I get to the rumbling steps and climb them. My bus seat is where I left it. Right there it is, six hours from one place and six hours from another.
My hands smell like canned food. I think about the toilet at the back of the bus. It is one-half of a port-a-potty.
I think of the luxury of water and soap.
“You heard it! You heard what she called me!” I hear from the front of the bus.
A black man walks past me. He’s frowning and shaking his head.
I look up. A new bus driver climbs the steps. He snatches the intercom. He faces us, and his head nears the roof of the bus. Sun glints off his grey crewcut and his black sunglasses. He stands with his feet far apart.
He twists the intercom up to his mouth at a hard angle.
“There are rules on this bus,” the speakers above all our heads tell us.
The bus driver turns away and jams the intercom back in place. He faces us again and plants his feet. “There will be no alcohol.” His voice shoots over all 50 seats and bounces back to him.
“There will be absolutely no drugs of any kind.” Pause. The black lenses stare at the back of the bus and don’t move.
“Some drivers will ask you to leave.” The black lenses don’t even jiggle as he plants his feet an inch further apart. His hands remain fists at his sides. “I am not like some drivers. I will pull this bus over. We will all sit and wait for the police to arrive.”
An Asian man stands up. He is toward the front of the bus, and I can see him over the seats. His flannel shirt is new, and the blue squares peeking through the design are nearly flourescent. He steps into the aisle and points back at a seat.
“She said I am not an American!” he yells. His black beard touches his chest. It has no straggling hairs.
“Sit down, sir,” says the bus driver.
The engine fires to life, and we all rock back as the bus pulls forward. The bus turns, and the freeway entrance opens up toward us. We begin to climb the up.
“I’m getting my gun!” She is loud. We all hear it. We have all heard this colorful woman’s voice before.
“She said I am not an American!” a man’s voice bounces off all the seats.
The intercom crackles as we get to the top of the onramp: “We are getting off at the next exit.” Click.
At another parking lot at another gas station, we all sit and idle.
The driver yells.
The woman yells.
The bearded man sprints down the aisle.
He leaps left and right. “Do I smell like alcohol to you?” the bearded man yells. He leans down and exhales in a passenger’s face. A head presses back against the top of the seat. The head’s response is silence. “Do I smell like alcohol to you?” he yells again. He darts across the aisle and repeats the process.
The driver yells at the bearded man. The bearded man yells back. The driver yells at the colorful woman. Soon, the three of them are nowhere in sight. The bus door hangs open.
We all sit and wait.
The driver returns. He cuts off the engine and the intercom crackles to life: “If you hear strange sounds underneath the bus, it is the police searching the cargo area with drug-sniffing dogs. I trust that everyone has packed their bags wisely.” Click.
A large policeman climbs the steps. He announces a name. He then attempts to march toward the back of the bus. The walkie-talkie mounted on one hip catches a seat. He stops, and leans to the other side. He attempts to march again. His sidearm catches a seat on the other side and bounces in the holster.
An unshaven man in his 20’s steps off the bus with the officer.
We all wait. The officer and the young man return. It takes a long time for a backpack to be emptied. Then the walkie-talkie and gun bounce off the seats again heading toward the front of the bus. The young man stays on with us.
“I will tolerate no alcohol on this bus,” says the intercom. The engine starts. Much louder, we hear: “I have no tolerance for racism.”
The driver’s voice comes down from the speakers mounted above all 50 seats. “I have absolutely zero tolerance for racism.”
He continues: “I tell people something when I hear those things.” Some people are looking up at the voice above our heads. “You are laying in the hospital bleeding. You are laying there and the doctors say you are going to die. They say the one thing that can save your life is the heart of a dead black man. Would you take it?”
Some people are climbing their seats and looking around at each other. “Everyone I ask says yes. Every single person says yes. If you pull all the skin off of us, we are all the same color.”
The bus rumbles on.
I was born in the midwest and it felt like I grew up there. We moved near Seattle and I grew up more. I thought I found “The Woman I’d Spend My Life With” a couple of years ago. Then my life exploded one day. After that, I got on a bus. These things happened, and made me think about America.