From Nashville to New York to the Front Door of Love and Back | menrule.net
I pull my luggage around the side of an international market where the gurgling of a diesel engine stirs. Parked there is an obviously over-used white bus. The fenders over the tires are blackened with miles and it looks like it hasn’t been washed since the Van Hool C20’s were introduced circa 2000. The side doors are open for passengers’ bags to be loaded in. Just above the bus’s number is something scripted in Mandarin. I turn around and look at the Haitian man behind me who is wearing a plain black baseball cap. He shrugs at me knowing my look is asking him the same question he’s asking himself. I turn around and unsurely throw luggage underneath and step on the bus.
At one time some creature must have come down the aisle and chewed on only the corners of every other seat. The stuffing is bulging out on some and on others the seat’s threads barely hang on to save whatever face is left. I find a section that looks relatively maintained and toss my shoulder bag in the seat closest to the window. Before I sit down I look at the bathroom door and cringe. I can only imagine what waits for me in there.
There’s an oriental man staring at me. I look up from rummaging for a pen through my stuff and ask frankly, “What?”
“Ticket”, he says very directly.
I hand him my printed out ticket and he takes it. In exchange he hands me an orange business-card sized receipt. It too is in Mandarin. I stare at the back of his head while he walks away and think to myself, Well, this is different.
The miles of interstate ahead are taking me and twelve other people to our own individual stories in New York City. There will be landscapes I’ve never seen before. The bus bobbling down the highway will rock me to a comfortable place and trap me with nothing else to do but read, write, or sleep.
My destination is less of where I am going and more of who I am going for. This ramshackled bus is what is closing the miles between me and the person I may end up being with. Each pen stroke and bump in the highway is another moment closer to her. This could be a story about love. It may end up being a story of only lust. Either way it is a story that I need to find out. There is still seven hundred miles to cover on paper. I still have sixteen hours to sacrifice for an idea of something that resembles a possibility.
The Haitian man across the aisle from me is asleep. He is in his seventies wearing a blue plaid shirt. It only took thirty minutes for him to get comfortable. I am still settling in my seat while I come to the conclusion that he and I are companions. We are the only two people on the bus who don’t speak Mandarin. We sit next to each other like we are prepared to be outcasts on this orient express. We always have one another to converse with if it comes down to that. Good thing I don’t feel the need to converse. I’d rather be lost in the translations for now.
The glass that separates me from the world zooming by has had thousands of pairs of eyes to look through it. The Smoky Mountains are standing tall in the distance and all of those eyes have never seen those ranges quite the way I am seeing them now. Not only is it the way my eyes are receiving them but it is the music I have playing through my headphones that unravel the carpet of an adventurous mood. I am putting myself under the canopy of trees in the distance and picturing myself stoking a fire before nightfall.
And so I fade.
I fade in and out of sleep while the tires sing lullabies on the ride through the north-east. The morning light is finally peeking through in Pennsylvania. Just outside the window are landscapes I am unfamiliar with. Even the highway off ramps look different. The grass separating the ramp from the highway is a green that doesn’t resemble its same hue in Nashville. It’s funny how green can be worn differently in various parts of the country.
Sleep teases me again and releases me in New Jersey. The morning light is more intense this time. The bus crosses a bridge and in the distance is the New York City skyline. It stands proud and smoggy but still awe inspiring. A smile melts over my face with the anticipation of how much opportunity and possibility this small island has. The excitement of who I am coming here for is briefly replaced with the excitement of where I am going.
“There’s the zoo”, I say into the glass, leaning my forehead against it.
I never take my eyes off the skyline. I scan the seemingly endless skyscrapers and I imagine where in the concrete and steel forest is the girl I am here for. The bus bumps along city streets and we merge into city traffic. The excitement has moved the smile on my face into the rest of my body. This is real. I am here. She is out there somewhere in this dense, beautiful labyrinth of light and steel.
The last turn the dilapidated white bus takes is down a street with signs scripted in Mandarin on the building fronts. Chinatown. My nerves are at their highest and brightest point. I step out and crawl into the luggage area of the bus, grab my bag, and set it on the sidewalk. I take a deep breath between the buildings of a place utterly unfamiliar. I need a moment to keep my eyes and thoughts from growing dizzy. I pull up the handle on my luggage and drag it behind me into the city’s late-morning.
….to be continued.