by Joe Hoover
At Christmas I took the bus home from Chicago, where I study philosophy en route to becoming a Jesuit priest. It was about ten-and-a-half hours on Greyhound to get to Omaha, where I'm from. It could have been an hour and ten minutes on the plane. But I flew in no plane. I rode the bus. I rode the bus because I wanted to be with the real people. To sit with them and eat with them and talk with them. But even more than that, I took the bus so other people would know I took the bus and was with the real people. When I got to Omaha, I wanted to inform everyone that I rode cheap, communal, overland transportation to arrive there. I found myself looking for ways to put it in conversations, walking away, voice trailing, unimportant, but still there, the fact of my bus trip. If I ran into, say, Daegas or McGill or Cripe or anyone else from my old high school, I was ready to have a conversation that went something like this:
Hey, Hoov. When'd you get in?
About an hour ago.
Parents pick you up at the airport?
They picked me up, yeah. Not at the airport, but yeah...hey, did you see "House of Flying-"
Where'd they pick you up?
Oh, uh, down on 16th and Jackson.
What's down there? Sixteenth and...isn't that the Greyhound station?
Yeah. The bus station, yeah.
Why'd you take the bus?
Ahh, you know. It gets you there. No, but seriously, awesome, awesome movie.
You took Greyhound. Damn. Vow of poverty, huh? That's pretty...wow. That must've been a drag. I took Greyhound once. When I was fourteen. To Des Moines, see my grandma. It sucked. I don't think I'd ever do that again. That was only three hours. Chicago must've been, what, twelve hours?
Something like that.
Then again, you must have been with the real people.
Oh, I wouldn't really...
Yes you were. Yes you were. I can feel it, your realness. It seeped into you from them.
Actually, no. I take that back. You've always been real, no matter who you're with. You're the guy who takes fourteen hours to go home because he wants to feel life go by. You don't want to just fly over things. Skim the top, sustain only flesh wounds. You want to be troubled by every cell, every mote, every square inch of this harsh and beautiful journey we call human existence. That's you. That is so you.
It's wonderful. You're wonderful. You're with the people. And the thing is, the people? They see, clearly, that you are not of them-you with your smooth skin, your plaintive innocent eyes, your limpid brown and thinning hair, your boyish prep school looks. And yet, at the same time, they see that somehow, you are of them. By choice! That's the difference! You are of them because you want to be of them! There in the mire of the bus stops, the loathsome restrooms and hopeless PA system. The noisy, ill-placed television, the slushy faux-brick floors, the brash, scared fourteen year old with pink streaks in her hair, on parole, waiting for her bus back to the Quad Cities. You are with them, and they know it, and secretly they love you. They are comforted, assuaged, lifted up. Just by you being with them. You have a dirty rucksack, they have a dirty rucksack, and there is redemption.
It's cool, or whatever.
We're all brothers, aren't we? I'm feeling...strangely...converted. To something. I want to give my life to something so grand, so dim, so remarkable and dirty and fetid. So bursting with wanton love. Why do I drive everywhere alone? Why am I so individualistic? Is there not deep within me, hidden behind mounds of distrust and fear and can-do American bullshit, a hidden ache for community, for sacrifice, for the cleansing healing bath salts of that stunning posture of the heart the Greeks call agape? What can I do to live these things out? Tell me.
Ah, we'll see. Maybe I can help you. Maybe.
This is, I think, why I really took the bus. To have this kind of exchange. It didn't pan out this way, though. No one I ran into went much further than: "The bus? Oh, well. (Pause) Did you want another reindeer cookie?"
So, I am still waiting for this epiphanal conversation to take place. Maybe I'll be in the Jesuit infirmary before I have that conversation. Maybe I should just take the plane and not worry about it. The bus really is a drag. When I ride the bus I feel like I've left this country and I'm in another country. A country that has no name. A country that consists of a very narrow strip of land running east to west, or north to south. I don't like this country. It makes me feel sad, feel alienated from everyone and everything. Except the other inhabitants of that country. The English literature grad student in a thin blue sweater; the Hispanic mother and her three children, glorious in Dallas Cowboys gear; the soldier in his pressed green uniform, alert and thin and quiet; the half-hearted scam artist tucked in the back, making weary shameless boasts to a teenager who is trying hard not to be impressed and failing.