I'm standing fourth in line behind a guy in his twenties who’s wearing a hand-me-down suit that’s too big for him and carrying a trash bag full of his stuff. In front of him, is a middle-aged lady with a lot of make-up and perfume and a toddler. She stares straight ahead, clutching her purse tightly, while the little boy looks around at everything you can see from three feet off the floor. I don't even bother to look at the other line, what's the point?

I’m in the old downtown Greyhound Bus Terminal on the corner of 12th Avenue and Dominion Street and, like most of the people in it, this place has seen better years.

The glass doors are propped open on two sides of the waiting room and if you bother to look, you can see people hurrying by on the sunny sidewalks, and cars and the occasional bus beyond them. There are ceiling fans turning at a good clip over our heads blowing hot air down from the ceiling and efficiently mixing the dirty air from the outside with the dirty air from the inside. My mom would say that it’s a blessing that direct sunshine can’t reach into this place to show us what we’re breathing.

I suppose the only reason we’re not dead yet is the hardy immune systems that a year in the city bestows upon its survivors. That and the lingering trace of Lysol in the air.

On the wall in front us, there are four ticket windows opening atop a narrow, scarred laminate pale-green counter, each with a set of steel bars over a gap where the money and the tickets change hands. Two of the windows are blocked by painted wooden signs that say "Closed - Sorry!" It looks like they've been "Sorry" for a long time.

Everyone is here for the same reason: they need to be somewhere else and they’re not rich, right away. That’s me I know I do. On the floor next to my feet is a medium size suitcase that I found at a thrift shop yesterday afternoon, on the "Clearance -FREE" table. It's a dirt-color Samsonite that probably used to be a quality item, but now it only has one snap lock, the sides are both scuffed and across one side there's a cut part way through. But the handle's still firmly attached and the price was right. It's not a large case, but it holds everything I own, right now. There's a bungee cord around it for safety and security. I'll know if some lowlife tries to mess with it.

The line moves up one and I slide the case forward with my foot and step up even with it. My arm itches, but I try to ignore it.

The station has green and white checkerboard vinyl floor tiles and smells mostly like fumes from the idling diesel buses just through a set of double glass doors that are propped open to my left. Those doors lead to the garage area, where the buses load and unload. Next, you can smell the cigarettes, smoked mostly by the people sitting around waiting for a bus to either leave or arrive and the perfume and colognes meant to cover up the odor of people who can't always get a bath. Life isn't always easy. I know that. I can't complain, but some people really got it hard. Finally, you can smell the Lysol from last night's mopping.

I'm going to St. Louis. I never been there, but I heard from my brother it's a good place, and that river's there. I'd like to see that big river there. Other than that, I got no plans. I figure I've sort of worn out my welcome here. I'm no criminal or anything, but the cops don't like to see you just hanging around the same places too much. They get pushy, maybe they think I'm gonna rob somebody or something.

My brother's friend, Albert runs a legit crew at the big market, loading and unloading trucks. Says he’s always hiring. Decent money, straight work. Real citizen stuff. I'm for that. Things don't just come to you in this life. You have to keep an eye open for opportunity. If you see it, you got to grab it. That's smart.

I haven't always made the best choices, like with the guys I hung out with. Take this place, I got hurt working construction, broke an arm. You can't work with a broken arm, so I hang out for a while with some other guys who’re out of work. No big deal, just a little beer and cards. Passing the time. The next thing I know, there's an argument and some guy gets knifed, dies. The guy with the knife takes off. I only ever knew their first names, they weren't my buddies, but tell that to the cops. They won't let go of it. It's not my town, I don't know where anybody is. So I got a cast on my arm and the cops bust my chops every time they see me. What's that? Is that life? Uh-uh.

St. Louis, here I come. It's been a couple weeks, about time to lose the cast. I want to get a sandwich and eat it slow while I look at that river. That's living.

The line moves, I push the case and follow it up. The woman with the kid steps up and starts talking to the clerk in a whisper, like it's a secret that she's buying a bus ticket. Maybe it’s a secret she’s got that little kid with her. She’s kind of old to have a toddler, if you see what I mean. It’s none of my business.

I got enough for the ticket and some extra. I'll get in touch with Albert and get a job when I get there. Start making better choices. I'm a lucky guy. But I'm smart too. I'm better at taking care of money now. Take this trip, smart. I didn't just blow the money.

Sure, I was stuck here and then, like that, a friend dies and leaves me some dough. I'm lucky and smart.

The line moves up. The suit with the trash bag steps up. I'm gonna sleep all the way to St. Louis and then find that sandwich and the river.

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writing JackVB
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A man is heading for the Promised Land - St. Louis.
A Word from the Writer
Copyright © 2016 - Jack Vander Beek Al rights Reserved.
Published Date
7/13/2016 12:00:00 AM
Published In
Originally Published 7/13/2016