Thursday, July 22, 2010

in the backseat

The NYTimes describes today the inroads bus travel has made in the Midwest and along the Northeast coast. Well okay. (I am writing this as I sit on a Megabus bound for Minneapolis. Cost: $30.95 one way.) I leave the driving to someone else. There is a spell of heavy rain and it’s good not to worry about sliding off into a ditch.

But please, it’s no bullet train.

Last time I took the northbound Megabus, the electrical outlets weren’t working. This time the AC is failing on the lower deck of the bus. That’s fine, I’m upstairs, in the last row, with a sweet but tired kid (to my right) who I am sure would rather be elsewhere.

And the roof is leaking from the emergency hatch. If you are sitting two rows ahead of me you are going to arrive in Minneapolis wet. An enterprising young man attaches his heavy pack to the handles to keep the roof in place. I watch the pack dangle and I worry about the kid next to me -- he is in the line of fire should it fall.

The bus makes a refreshment detour to a truckstop. A half hour wait in deep nothingness. People buy Wendy’s fries and soda because what else can you do. You might as well eat fries and drink soda. With a five hour ride ahead, I suppose a break is welcome relief for the driver. Still, he seems young and peppy. I’m hoping he’s buzzing to go. Certainly we, the passengers, are buzzing to go.

Especially since the bus is already late. Last time I rode the Megabus to the Twin Cities, it was very late. Today, it came in to Madison (from Chicago) just half an hour late and then proceeded to be late some more as the Great Search for a disembarking person’s suitcase took place. All black suitcases removed. She finds hers. All black suitcases put back in the cargo hold. We all wait for the suitcase mess to resolve itself. It does. Eventually.


I don’t mean to compare, but Van Galdar buses, which I use frequently to get to Chicago, are exceptionally punctual.

I glance across to the resting young body of the kid. His dad is fiddling with music (regrettably, he seems not to have earphones); a third person further down in the back row seat hands over a leftover piece of chicken sandwich to the kid, who wakes up, eats it, goes back to sleep. As does his dad. In a surreal moment, I see them against pastures of deep gold and skies of true blue.


It’s a window screen on a parallel bus.

At the rest stop, another passenger asks me if I know how many hours we have before us.
Two? -- he’s hoping.
Maybe three...
Hell, that’s not so bad. It used to take my mom and me fifteen hours to come up from Chicago to Minneapolis!
She insisted on stopping at all the Walmarts along the way. Things got cheaper as we got further away from Chicago.

In the seat in front, a young man is telling his life story to a woman who would rather be reading the biography of Nabokov resting on her lap. He either doesn’t notice or pretends not to. I’m surprised how revealing he is. Finally, two hours outside Minneapolis, he asks her -- by the way, what’s your name?

On my left side, another young man is listening to music, but through earphones. I can hear it anyway. I like it. It seems mildly jazzy. A good balance to the story of a life in front and the pop sounds to my right.

Are we still in Wisconsin? – the kid’s dad asks me..

Oh yes. Still a couple of hours in the back seat.

It’s 9, but it’s only just barely dusk.

My mind is spinning back to 1984. I was pregnant with my second child and I was in the middle of my law school years, but the summer of that year I spent with my then husband and our oldest in Cambridge England, where her dad was doing research. My two sweet kind wonderful law school pals traveled across the ocean to visit. They were single moms then, facing the same challenges of parenting and studying, and they brought their daughters to England and you could make a sit com from the days we had there with our most exquisite and willful girls (plus the one in my belly).

So now here I am in Minneapolis, with a different familial configuration for all of us, even as essentially nothing has changed.

I rush to call my friend – the one who has also traveled here for the wedding. The two of us take a walk in the last rays of the setting sun...


... settling in at an outdoor table for a pizza and a carafe of wine.

Sometimes you feel like life is forever throwing punches at you. Not this week-end. Not for me.