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Benedictine journey: Part 1.

Late September, two-thousand and four. It s been over 30 years since I rode the Dog, but here I am, getting out of the car in the North Little Rock Greyhound station. Amanda still can't believe I'm doing this. "This is going to be a 24 hour ride on the bus. Nobody rides the bus. It's tacky. You could get knifed, or knocked in the head, or fall in with seedy characters. Are you sure you don't want me to drive you over to the airport? You can catch a flight to Pittsburgh, rent a car at the airport, and be there before dark."

"Nah. I used to ride the bus all the time, when I was in the service. I know nobody rides the bus, but that will give me a chance to stretch out, unwind, see a bit of the country, and get myself prepared. I'm really kinda looking forward to it." I looked down at my baggy shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirt.

"Insofar as 'seedy characters' are concerned, none of these other passengers looks nearly as seedy as I do."

We walked over to the ticket counter, where I got a little tag for my duffel bag. I shouldered my backpack, stuffed with books, toiletries, and one change of clothes, picked up the duffel, and headed toward the loading area, just as the big bus with NASHVILLE over the windshield rolled in.

Scout was racing around the terminal, fiddling with the snack machines. Amanda didn't look very happy. "Are you sure you're coming back?"

"Of course. They haven't expressed much interest in keeping me, anyway."

"I don't understand this."

"Me neither. But I guess it beats having a husband who runs the bars or kicks the cat. I'll be back before you know it."

It has been a long time since I rode the bus. I don't think busses were this big in the '70s. Hugs and kisses all around. I gave the duffel to the driver, who stowed it in a compartment below. This isn't like the airlines. I'll have to change busses four times before I get to Pennsylvania, and I'm responsible for transferring my own luggage each time.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I climbed aboard, figuring to pretty much have my choice of seats. Surprise! Regardless of what you, or I, or Amanda thought, it seems that everybody rides the bus these days. At least one person occupied each of the double seats, except one. I quickly stowed my backpack overhead, and slid into the window seat, hoping that none of the remaining Little Rock boardees would take the vacant aisle seat beside me.

Well, I guess I didn't look as seedy as I'd hoped. A rather large group of Mexicans followed me onto the bus, and the very largest gentleman of the group, weighing close to 300 pounds, gestured inquiringly at the empty aisle seat. "Si," says I, "por favor."

I began to remember some of the lessons I'd forgotten from my bus-riding experiences Back In The Day. Try never to sit next to anyone in need of a bath. Try never to sit next to anyone who will want to chat throughout the trip. My seatmate certainly filled those qualifications well. He smelled pretty good. He didn't talk at all. The final rule, however, is always to sit next to someone relatively small, since you are essentially sharing an undivided space--a love seat, if you will. The senor did his very best to squinch himself into his 50% of the space, but with little success. He constantly mumbled apologies, and I constantly reassured him, "de nada" (it's nothing).

About an hour's layover in Memphis, where everyone had to get off the bus and piddle around the terminal while the bus was fueled and a new driver took over. When you get off the bus, the first thing you do is to find the door which you will use to get back onto the bus. Then you either stand in line at the door, or mark your place with your luggage, so that you can get on early, and get a decent seat.

I went to the bathroom, bought a drink, and kinda lounged around the crowded station. Through the doors leading to the busses, I could see a large group of police officers, some in uniform, some dressed in those over-the-top SWAT getups--camouflage trousers, black shirt with POLICE in great huge yellow letters across the back, and three or four detectives in civvies. Must have been at least 10 or 12 of them, sitting and loafing around against a wall in the open area where the busses arrive. In their midst, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, was one of the largest human beings I have ever seen in my life. Shaved head. Not an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. Made Schwarzenegger look like a girl! He also had more chains around his body, waist, wrists, and ankles than Jacob Marley's ghost. He seemed to be well-acquainted with the cops, and was smoking and joking with them.

Oh, this is just great! I'll probably find that I have swapped my harmless, chubby Mexican seatmate for Hannibal Lecter! I quickly got into the re-boarding line, just behind a short, smallish muscular black kid with dreadlocks.

"You reckon he's going on to Nashville?" 1 asked, gesturing toward King Kong.

"I don't think so. He got off one of the other busses, and the welcoming party was there to meet him." "Good."

The bus was even more crowded than before, and Bob Marley and I shared a seat. He was a student at Vanderbilt, heading back to Nashville.

He didn't take up any room at all, didn't chat, and smelled fine. The new bus driver, a semi-large black guy, mounted the bus, then turned to the passengers.

"Welcome-to-Greyhound.-I'mDennis,-and-I-will-be-your-driver-for -the-next-few-hundred-miles. This-is-a-no-smoking-bus.-Thatmeans-no-smoking-anywhere-onthe-bus. -If-you-smoke-on-the-bus, -you-will-be-put-off-the-bus.-Thismeans-no-smoking-in-the-seats. -Ifyou-smoke-in-the-seats,-you-willbe-put-off-the-bus.-This-means -no-smoking-in-the-aisle.-If you smoke-in-the-aisle,-you-will-be-put-off-the-bus.-The bathroom-is-located-in-the-rear-of-the-bus.-This-means no smoking-in-the-bathroom.-If-yousmoke-in-the-bathroom, -you-willbe-put-off-the-bus.-Thank-you-forchoosing-Greyhound."

We settled in, headed eastward across Tennessee. Somewhere out there, in the middle of nowhere, between Jackson and Nashville, a young, good-looking cowboy kid, about 22 or 23, got up from his seat near the front, leaving his pretty young companion, who was about the same age, and strolled back to the bathroom.

In approximately two minutes, Dennis pulls over to the side of the Interstate. I turn to my seatmate. "Flat tire?"

"I dunno."

Dennis marches to the rear of the bus, bangs on the bathroom door, which slowly opens, discharging the cowboy and a cloud of cigarette smoke. Without a word, Dennis marches the kid to the front of the bus, pausing at his seat just long enough to collect his baggage and girlfriend, then escorts them off the bus, and onto the shoulder of the road.

Man, you've never heard a quieter bunch of 50 or so folks in your life. We watched, unhearing, as Dennis gave that kid the chewing-out of his life right there on the side of the highway. After three or four minutes, the three get back onto the bus, the cowboy most sheepishly. Dennis remained standing.

"This-is-a-no-smoking-bus.-If you-smoke-on-the-bus, -you-will-be-put-off-the-bus."

At the next stop, which was a closed filling station in some nameless central Tennessee hamlet, Dennis pulled over. He motioned to the couple, who followed him, baggage in hand. Once again, the mute passengers peered out the starboard windows, witnessing a pantomimed tongue-lashing. I turned to my Rastafarian pal.

"I quit smoking almost 25 years ago. If I ever gave a thought to starting again, Dennis has sure caused me to think again!" As Dennis wound down, he thrust his right arm forward in a "get out" gesture, much in the manner of Simon Legree casting Little Nell out into a snowstorm. At his point, the cowboy produced his package of cigarettes, walked over to a trashcan, and tossed them inside. Then, with two bowed heads and one triumphant one, the trio re-entered the bus.

"This-is-still-a-no-smoking-bus.If-you-do-not-believe-me, -you-mayask-this-gentleman-here."

Nobody felt the necessity of asking the gentleman.

Changing busses in Nashville, then off toward the north, as night falls. Somewhere between Nashville and Louisville, the driver pulls over at a fast-food place for a 30-minute break, so that we can get something to eat. Louisville. An autumn moon, nearly full, rises over Kentucky. Then Cincinnati at 1:00 a.m. Changing busses again. I grab a Pepsi and a couple of cans of Pringles and climb aboard.

This time, I'm sitting in the aisle seat, next to a young guy, maybe 18 or so. While we're waiting for the bus to pull out, he's cranked around in his seat, chatting with his buddy in the seat behind me. In Russian. After awhile, I say, "If you want to sit with your friend, I'll be glad to swap with him."

Substantially more conversation in Russian. Turns out that the friend's girlfriend is seated yet further back. With my orchestration, about six or seven people play a quick game of musical bus seats in order to get the Commies all seated together, to the accompaniment of many gestures of thanks, to which I babble, "Da, da, da," representing exactly 50% of my repertoire of Russian words.

I am now seated on the aisle, across from a shore-enuff genuine Amish father and his little girl, about five years old. You sure don't get this ... er ... diversity on Delta Airlines. This guy is wearing a heavy long-sleeved white shirt, buttoned to the neck, starched overalls, heavy boots, and a wide-brimmed black hat, which he's placed on the overhead rack. Beard just like Abe Lincoln's. The little girl looks like Laura Ingalls. Bonnet and all. They're sharing a little bag of potato chips, which goes fast. I wasn't sure if Amish folks ate chips. They do.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

After awhile, I look over at the little girl, who's studying the empty bottom of her chip bag. I address the gentleman.

"Sir, I've got a couple of extra cans of chips over here. Would the little girl like some?"

"That's very kind, sir."

"Glad to."

I pass over the Pringles. The little girl lowers her eyes, and, under minimal parental prodding, "Thank you, sir."

Reading, snoozing, changing busses in Columbus. Two black girls are in the seats in front of me. About 17 or 18 years old. It's 4:30 in the morning, and they each have cell phones. These phones have illuminated faces like searchlights and I think they are actually talking to each other. On the phone. With the light in my eyes. I don't say anything.

Sunrise over Wheeling, West Virginia, is glorious. You should see it sometime. We shortly pull into Pittsburgh, where I carry my backpack into the men's room. Amanda has warned me about bus station men's rooms. This one seems okay.

I've been on the bus nearly 22 hours and it's about 7:30 in the morning. It's getting a bit chilly, and I'm beginning to be able to smell myself. I lay out my toiletries on the long counter and strip off my shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops. Nobody pays much attention as I sponge-bathe, shave, and wash my hair in the sink. I put on a pair of jeans, boots, and a long-sleeved shirt.

We leave Pittsburgh at 8:30, on a little local bus line. Almost there. About an hour and a half later, we reach the environs of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Off to the left, on a hill, I can see a huge structure, which I take to be the basilica of Saint Vincent Archabbey, the oldest Benedictine monastery in the United States. Latrobe isn't known for much, but is the birthplace of Arnold Palmer, was the home of Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and is the home of the Rolling Rock brewery.

The bus station in Latrobe is in a travel agency, located in the little town's business district. I'm the only passenger to disembark, and I shoulder my backpack and retrieve my duffel from the luggage compartment.

As the bus pulls away, I see him standing on the sidewalk near the travel agency. We've never met, although we've corresponded for almost two years.

He's about my age, but very small, almost fragile, with skin nearly translucent. He doesn't spend much time in the sun, I can tell.

"Father Donald. It's good to finally meet you. Thanks for volunteering to pick me up."

The passengers on the bus are all staring as I shake hands with the man in the black Benedictine robe and hood. He pauses on the sidewalk, offering a prayer of thanks for my safe trip.

"It's my pleasure, George. Let's get your bags into the car. I think we can get back to the monastery in time for midday prayer."

GEORGE SIMS

GEORGESIMS@HOTMAIL.COM

George Sims can be contacted at Bonne Idee Farm, Route 2, Box 237-3, Mansfieht, Missouri 65704-9564, or at bonneideefarm@hotmail.com.
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Title Annotation:The hapless homesteader
Author:Sims, George
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Travel narrative
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
Words:2159
Previous Article:A country girl can survive! Using the farm and little bit of country wisdom to provide for a family.
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