Nobody shows you America up close like Greyhound.
Glory flashes a yellow, gap-toothed grin and says, "What you need, brother, I got. I got it all."
Glory's gums are swollen and purple from disregard. He has with him a mangled suitcase that looks as if it contains his life's every regrettable act.
"This town ain't bad," he goes on, swallowing his vowels in a way that gives his voice a percussive bent, like bongos in his throat. "But L.A. is whacked, crawling with them fuck-ups who'll steal all your babies, right from their mamas."
A humid bouquet of rotgut lingers about Glory's mouth, fluctuating in intensity; the more he speaks, the heavier the waft. "I'm from Detroit, and no shit like stealin' babies will be put up with there. Nobody will put up with that shit there."
Glory's head shakes in slow, deliberate agreement with his words. Then his voice rises in a not quite legitimate use of volume, like a Bible-thumper delivering a street sermon to oblivious passers-by. It's as if his patter would be dispensed whether I was there or not--or whether anybody was there.
"And I ain't talkin' about drugs, brother, not that. I got what you need: 's called spir-it-choo-al-i-tee."
Sitting in the Phoenix Greyhound bus terminal, waiting for a tedious trip to some other unremarkable waiting room, is about as spiritual as one gets here, really. And Glory (the man) isn't what I had expected, either--not in this bus terminal, anyway.
Glory isn't hawking drugs, or blowjobs, or even a cash need for that unidentifiable, prepackaged terminal food fare. No, our man Glory is carrying the word, the gospel, brother, and delivering it on a breath full of drunken aspiration to a bunch of nonlistening, heavy-lidded, cross-country travelers.
"Spir-it-choo-al-i-tee," Glory repeats. "Spir-it-choo-al-i-tee."
The new Phoenix Greyhound bus terminal opened just last June on Buckeye Road west of Sky Harbor Airport. In spite of its near-opulence, it's still host to a traditional cast of working-class tourists and lost wanderers.
Tonight the terminal is packed with a cheerless assembly of travelers who look as though they are waiting for bad news in a hospital waiting room. The ticket holders fall in, sleep-deprived, with rigid faces, slouching on uncushioned chairs, the floor or against the wall beside numbered doors. These doors are gates to waiting buses.
There are weathered men with obviously failed lives and alcohol addictions closing in on yet another tired space in time, in which everything perceptible passes unnoticed, where all they have is another long, lonely drive into some dark night in New Mexico or Texas or Nebraska.
A delicate older woman with short, well-kept gray hair totes a large nylon bag, wearing a tired sweater over a droop that suggests an apprehension to solo travel; perhaps a lifelong partner recently passed on. She just sits and waits, waits and sits sadly, unmoving.
The air implants a pert blend of microwaved food, cheap perfume and that inevitable sour scent humans adopt on long, showerless journeys.
The only laughter in the terminal comes from a few happy teens with energetic faces. They are wielding disposable cameras, wide-eyed in the face of a giant road trip; their lives apparently not yet perturbed by bitterness, hopelessness or failure.
Phoenix resident Tony Simington ("That's with an i," he says so as to avoid confusion with Fife) is standing in line with his girlfriend, Shavonna. They're in for a brutal haul to Texas. He's carrying pillows, an extra pair of boots, suitcases and a large paper bag. He has a Texas twang in his hurried speech and his girlfriend doesn't say a word, only nods along occasionally.
"I'm going to Dallas/Fort Worth, it's 22 damn hours. We're comin' back on Monday. Forty-four hours on a bus so I can spend 72 hours with my family," Simington says.
With his translucent, malnourished glow and a soul patch, Simington resembles Kurt Cobain. He speaks forthrightly about the things which get on his nerves during bus travel, and in doing so insults nearly everyone within earshot.
"Just a hell of minorities," Simington says to a congregation of Latinos, Native Americans, Blacks and children. "Kids for the most part, they really suck."
A nearly indecipherable voice over the terminal's intercom periodically punches through the calm with a force to shake any out of slumber. Perhaps this unforgivable sound system is intentional? "Connection points to Los Angeles through door number three," the tortured PA shrieks.
In the room's center, a TV flickers silent, slow images as a group of travelers stare, as if trying to approximate its meaning. Nothing can break the screen's Real TV/COPS spell, its soundless fascination.
Munching a muffin, 64-year-old bus-driving vet Ron deNapoli, dressed smartly in Greyhound attire, surveys the terminal scene. His job description is reflected in his appearance--a perennial central-casting bus captain if there ever was one--and he speaks in a friendly but flat been-there-done-that tone.
"I have been driving a bus for 36 years. And you get all kinds on bus travel. One time we had a lady so fat she got stuck in the bus' rest room," he says with a chortle. "It took two cops to get her out of there."
Here comes Glory again. This time his eyes are direct, unsparing, scary. He moves in on a woman sitting just a few feet from me. He really wants something from her. The woman appears to be on the downside of beauty, with dirty red, shoulder-length hair and round, green eyes. She is reading a paperback, Tom Clancy or something.
Glory sits down next to her and offers up his patented, saucy gibe.
"I believe I got what you need, sister," he says, the words rattling through that horrible grin. "I got spir-it-choo-al-i-tee."
The women, disgusted, gets up, picks up her baggage and moves to stand at door number nine, portal to the next bus to Dallas. Glory shakes his head, stands, and shuffles over to the pay phones with his tired suitcase.
Whom would he call?
Ah, bus travel. An eerie romanticism floats around it, a sentiment discernible even here in Phoenix. The company now known as Greyhound was born in 1914 in Minnesota. Driving a seven-seat Hupmobile, Swedish immigrant Carl Eric Wickman began taking miners between two Minnesota towns for 15 cents one way, a quarter round trip.
Now Greyhound takes women and children away from abusive lovers, husbands and fathers; hopeful parolees to some inner peace and autonomy; young couples with newborns to new lives in Tucson or Tennessee. Greyhound reunites moms with daughters, dads with sons, husbands with wives.
And if nothing else, the thrill of yet another cluster of lights on the horizon from places called Lordsburg, Las Cruces or Los Alamos could be enough; where romantic dreams of Kerouac's railroad earth, all-night diners, and 2 a.m. stretches of road are metaphors for self-discovery. Metaphors for a kind of glory.
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