being raised by “seriously conservative Christians” and that music and dancing were not allowed. The family emigrated to the U.S. and got mixed up with pentecostals too.

While they were telling each other this, I noticed out my window that we slipped by two beat-up looking pentecostal churches.

The girl had a Ukrainian accent still, like someone who had come over as an older child. She’d been young enough to be perfectly conversant in English at 19, but old enough so that her accent would stay with her. She said “I miss Ukraine but I can’t go back because we have war now.”

The boy brought up Donald Trump. What struck me was that he brought Donald Trump up as though he had just barely figured out who had won the election and what was going on. He said, “He was an actor or something before, right?” She replied, “I don’t know, I just know he was some kind of major rich guy.” He said, “I was reading about him last night, I think it’s really interesting the direction he’s going in.” The girl said, in a neutral tone, “You know there are two sides though–there are people who love him and people who hate him.” The boy was like, “Yeah, yeah…” and kept talking about how Donald Trump had some “interesting ideas about things.” Then the girl said, “I don’t know, I don’t care about politics. If I have to write an essay for school, I write an essay, but I don’t care.” The boy nodded, seeming a little chastened. After a beat he said, “I also like Bernie Sanders.”

Later he said he didn’t like that “a black guy” was cast as Two-Face in the lego batman movie, because it was Tommy Lee Jones before.

Sitting directly in front of the girl (and next to my coeval the ex-con), was an old guy who reeked of urine, had a cardboard sign asking for money, was passed out and fell into the aisle three times. People around him had to keep putting him back in his seat. When my seat mate got out at Olympia, the ex-con came and sat next to me to get away from his pee-soaked seat mate.

At one point the ex-con pointed out the window and said, “there’s my school.” It was a series of low buildings behind a big fence. It was Green Hill in Chehalis, a juvenile prison. He said, “I was there for the flood of 1995 when three people escaped.”

Over the course of our ride he told me how he was a five-time felon and a 22-year meth addict. He said he had a better life now. He’d left his teenage son behind with his grandparents, and his dog behind with a friend. He was going to visit the son and the dog. He said he left his son’s mom when she was doing dope when she was 4 months pregnant. But her whole family had more money than him and could afford lawyers. He couldn’t get custody and they poisoned his son against him. Now they talk again though, thanks to Facebook.

At one point he leans across the aisle to interrupt the younger pair’s conversation about music they like. “Hey you like Rammstein? you know, Rammstein–oh come onnn don’t tell me you never heard of Rammstein!?!?” He looks at me in disbelief, and I smile and say “Different generation, man.” I do know who the German metal band is, but more than anything i know that Eric Harris of the Columbine shooting was into Rammstein and wore a Rammstein t-shirt in his school photo. That factoid doesn’t mean anything, but I’m a little spooked since I feel like the bus is just about as tribal as prison and maybe it’s not a coincidence that we’re the only white people on the bus and for some reason we’re all clumped together. Abby and Bambi are right behind me (having deposited the older Ethiopian women up near the driver). They’ve heard my seat mate say he’s a five-time felon and they keep saying perkily, “You ok up there, Lil?” and popping up to offer me beef jerky and potato chips over the back of the seat.



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