Over the summer of 2014, my friend, Emma, and I travelled to Atlanta for our friend, Harris’ wedding. During the planning stages of our trip, we decided we wanted to extend our mini vacation in the US to include Charleston, South Carolina because that was one of the places we recognized when we read about places to visit in the South. Its old houses, palm trees, cobblestone streets and proximity to the ocean drew us in on our Google searches and we decided to be spontaneous and take advantage of our generous vacation time. We had done some research and found that though flights from Atlanta to Charleston were cheap, it was cheaper to take a Greyhound bus and it would be easy enough for us to sit in one and entertain each other for eight hours on the trip across states. That was like eight episodes of True Detective. Emma and I are cheap so we booked the Greyhound shortly after we booked our flights to Atlanta and home from Charleston. It was going to be an adventure and it was going to be fun.
On the morning of Greyhound day, we woke up earlier than god and packed our bags, wrote a cute note to our Air BnB host asking him to forgive us for locking ourselves out of our room and bugging him to help us out (that was more me than Emma) and took a cab to the bus station in downtown Atlanta. The first person I noticed was a woman holding a rag against her bleeding leg. Her black eye, scratches along her arms, her bleeding fingers and knuckles and the aforementioned leg injury made me think she had just beaten someone up or been beaten up herself. It was bleak. Random kids were walking around aimlessly like they were in charge of their own schedules and making their own bus trips across the country. A stressed out lady was holding a baby wrapped in a white blanket and talking loudly into her phone. Many old men gave Emma and I the once-over then proceeded to read their papers. It was a bit like we were in the twilight zone but we decided to run with the whole bus plan because what else would we have done, we had already bought our tickets. We aren't rich. That's why we took the bus in the first place.
The station had signs pointing in unclear directions. We went to the information desk and told them our bus number and asked if we needed to check our bags before leaving. They said “no”. We waited in the line for our bus and when we got to the doors, the bus driver asked us why our bags weren’t tagged to indicate that we were getting off in Charleston. This bus was stopping in Augusta on the way and we would need some paper sign that our bags were to be taken off and transferred to another bus. We didn’t know how to answer him so just shrugged and stood there like we were dumb. He insisted we run back to the ticketing place and to do it fast because we were likely going to be the last ones on this almost full bus at this point. Emma seemed exasperated but I insisted it would be fine because I always lie to her and tell her everything will be fine. We got our tickets after more waiting in line and people of Atlanta observing. We attached the tickets to our shitty duffle bags and boarded the bus after the pissed off driver gave us the tenth set of cut eye we had received that day.
As we were among the last to board, there were no seats next to each other but we did notice two empty seats next to two men, one in front of the other. I walked down the aisle first and sat next to a light skinned guy in a big white t-shirt. He seemed nice. I put my bag under Emma’s seat that was right in front of mine and proceeded to pull out my book. Emma’s seatmate was a skinny guy with a beard, also wearing a white t-shirt but he had an eye patch. I loved this. Because of the layout of the bus, I never noticed Emma talking with the bearded guy at all. I was also distracted because I noticed that the guy next to me had a picture of Beyoncé on the background of his phone. It also happened to be one of my favourite pictures of her. You know, the one where she’s dressed as a literal Queen and she’s wearing this elaborate gold corset and her hair is curly and her makeup is dramatic and flawless and she has literally never looked better? I couldn’t hold it in anymore and just pointed to his lock screen and said “BEYONCÉ”. We looked at each other like we'd just found our bus soulmates. He said he loved her. I agreed with him. We talked about our favourite songs and videos and he told me his name was Aaron. I asked him how old he was and what he did for a living and he said that he was 19 and that he drove trucks across country and he had recently finished a job in Atlanta and was returning home to Washington. He asked if I was 28, I said I wasn’t, that I was actually 23 and very insulted by his guess. He said not to worry, that it was more that I gave off a mature vibe and not that I looked 28. I said that I didn’t know what that meant but it still sounded insulting but that he was sort of right because people in my family aged poorly. He laughed and we bonded for the rest of the four hour trip to Augusta. I was worried about Emma but she seemed to be sleeping. She looked back at me a few times and I could sense jealousy in her stares. Aaron and I read over texts he was sending his very good friend, Natalie. They were going through some issues because he was in love with her but they had only ever been best friends. I encouraged him to come to terms with his feelings and to tell her everything but to not press the situation too hard. He agreed.
We continued to chat and when it got quiet, we would look out the window together and listen to music. I asked him to show me his Twitter because he said he had 7000 followers. I asked him how he maintained that kind of online presence and he said it wasn’t that hard. He also noted the importance of retweeting and liking other people's’ posts, as a way to engage the Twitter community. Then we started talking about guns and he told me a story where his uncle, his nephew and him had been held at gunpoint in their basement during a home invasion. His uncle was shot in the leg, his nephew was only 9 and they never caught the three intruders. I looked shocked and he said to not worry about him, that it happened everywhere in the States. I asked him if he had ever visited Toronto and he said no. We were still chatting when we pulled into Augusta. He got off the bus and then we waved and parted ways.
As Emma and I disembarked, she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the driver who was removing our luggage from the underside of the bus. She immediately told me about how insane the guy sitting next to her was. His name was Reece and he had served in Afghanistan, where he had lost his eye. He spent the first two hours of the trip asking her to send him nudes and she spent the last two hours of the trip pretending to be asleep. This plan backfired when he rested his head on her shoulder and fell asleep. I thought that this was hilarious but Emma was rattled by the whole experience. I felt guilty relaying to her how cool Aaron was and that I knew we would be friends because the background on his phone was a picture of Beyoncé.
We grabbed our bags and went into the large waiting room of the bus station, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The towns we passed looked like they hadn’t changed their infrastructure and buildings since the 70s or 80s. Their store windows were either boarded up or had dusty displays of mannequins with bald heads modeling women’s plaid pantsuits . The bus stop was equally frozen in time and looked like it used to be a school. This was confirmed when we went into the bathrooms and the toilets were so close to the ground they looked like they were made for five year olds. We washed our hands and I tried to find the restaurant Emma had said there would likely be at this stop. There was only a giant room with blue plastic chairs and a row of well stocked vending machines. We decided to look on the bright side, we both love vending machines and these ones looked like they knew what was up in terms of snack availabilities. We had four dollars between the two of us so we decided on a giant rice krispies square, a snickers bar, a blue gatorade (as if there are any other good flavours) and some potato chips for diversity. We sat down to our feast, and started sharing as we hadn’t had breakfast yet and Emma was still shaken up over her experience with Reece in the first bus. At this point, Aaron and Reece had moved to a separate waiting area from us and we were alone again to people watch in peace. Until an old white man with patchy facial hair approached us.
He introduced himself as Michael and told us that he had come talk to us because we were the best looking girls at this bus stop. I looked around and made a mental note that we were basically the only two women there. We looked sheepish and brushed off his comments but he was insistent. He proceeded to tell us that he was a mechanic and that he couldn’t travel on planes because he needed his tools, which included hammers, wrenches and some large, rusty looking shears. He had driven a car across the country for his son and was returning via bus to his wife and other kids. He spoke about his eight children and 10 grandkids, one of whom died recently. We didn’t know how to react to this guy so we just listened intently and nodded along as he recounted his Greyhound adventures. He looked like he was trying to get closer to incite a group hug so I grabbed Emma’s hand and directed her to two empty seats on the other side of the waiting area to continue our snacking.
Once sat, another man in one of the seats next to us turned and introduced himself as Jonah, a name I’m now obsessed with. I hadn’t noticed him before we sat down which was weird seeing as he was dressed in green hospital scrubs and had a giant bloody patch of gauze attached to his forehead and head. We shook hands with Jonah and told him our names and he held onto my hand for a long time and stared into my eyes while repeating my name back to me. I pulled my hand away and asked him about his hospital scrubs. He seemed confused and like he didn’t know what I was talking about then settled on “ohh you know, I’ve just had a strange couple of weeks.” He didn’t tell us much more about himself during our conversation but asked us a lot of questions and, like Michael, pointed out how nice we were. They weren’t wrong. He mentioned Jesus a few times and when we asked him where he was headed he shook his head and said that he wasn’t sure. We asked if his bus was leaving shortly and again he seemed unsure. I figured asking about the head injury might be rude and invasive. Was this guy dead and we just didn’t know it? Do ghosts bleed? Slowly, it came time for us to leave. A man announced over an intercom that our bus was leaving. I still hadn’t seen Aaron since we got off the first bus. I motioned to Emma that we should get going. We got up and said goodbye to Jonah, who we would likely never see again. He looked a bit disappointed that we were leaving and as we walked away he said “Emma….” She turned around to look at him. “Are you going to finish that rice krispies square?” She looked at the half eaten square, shook her head and handed it to him. He thanked us and we turned around and walked away to board our final bus of the trip. We got on, I saw Aaron for a brief second waiting on our platform and I waved but he couldn’t see me. Emma and I found two seats next to each other and we planted ourselves there comfortably for the remainder of the trip. I booted up my computer and we shared my headphones and watched the first three episodes of True Detective Season 2. We both fell asleep, for real this time.