Discover more from DW Shumway
Long-awaited return to the Japans
Part 1- Greyhound prologue
I’m in Seattle now. Got here yesterday and I’ll be flying out tomorrow, back to see my family in Japan. It’s been a year! Outside of deadbeat dads, regretful divorcees and military men in war time, who leaves their family for a year? Anyway, if anything fun or goofy (a guarantee in wacky Japan) happens over there, I’ll let you know here.
But first I had to get to Seattle for the SEA-NRT flight. This Missoula-Seattle Greyhound trip is growing on me, and now I highly prefer it to the 8-hour drive, which always takes me much longer because I always make tons of rest-stop pullovers for stretching and napping. Now I just pack a book and enjoy the ride.
Everyone uses their smart phones with a QR code that the driver scans to board the bus these days. Last trip I just said my name and the dude let me on. Just to challenge the system or at least retard the descent into our digital-panopticon hell, one should attempt to be as ludditeish as possible these days. However, it wasn’t much trouble to print out my ticket at the library the day before departure, and on it was printed the insidious-looking matrix barcode we call QR. At least I would be the only one without a fondle stick in my hand and hold an actual ‘ticket’. The driver in Missoula didn’t even bother scanning it. “Well, you just made it on time. Are you Daniel or Trevor?”
-OK. Hop on.
That’s how it should be! Barcode shmarcode.
Something always happens at our first stop in Kellogg, Idaho, and yesterday was no different. Jake, the guy across from me said, “Hey man, can you tell the driver to come back here?”
I looked at him, paused briefly, and said, “Sure.”
-I had an accident.
-Oh! What happened?
-I soiled myself.
I didn’t know how to respond to that so I just looked at him. He continued.
-Yeah, I was napping and I guess it happened while I was asleep. I just crapped my pants. I’m all dirty and I need some help. Ask the driver to bring back his spray bottle.
-His spray bottle?
-Yeah. I don’t want to stink the place up. Sorry, man.
Who among dudes under 40 just craps his pants when sleeping? This guy didn’t quite fit the bill for a vagrant strung out on drugs. He talked about going here and there to find good jobs. Greyhound is the conduit for itinerant workers who crisscross the country, guided by the proverbial Adam-Smithian hidden hand, heeding the call of market forces when there are labor shortages in East Lansing or Sioux City. Heavy-set Jake looked like a cross between hispanic, black and white, with more on the hispanic side. But he had no accent so he couldn’t have been an immigrant; maybe he was a US-born Mexican American. He was from South Dakota, so I thought he could also be an Indian- feather. I informed the driver Carl about the poo problem, and went for a short walk and stretch across the grassy field under America’s longest gondola lift. There was a plaque featuring three of Kellogg’s most famous historical citizens, including Noah Kellogg, the namesake prospector who struck it rich when his lucky donkey wandered off and discovered ore deposits in the area which would become the Bunker Hill Mine.
He sought a grubstake to go prospecting. A merchant, John Cooper and a small contractor, Origin Peck, reluctantly supplied Kellogg with supplies and a burro. The burro became the matter of much folklore. The grubstake was conditional on Kellogg taking the burro, which was a braying and annoying critter disturbing the people in Murray.
Returning to the subject of poo, there’s no civilized place to relieve yourself at the Kellogg stop. You’d think they’d stop at a gas mart or at least a public park with a bathroom or honey bucket at least. And since nobody seems to start or end their trip in Kellogg, and it’s only 25 minutes from Couer d’ Alene, the whole stop seems useless. Of course you can always use the bus’s bathroom in back, but who wants to use a Greyhound bus toilet? Two younger guys didn’t want to, and ran to the back side of the hotel at the base of the gondola to relieve themselves in the bushes. I hope it was #1.
Back on the road, I figured the driver was able to help out hapless Jake, because he was in good spirits, talking up a storm. After Couer d’ Alene he became even more sunny and excited and was sitting up straight on the edge of his seat, craning his neck to get a good view of out front of the bus. He said he hadn’t seen his fiance in a while and she was there waiting for him in Spokane. He would direct his excited thoughts to me, then the lady with the Dorito bag and 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew sitting in front of him, and sometimes in anxious anticipation he’d just talk out loud to himself: “I can’t wait to get there. This is the longest 20-hour bus ride I’ve ever been on!”
We passed through Post Falls and Jake said to nobody in particular, “Are we in Washington yet?”
On a Greyhound bus ride, people love to jump in and set the record straight when there’s an unanswered inquiry in a conversation, or soliloquy as in Jake’s case. Patty, the lady in front of me with the big Malamute-Pyrenees-mix dog lying in the aisle said, “Nope, but we’ll be there in a few seconds.” Jake darted his eyes from Patty back to the front of the bus, and smacked his lips.
Patty knew all the overpasses between Couer d’ Alene and Spokane and as we passed under yet another one she said, “Washington is right, riiiiiiiiight, HERE!”
She really wanted to get that key moment right, when we passed from Idaho into Washington. Jake approved of her exactitude, and now looked more excited than ever.
Soon the freeway curved a bit and in the distance you could see the tops of some of the buildings in Spokane.
“There she is! That’s Spokane. THERE SHE IS!”
I chuckled a little inside and said to Jake, “You talk like Spokane is Shangri-La!”
The white dude two seats behind Jake laughed at that one. Jake looked at me with a blank stare for a second, then he shook his head just a little and stared out front again, the expression on his face saying, “If this guy can’t see the beauty and majesty of a first class city, it ain’t my problem.”
Jake jumped up and raced to get off the bus at the Spokane depot. I was happy for him. After 20 hours of driving and waiting in depots, passing through the Dakota badlands, the windy prairies of eastern and central Montana, across the Divide, through the Panhandle, and into the Evergreen State, he’d made it to the thriving Metropolis of Spokane. Soon he’d be in his sweetheart’s arms, after a quick shower, we can assume.
There was nobody to talk to on the next bus- the 2nd leg of the trip, from Spokane to Seattle, so I did some reading and tried to get some sleep. When we got to Ellensburg, we had a twenty-minute stop at Love’s Truck Stop. Just before exiting the bus, I glanced at Willard, the old, blind black man in the front seat that has the best view of the road. He had a helpless look on his face. Where was the young black dude who had helped him get on the bus in Spokane? I stopped just before the stairs and said, “Do you need some help?”
-Well yes, I could use some help getting off the bus. And maybe you could show me the way to the bathroom.
I took his hand and did both. Willard walked so slowly that we were able to have a decent-length conversation from just the bus to the bathroom. He said he was a pastor from Douglas, Wyoming, on his way to Corvallis Oregon to preach for a congregation that would put him up there for while, as he had done in the past. “I teach that you must perceive the spirit with your heart, not see it with your eyes.” Immediately grasping the connection between this pithy statement and his physical condition, I nodded in agreement. Realizing he couldn’t see my nod, I said, “Mmm. Umhmm!”
Having just passed through Wyoming twice less than two weeks ago, I tried to impress Willard with my knowledge of the road system there. “So you must live along I-25.”
Willard-Yes, that’s correct.
Dan- Yeah, I just drove I-25, from Sheridan to…
W-Well, now. If you’re coming down from Montana, I-25 doesn’t start until Buffalo.
You couldn’t fool Willard on Wyoming geography.
D- Oh, that’s right. Buffalo is where 90 stops going south and heads east.
W-Yes, and the 25 runs south to Casper.
D-Right, and then makes a sharp left to the east before turning south again for Cheyenne.
And so on. I was trying to show off, just like Patty the border announcer with the beautiful malamute.
Figuring Willard would take his time in the bathroom stall, I went to buy a an ice tea, in a big cup with lots of ice to crunch for the trip. When I came back he was out of the stall, heading in the wrong direction. I guided him toward the sinks and there he was good at feeling around and getting situated. His hands went straight for the faucet, soap dispenser and towel dispenser without missing. If you’re blind, I guess boring standardization of truck-stop bathrooms is just the ticket.
As I led him back through the mini-mart, Willard said, “I’m gonna want something sweet. Maybe you could lead me to the cakes and pastries section.” That sounded so fancy for a truck-stop mini mart. I imagined a little store with fresh baked goods in a display like you see all over France, and a polite bakery girl in a bonnet bagging up a fresh-baked, flaky croissant in a sing-song voice: “Merci! Au revoir!” Patisserie Love’s Truck Stop.
The Love’s guy said, “Sure, you want Little Debbie’s, or…?”
Willard’s eyes lit up and he said, “Yeah. Take me to the Little Debbie’s section.” Love’s guy showed us the aisle and said, “And we also have Hostess products. That would be two aisles down there on the right.”
Two separate aisles for American sugar-bomb, chemical-loaded, cakey, creamy wholesome goodness, in a mini-mart!
Willard had me read each package, and when I got to the chocolate stuff he said, “Put it in my hand. I want to feel it.” He chose two chocolate things. I started to guide him to the cashier but then he said, “Now let’s go see what they got in the Hostess section.” This time I didn’t have to read the name of many products and hand them to Willard for the feel test; when I got to the old standard Hostess Cupcakes, chocolate with cream filling, Willard nodded and said, “That’s the one. Get that one.”
At the counter, Willard used his EBT card. I thought about that popular Oliver Anthony tune going around where he says, “If you’re five foot three and three hundred pounds, taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds.” But Willard wasn’t obese. Maybe he avoided soda pop. I asked if he wanted me to enter his password. “Well, they tell me not to give that out.” He punched in the numbers by himself as I watched. He couldn’t find the ‘enter’ button and asked me to push it. Leaving the store Willard remarked on how strong the wind was and said, “We must be near the coast. Are we near the coast?”
-No, this wind is just the regular Cascade synoptic pressure gradient enhanced in summer by the thermal low that develops over the relatively hotter east-of mountains interior.
Just kidding. Actually I just said, “Naw, this is just the typical strong west wind you get often around here.”
Willard thanked me numerous times for my help. He was a nice old guy, pleasant to be with, but he didn’t seem exceptionally intelligent, well-read or profound, and I wondered what the congregants in Corvallis saw in him that justified a trip all the way from east-central Wyoming. Maybe he had a Jennings-Bryantesque oratory style from behind the pulpit that wowed the middle-class, Willamette Valley parishioners, and I just couldn’t see it yet in this mundane, little-Debbie visit to the Love’s truck stop. Or maybe it was just the Old Negro Sage thing. Kind of like how some Boomers on Twitter activate their virtue beacons by posting GIFs that have a black dude nodding head in agreement; that Morgan-Freeman Hollywood trope of the wise, old black man is still popular in the white Willamette watershed, I suppose.
DW Shumway is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.