Saturday, February 26, 2011

La Salida.

Stepping out of the car I heaved my loaded backpack across one shoulder. The bus station looked friendly enough. The adobe colored walls and the red tile roof were the familiar standard. I gave the car door a firm swing shut, to assert my dominance, realizing I hadn’t called my father to tell him about my sudden switch from air travel to luxurious bus travel. I’d never taken a bus anywhere before, except to elementary school, where even as a child I knew I was missing out on the real authentic bus riding experience. My dad however was not as optimistic about my decision. I explained to him the savings and told him I was a big boy and also that the trip would take an extra 6 hours. He simply laughed and let me know, with as little paternal sarcasm he could hide, what he thought of my decision. We ended the conversation with him suggesting he would pay for the plane ticket if I changed my mind. Yeah right, dad.

The Santa Ana bus station was no place for me that morning, but in the glorious American tradition of budget travel I had opted for a genuine bus ride in place of yuppie infested air travel. The deal was unbelievable, $39 for a nine-hour bus ride gave me much more bang for my buck rivaled to $300 for a 3 hour Airplane ticket. Those mathematical savants in the room would have already figured out that the bus ride only cost me around $4.30 an hour, whereas the greedy airplane industry would have drained me for upwards of $100 an hour. The choice was obvious. My fellow bus passengers however seemed to have taken advantage of this economic opportunity out of necessity and not the thrill of savings.

It was one of those summer mornings that should have smelled of ocean fog and trimmed hedges, a morning where the cool air should have given my lungs a thrill to keep breathing. But the bus station gave no such condolences and instead of fog and hedges my nose was subjugated to short, terrible breaths of diesel exhaust and long since bathed transients. It was hot and dense under the bus stop overhang, where the shade it provided was a big fat liar, and the company it shaded was just as shady.

With my slim cut jeans, flip-flops, V-neck t-shirt and headband, my sore thumb was the most inconspicuous thing about me. If I told you that on either side of me sat two very large, leather faced migrant workers, each draped in what seemed like authentic weaved ponchos, you would probably think I was exaggerating, I wish that were the case. In addition to my indigenous friends, the crowd consisted of a few single mothers, seven tiny children, two traveling transients, a handful of presumably well-behaved gang members, and a young couple that had a haze of newlywed about them. We were a motley crew, but if these were to be my shipmates during the voyage across the dusty oceans of central California, so be it.

A voice came across the loud speaker announcing the arrival of our trusty vessel. The dialectal dispatch came first in Spanish, followed by an English translation peppered with summersaulting r’s and sensual n’s. Down the row of empty 30-foot parking spaces our bus came a crawling. It’s diesel rumblings were an angry pit-bull with a fresh tracheotomy. It came to a halt at the curb just a few feet from the crowd of anxious travelers. I could feel the heat from underneath the bus blasting my sandaled feet. It was gross, as if someone who hadn’t brushed for days was blowing hot, stinky breath on my toes. The bus knelt down with a hydraulic hiss that sent my golden lochs a flutter. With a squeak the doors of the bus cranked open. Sitting in the sheepskin driver’s seat was our captain. I’ll skip the physical description of our bus driver and let her name do it for me. On a small silver nametag in the shape of a running dog, printed in bold black lettering was the name “Yolanda”. With the Greyhound equivalent of “Aaaaaallllll aboooarrrd!” Yolanda beckoned us to line up and have our tickets ready. The line shortened and one by one the crowd climbed the oversized steps up into the growling k9.

My nerves hiccupped. I had a flash of a pristine airport, sanitized and sparkling with all the comfort and aesthetics I was used to. It wasn’t too late! I could still get out! I could be on a plane in a matter of hours and still be home before this silver Twinkie made it over the grapevine! Just step out of line! RUN!

Yea right, dad.

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