15.10.94 > SAN FRANCISCO CALIFORNIA TO BANDON OREGON > 2.15AM
Twisting on a stool in Judi’s Bar, I watched the brown liquor swirl like oil around the ice in my glass. I smoked. I coughed. I thought about women. Time to go.
We trucked across the Bay Bridge, the fabulous city tipping improbable angles of brick and board through the moving picture window of the bus – scripted scenes for a black-and-white actor nobody really remembered anymore, cameras rolling down alleyways, men in berets yelling ‘Cut!’ through megaphones.
I was riding up the back, alone, except for an old black guy in a yellow corduroy jacket and a St Louis Cardinals baseball cap, and a young black woman with two sleepy kids. They all sat up near the driver. The kids slept. We moved.
Unknown hours later air brakes sounded a steely whine. Slumped across the back seat, my booze head dribbled on my shoulder. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. The bus was chugging down a steep hill through a forest of giant redwoods, towering up to the roadside, the standing thighs of the Earth’s original men. Down through dark timber we weaved, stars clouded out with lumber and leaf, trunks whispering:
‘Pass below us small boy for we are tall and closer to the moon.
Don’t wake up for fear of your own age!
And you’ll cry for the sad impermanence of your own skinny frame…’
I blinked in disbelief at their furrowed bark sides, tremendous girth, dark countenance. The bus moved on.
Further into the night old corduroy appeared like a spirit over me and shook my arm with a gentle hand.
‘Hey, wake up… Wake up… You’re here.’
Where? I opened my sleepy eyes, his moony face over mine, crossed with concern and loss from another day. The Greyhound was parked on a sidestreet, the driver outside next to my purple pack on the sidewalk, smoking, the coal-eye burn of his cigarette tracing a bobbing pattern in the night. I couldn’t see his face. Something was wrong. I’d planned on sleeping through the whole night on the bus that wasn’t supposed to get to Bandon until 7am. I clambered down and scanned my ticket in the moonlight: ‘SAN FRAN > BANDON. ARR. BANDON 02:15’.
Critical error. I had no idea where the hostel was, and it was too late to call them anyway. The driver shrugged with a practised apathy when I asked him. The old guy had long since shuffled off to his dark bed somewhere, and the woman with the kids was riding off on the next bus to Portland.
Across the night air came the crumble of waves, plaintive, not far away. The beach! The sweet taste of infection coughed up in my lungs as I pulled my pack onto my back, heading downhill.