This December, instead of returning to my home in Oregon by plane, I took the Greyhound. The resulting 3,300-mile journey took three days and four buses, along with several stops along the way. During that time, I jotted down nearly every conversation that I held or overheard. The following are excerpts from those notes.
Former plant geneticist: “Life never goes as planned, you know … You’re from Yale?” Yes. Going home for break. “My wife hates the place; never could forgive them for not letting her in. I think she’s getting better about it recently though.”
Jorge, born-again Christian: “I lived on the streets for five years. But, you know, I was clean. I never did drugs. They were all around, but you know, He is stronger than that. I’ve been in the U.S. 10 years now, and I’m doing just fine.” Married? “No, I’m going to see my girlfriend in California. What’s the rush? I’m only 28.”
Man on phone: “Right now I’m using my last penny to get to you … Where do you live now?” The conversation wraps up. “But I did everything for you!”
Boy to his sister: “Eww, this floor is nasty. Come on, let’s get outta here.”
Café waitress: “I’m tired, baby. I was only supposed to work the midnight shift, and now I gotta do breakfast.”
Announcement: “Greyhound tickets are void if separated from the schedule.”
To clerk, as I show separated ticket: Ma’am, is there anything I can do?
“I’m sorry. You had a warning. It’s printed on the ticket. See if the driver will take it, otherwise you have to buy another one.”
To driver, proffering ticket: It got torn by accident.
Driver, ripping and handing over stub: “This is for you.”
Man on cell: “I love you too.”
We pull up to the Greyhound station in Toledo, Ohio. Before anyone has a chance to get off the bus, four police officers in cowboy hats, packing sidearms, enter. They split up, approaching and questioning every Hispanic person on the bus. “Do you speak English? Where are you going? De dónde viene?”
Having been passed over, I perhaps stupidly flag down an officer.
Do I have to show an ID or something?
He glances me over.
“No, you’re fine.”
Half a dozen passengers are escorted from the bus. We do not see them again.
The landscape is endlessly flat and snowy.
Mother: “This was my son’s idea for an adventure. I’m gonna kill him.”
Irene meets me in Chicago. Upon my departure she texts: “Have a safe journey! My family wishes you well, and my mom wants you to take care of yourself and to stop worrying your parents.”
Security guard: “You are the first person to be smart enough to open the other door to get through.”
There is a gorgeous sunrise. A pillar of fire reaches straight up into the sky. A car is pulled over for speeding on Highway 90 in the middle of rural Michigan.
A baby is squealing.
Young woman: “I’m two credits short of being able to enroll again. And five credits short of graduating. If not, I’m gonna get my GED. Get my sh-t together. Quit partying. Get a job. Save up for my own place. I had a job in South Dakota and sh-t, but I wasn’t being responsible about it. I was spending all my money on alcohol and drugs.
“I’ve never talked about anything. That’s why I’m full of so much anger. ’Cause I’d just hold it in and hold it in. That’s my problem. I just hold everything in. And then it build up and builds up. And then I explode. I know. That’s why I’m leaving. That’s why I left.”
“Where are you going?” she asks me.
Back home, to Portland. How about you? Home? “No, going to get treatment. What are you doing out here?” Started in Connecticut. Coming back from school. “Whoa.”
It’s twilight. Dawn approaches.
We pass by snow-capped peaks and a little girl feeding a horse. The landscape is no longer flat. We meander along serpentine rivers, trees and snowbanks.
There’s a little boy crying on board.
Driver: “Is there anyone from Spokane on the bus?” Uh oh. “I just need someone to direct me off the highway … Oh wait, it looks like it clears up, up ahead.”
Guy behind me: “All I want to do is get off this f-cking bus.” But I think it’s been kinda fun. Male neighbor: “I’ve never paid for sex. And I’m not gonna start now.” Female neighbor, on passing through Pasco, Wash.: “This place is a cesspool.”
One intersection looks like home, but it isn’t.
White-haired man wakes up and freaks out, flicking his lighter: “Where the f-ck are we?! Where are you taking us?!” Neighbor: “Hey, calm down buddy.”
This intersection looks like home, and it is.
Sergio Zenisek is a senior in Berkeley College and a staff photographer for the News.