Go Greyhound! and leave the weirdos to us…

When I was 17, I bought a cheap plane ticket to New York and decided I would travel through the US to do my own Thelma and Louise. Without Thelma and the car though.

So Louise left with ideas of far-west and Hollywood. Secretly, I hoped I would end up in LA and be discovered as soon as I stepped off the Greyhound bus. In America, anything was possible. I knew it.

I bought a one-month Greyhound bus pass and headed west. Needless to say that I didn’t make it there and didn’t actually make it anywhere. But still I was hopeful.

I sat on those buses for days. I still remember the smell of cheap scent-stick through these buses. I found these vehicles quite comfortable with good leg-room. Unusual for me who was more used to small cars, small buses and small people. When I saw the population traveling on these buses I immediately understood the necessity for space though.

I didn’t know what the word weirdo meant by then, but after this experience I did. I don’t think I ever met that many fascinating creatures gathered at the same place.

First I met some weird people with straw hats and neat clothes. They didn’t move a toe during the whole trips and they wouldn’t talk to anyone, not even to one another. But unfortunately, at that time, I was already this annoying nosey Frenchman who felt it was absolutely legitimate to ask all sorts of disturbing questions to everybody. What the hell, I was away from my home country, my parents were far and I could do whatever I wanted.

So I talked to these funny people with the funky hats. Here is the exchange I had with an old man on the bus.


Me: Cool hat!

Him: (…)

Me: Can I try it on?

Him: (…)

Me: oh sorry, I know my English is not very good but CAN-I-TRY-IT-ON? (inisting on every syllable as you do when you talk to foreigners with poor language skills)

Him: (…)

Me: (to myself) : What’s wrong with him? Is that what they call a weirdo?

When the bus stopped in some remote little village in deep Pennsylvania, I saw lots of those hat-people walking around or riding wagons of some sort. A few years later, I saw the movie Witness and understood I had made a very big mistake and an unforgivable faux-pas.

——-

Innocently, I believed that Americans were cool and had all in a way or another some special connections to Hollywood or the music industry.

Suddenly this big black guy sits next to me and we start chatting.

Me: Hi!

Him: Oh hi! I’m so happy you are so interested in my life, let me tell you everything…

And he talked non-stop between Baltimore and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Here is a summary of what he basically said to me: when he heard that I was a foreigner, he informed me that he was James Brown’s son (the singer). First I thought he was bullshitting me, but then he showed me his ID and it did say James Brown Jr on it. To us French, everything that is written or on a legal document can only be true, so of course I believed him. I was so impressed and felt totally star-struck. I was so happy! This could only happen in America. He said he worked in the music industry and knew both Madonna and Whitney Houston. He actually revealed amazing secrets to me: Madonna is nice but short. Whitney is lovely but she sleeps with women. I felt so honoured to be shared such secrets and knew this would remain a very special moment in my life.

A few weeks later, I heard that James Brown’s only son had died in a car accident many years before I met him. I also checked James Brown Jr. in a Charlotte phone book and was amazed to find 14 pages of “heirs” to the famous singer. So I thought, is that what they call a weirdo?

——-

Then there was the guy who was a large as a house and who also turned out to be a wacko.

There was only one seat left on the bus I was riding. This seat was next to mine. When I saw him attempting to get on that bus, I immediately put all my bags on the empty seat and started pretending to be deeply asleep. As soon as he saw the empty seat next to me, he yelled and said something I didn’t quite catch that ended in fuck. He pushed me and my bags against the window and had firmly decided that I would suffer a slow and painful death squeezed between the window and his tummy. It was impressive how he didn’t need one of those travel-cushions, his head held straight during the whole trip as conveniently placed flesh-cushions surrounded his neck and made him look very comfy.

I had never seen such a large person, I was both fascinated and scared. His love handles were as large and wobbly as an air bag and I thought that if I leaned against them to sleep, it would certainly be very comfortable and he would surely not feel a thing. That would have been great if he hadn’t been a weirdo on top of that. In the middle of the night, as I was still pretending to sleep, he looked at me and started yelling YOU SON OF A BITCH! I did understand that expression but said that I wasn’t American and that I didn’t understand what he was saying “sorry, no English, no English” I said.

I really didn’t think I had taken a Japanese accent when I said that but apparently I did. Since he yelled: You FUCKING JAPANESE SHIT, GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY… or something like that. People around were laughing as I was slowly but definitely turning into something liquid next to him. Basically, as we say in French: I was so scared that you could have put a walnut in my ass-crack and I would have made oil out of it!

And then I took another bus from New York to Boston but woke up at the Canadian border in the middle of the night, but that’s another story as I ended up visiting Québec and Montréal, which was cool.

I was 17. I can’t believe I found all that amusing and I’m not even telling you about these long nights I spent in bus stations waiting for my connections. Watching these small black & white televisions, trying not to fall asleep on plastic armchairs. I wonder if these TV chairs still exist. I remember all these people sleeping in lockers at the stations, these old ladies who sat next to me and asked if I could protect them if something happened. (ok, yeah you’re laughing, well so was I). I would also sleep on buses, wouldn’t take showers for days, and ate at tacky diners. Talked to the strangest people.

On these buses I met with Americans who told me their whole life-stories in details. Some slept on my shoulder, some ate up all my chips, some gave me presents and some stole my money, some smelt of dead animals and some smelt of cologne. Some were crying a lover left behind and some were eager to arrive. Some played footsie with me and some got to do more. The strangest thing was how uninhibited everyone was, there was absolutely no had shell on these people, it was all raw and honest. I can still remember where they got on and where they got off. I believed that after the private conversations we would get into, we would at least keep in touch, they did say how “absolutely wonderful it’d been to meet me” and “how we were like best-friends already” and “we should definitely exchange phone numbers” but they always got off the buses, said bye and never asked for a phone number.

I made such trips three summers in a row, traveled through more than 30 states , saw the most amazing landscapes and met the weirdest people.

Yes, I was in deep America, a bit disillusioned but for a strange reason, more in love with it than ever.

So I guess, I’m the weirdo.

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16 Responses

  1. Yes, but definitely the weirdo that we’d all pick to sit next to!

    Just out of interest, do you ask to try on any article of clothing that takes your fancy or is it just a hat thing?

  2. Haha Ms. Mac – I feel a certain pressure to wear interesting headgear now before seeing Micke.

  3. It’s so funny, I just saved a pic I found of Amish to do a post this week about my run in w/ them. This was a window in to your world frog. It gives me a better understanding of how you are so, shall we say savvy in English expression and such. Hell, you’ve seen more of the U.S. than I have. Good post and when are you going to teach me some frencj cuss words? Kisses and a squeeze!!

  4. Ms Mac, well I have this tendency to believe that other people’s stuff are mine. It gets worse when this tendency extends to people and not only stuff…

    Rhino: Can I try this headgear on please?

    Babs, Can’t wait to read about your bitchin’ with Amish. I’ll prepare a lesson in french cursing in a next post. I promise.

    Good night

  5. Fantastic post Micke! I didn’t know you were so well aquainted with the US. You’ve been to more states than I have! I hate riding the bus though, I prefer a faster mode of travel. Plane, maybe train if I have to.

    I’m sorry about the large unpleasant man, what a dick. But I’m glad you were able to connect with so many non-dicks throughout your travels.

    I can understand why the Americans you encountered on the bus were so eager to spill their guts to you, because it’s such an annymous and the likelyhood of you ever seeing them again in your or their lives is remote, so they probably had no reason to hold much back. I’d do the same thing I’m sure. As long as you weren’t recording, cause future blackmail would suck.

  6. i am trying my best to translate “you could have put a walnut in my ass-crack and I would have made oil out of it!” into french, but i can’t! please indulge us 😉
    you made us wait a week for your next post, but it was WELL WORTH IT!

  7. This post has been removed by the author.

  8. Some played footsie with me and some got to do more”. SPICY SPICY!!

  9. I think when you’re traveling, it’s like you’re in this huge vaccum where time doesn’t exist and you can say whatever you want, because you know you’ll never see them again. I’ve seen it on trains, in airports, on planes, etc.

    I loved this post! If more people in the world were as curious as you, the world would be such a better place! 🙂

  10. Yea Frog, what coffee addict said, we want more sauce on the Spicy Spicy!!

  11. Babs & Rob, well, I’ve been to 30 states but some of them were crossed quickly as I didn’t really feel like visiting them, that was the case of Ohio, Indiana… Sorry to those of you who come from there, I’m sure I missed a lot by not stopping there… right?

    Coffee Addict: The expression in French is: “Si on me mettait une cacahuète dans la raie du cul, j’en ferais de l’huile”. It’s not very common but it’s my favorite expression, it’s so true don’t you think?

    Coffee Addict & Babs, hum, you’d like to know more about the spiciness wouldn’t you… I guess we’ll have to organize a blog meet in Paris and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.

    Hey Vivi! Welcome! Happy to see you. You are my best friend already, I totally agree with you that the world would be a better place if populated by nosey frogs only. You are so right girlfriend! I still can’t believe you live in Troyes! I have relatives there so we might meet someday.

  12. Yes they still have those little TV Chairs…I’ve seen them in some of the smaller airports.

  13. I loved this post! It reminded me of an interview that Jon Stewart did with Bernard-Henri Levy last month. Levy wrote a book called American Vertigo about his travels across the US. I will get you the link if you want to see it–very funny!

  14. Thanks Michael, glad to have you back!

    Hi Di, Please send the link. Had no idea BHL had written that. But let’s say that the quality of his writings should be slightly better than mine (but just slightly).

  15. Its funny how easily they trust this new person next to you to tell their whole life story I bet they just thought you were so cute (like all your blog buddies think you are) I had a view of those chapters to. Some of those trips was the longest trip Ive ever been on. Yes like Babs said we want some French lessons then I will give you some Arikaans lesson Deal.

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