Expressive 2010 Honorable Mention
Professor: Dr. Todd Petersen
I was alone, perched on top of an overstuffed navy suitcase. Even though it was midnight, the bus terminal was teeming with people. Everyone was heading home for Christmas, yet the atmosphere was anything but holly jolly. Instead of sleigh bells ringing, sirens were blaring and soda cans glistened in the gutters instead of snow. A sort of suspicious silence hung over the heads of the waiting passengers, much like the smog that hung over the filthy city.
As I had been booking my ticket via laptop, my roommates teased me with bus horror stories. Safe and secure in the new dorm in cheery Cedar City, we laughed at the tall-tales. Now in the heart of Sin City among sleeping strangers covered with ratty blankets, I wasn't sure the stories were more fiction than fact.
The Greyhound finally pulled in with a loud sigh and I tentatively traipsed aboard. Sliding into a seat, I looked out the window. Vegas was lit in its grand style, even more than usual. Speeding down the freeway, I could see extra strands, extra neon, for the holiday season and yet it all seemed so cold and commercial.
Despite my musings, I managed sleep. That's when my troubles began.
A woman's voice drifted from behind me. I felt something touching the top of my head.
I squeezed my eyes tighter. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I, the social butterfly of Southern Utah University, wasn't on the bus to make friends. All I wanted was to get home to my loving family and my loving bed.
The person started shaking my shoulder. "Hey, wake up."
"Do you know when our first stop is? I gotta smoke," she said as she looked at me, her limp hair handing down into her wide, crazed eyes.
"No, ask the driver."
Muttering incoherently as she weaved down the aisle, I couldn't help but stare at her attire. The woman appeared to be matted. Her whole being looked like it hadn't been washed in months. And I wasn't the only one that noticed.
Later, when she was begging for cigarettes, she promised she would pay five bucks for one measly death stick. Across the row from me, a burly man snidely remarked, "Even if I had any cigarettes to spare, I wouldn't take any money from her. You'd probably contract something from touching her bills."
The strung-out lady needed to smoke every single stop and often in between. Luckily, as the bus driver and other passengers ignored her frantic pleas, she became a little less vocal. However, she wasn't the only passenger creating trouble.
When the bus stopped at Kingmen, it took only a second for me to wake from my fitful slumber. What took longer was unfolding myself from the physics-defying contortion I had bent myself into so tobacco lady wouldn't touch me.
"We're going to have a fifteen minute break," the bus driver's voice carried over the microphone. "Be back as soon as possible so we can leave in a timely fashion."
There was no way I was getting off. Because I had spent hours with my fellow travelers, I didn't dare leave my backpack unattended. If only the man had felt the same.
The minutes ticked away, feeling more like hours. Finally everyone trickled back, mass-produced hamburgers and caffeine-laden beverages in hand. Someone was rummaging around at the front of the bus, but I paid him no heed. Soon we'd be on the road again. I would be that much closer to my family.
"Has anyone seen my duffel?" The man was old and tired in every way, from his voice to his manner.
There was no reply.
"Hasn't anyone seen my bag?"
"We need to go," hollered someone.
"All of my worldly possessions are in there."
My heart broke. He looked so dejected, so forlorn. I looked at the ground, not spotting the white duffel bag he was still ranting about.
The other passengers became impatient.
"Sir, we're on a tight schedule. We have to leave," the bus driver firmly said.
"This is my stop and I can't find my bag."
Tobacco lady tried to cheer him up by handing him a soda.
"Does this have poison in it?" He asked. "I hope so because I want to kill myself."
Somehow the driver was able to get the man off, but his words lingered on in my mind long after he had left. As tragic as it would be to lose everything I owned, would I really want to kill myself over it? No, I decided as I looked out the scratched plastic window. Nothing was worth suicide, especially "stuff."
As the bus continued its crawl to Phoenix, my mind raced to new ideas. I was no longer the same naive girl that had stepped onto the bus at eight that evening.
My whole life I had lived in a middle class bubble. Even though I had been through hard times in my life, I had never really wanted. Sure, there had been moments when I knew not ask my mom and dad for a pair of shoes because I knew that money was tight that month, but they had always found ways to make my life pleasant and enjoyable. Family vacations, especially those to Disneyland, were plentiful. And, as I sat, cramped and lonely, I realized that it wasn't just the grand acts that made my life so different than those of my temporary companions. It was also the little things, like going out for ice cream after high school band concerts and Sunday dinners. My family loved and cared for each other.
I was almost positive that tobacco lady didn't have a fantastic family. Her whole life revolved around nicotine, something that would never care for her. Nicotine wouldn't call her and tell her that she was incredibly missed. Nicotine wouldn't run and hug her when she reached her destination. Nicotine would only cost her money and give her discomfort.
I wasn't the same girl as the child that had left Utah over ten hours ago. While my experiences on the Greyhound bus hadn't been entirely pleasant, I had reached home unscathed. Or almost unscathed. My eyes had been opened and I had seen a side of the world that I had been oblivious to. I had realized how charmed my life was; how lucky I was to be able to go to college, to have nice clothes, and to have a family that loved me. Riding a bus home for Christmas became a turning point in my life -- one that I will always remember whenever I see a long stretch of road.