It was 1993. I bought a Greyhound bus ticket from Durango, Colorado to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Nearly everything on this journey by bus was inspired by a lack of sleep and a certain crazed desperation that prevaled amongst the majority of the riders. I didn’t share the feeling entirely, but it did tend to rub off on me a little bit. The people I met came and went, came and went, sitting in that seat beside me, and life became this strange and endless stream of hearing people’s stories, and then never seeing them again.
At the major bus stations, you had to get off and switch buses. It required waiting in line a lot, sometimes for forty-five minutes at a time.
I met Mr. West Virginia at the bus station in Little Rock, Arkansas. He had no crazed desperation about him. He was relaxed, enjoying himself. There was a long line, and he was in front of me, and we started talking. Mostly, he talked. He was in his mid thirties, and I was a week shy of nineteen. I’ve never been one for older men, but I was in this sort of half dream state, and living with those on the fringe, on those buses, it kind of makes you become like them.
This guy had longish hair and a pleasant face. He was a little on the heavy side, a little on the unkept side, a little short. He had green eyes. Faded hair. White. He started telling me about his place out in the country in West Virginia. He loved West Virginia. Loved it. And to this day, I can not hear a thing about West Virginia whithout remembering this guy (although I have forgotten his true name).
“West Virginia is the only state with a declining population,” he said happily. “It just keeps getting more open and natural out there. The road that leads up to my cabin is probably knee deep in snow right now. I’ll have to hike in,” he went on with a serene smile.
Mr. West Virginia loved nature. He described the trees around his house in the different seasons, the near impassable road that led to his little cottage, the reason he was riding the bus- the old jeep wasn’t that reliable. But he liked riding the bus, watching the people. It was always an experience. Mr. W.V. just loved his life.
And as we got closer and closer to the front of the line, the place where we would split off and take our separate buses, it became more and more clear that this monologue about his life wasn’t just talk at all. This was an invitation. He had to say it in a very obvious way, because I don’t catch on to stuff like that very well, but I can’t remember. I think it was something like, “You’d like it there. You could try it a while, you know.” Which seems very creepy, now, but there was this feeling that we, we two, we were different from all of those other people at the bus station. The rest of them were the crazed underbelly of society, but we were mere observers, nature lovers.
It’s entirely possible that all of this was true, and it’s also entirely possible that he was an ax murderer luring me to his home in the forest where he would take me and cut me up into tiny little pieces. In my innocent youth, I really didn’t consider the ax murderer possibility. I was actually considering going home with him.
When we got to the front of the line, he clearly wanted me to walk away with him, to take his bus to West Virginia.
He was one of those people who talk with their hands a lot. I was drawn to him like I have not been drawn to hardly anyone.
Of course, it was insane to think of running away with him. Insane! That’s what made it so appealing. He said,
“You’d like it there.” And then he just paused. Time stopped. We were probably surrounded by fifty crack addicts, but I saw no one but him. He and I looking at each other.
I remember I was wearing a long white coat made of fake fur.
I felt the draw to Grandma’s house. For a moment I imagined what would happen if I didn’t show up at the bus stop in Pittsburgh. If I just ran away with some guy I'd met at a bus stop, the modern Ralph Waldo Emerson of West Virginia. Still...
We were at the front of the line. I hesitated to hand over my ticket for inspection. You could have your ticket swapped for free- I’d seen people do it. It felt like I was flying for a second. And then it passed.
“Well,” I said.
“Well,” he said.
And there was just a nod and we went out our separate doors. A nod and a smile.
I was happy the next twenty hours, maybe, considering what might have been, watching America roll by.
Since then, I’ve come to wonder how many girls he tried to pick up at bus stops, and did anyone ever go with him?
I’ve never shared this story before because I was so embarrassed about having fallen for some random older man at a bus stop in Little Rock.