I’m finally escaping rural Louisiana on a Greyhound bus. As I wait at the depot, I sit in the seat of a driving game in the arcade to be away from the other passengers. I call my father using Skype (3 bucks a month, unlimited calls to anywhere in the States and no number for anyone to call you back at, ideal). As he tells me about running a triathlon with his buddy Cromer, a chubby bright eyed girl comes up to stare at me before asking who I’m talking to. I give her a quarter to play Area 51 but she’s not too hot with the gun and the aliens destroy her quickly. She asks me all kinds of questions about my gear and adventures. Luckily, I love the question “why?” because it allows me to either give a lecture on a topic of my interest or make up something completely silly.
As she snags a seat next to me on the bus, I realize she’s a doppelganger for the enthusiastic chubby little girl from Little Miss Sunshine. She draws robots with hair as I write notes from the long and strange last few days that I’m glad to have behind me. Once the little girl falls asleep, I turn my head to exchange routine pleasantries with her mother in the seat behind me. After a question about her trip to Lafayette, the mother strains to hold back an eruption of sobs and tears. She starts pouring out her heart about an awful trip home to see her judgmental mother. Sitting quietly in the dark with my head cocked back to hear her, she spends 90 minutes on the story of her bitchy mom, past relationships and how she just wants to find love. I offer no advice and only a small amount of encouragement. She just needs to unload. I always brag that no one can talk more than I can listen but she almost proved me wrong there at the end. It became a test of endurance while the Beatles refrain circled through my head “all you need is love babe, love is all you need”. The poor woman. I sense a warm giving heart but she’s fat and she talks too much. That’s a hard combination in our society.
We stop for food and I pick up ramen noodles. Unfortunately, no hot water so I try it with cold. Not too bad until only the liquid remains but the cold ramen water leaves me gagging. With nowhere to pour it out, I must chug it down in several big gulps, almost losing my lunch. I pretend to be in an exotic locale and eating the food in front of the local family who proudly made it. I’m able to choke down the rest with a smile on my face for the generosity of this phantasmal audience. Sometimes it’s quite helpful to fall into a fantasy world as quickly as I do.
After a few midnight hours in Houston with snarky CNN commentators staving off any chance of sleep, the bus to Waco leaves with the rising sun. It takes more than an hour to clear the choking sprawl of this city that I’ve never liked and have never given a fair chance. The rolling pastures of Texas sweep by monotonously broken by barbed wire and tumbledown farms with hogs and broken down automobiles in the yard amidst collapsed outbuildings. A damn boring ride if not for the nice black kid next to me, a wildlife management major headed to Austin to catch the end of South by Southwest.
My friend Trinda picked me up at the bus station with her little cutie pie, Hannah. Trinda and I met during my time with YWAM in Tyler, Texas after high school. A cute pixie in pigtails and with large soulful eyes, Trinda told great stories about working as a prison guard in Texas. In fact, those stories might be one of the main reasons that I had a crush on her during my first few months in the Lone Star State.
While Trinda goes to her nursing job and Hannah goes to daycare, I putter around the house vainly trying to write about those tough days through rural Louisiana. Instead, I watch John Wayne in “The Searchers” as he hunts down the Indians who murdered his brother’s family. Set in Texas (although filmed in Utah’s surreal Monument Valley), the film helped me with something that always troubles me in Texas: how to describe the people. More so than any other region of the country, a Texan is a Texan. Steinbeck had the same problem when he traveled through Texas in “Travels with Charley.” A place and people that defy easy summaries, I heard a line in the movie that rang true. A mother tells John Wayne not to be hard himself on for the death of her son in a fight with Indians: “It just so happens that we be Texicans. A Texican ain’t nothing but a human man way out on a limb. This year and next and maybe for 100 more but I don’t think it’ll be forever. Someday this country is going to be a fine good place to be but maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.” Texicans have spent generations in this harsh land and maybe that’s why I always like them so much.
Trinda’s father, Floyd, embodies a true Texican. He used to have her study a chapter on Texas history every night before quizzing her on it. I’m glad to see him again at a lecture by the president of the John Birch Society. As the chapter president, Floyd gives the closing speech. He walks to the front with a spring in his step despite a newly acquired cane. Bald as an egg except for a thick white mustache and a black cowboy hat, he looks dapper with his string tie and shiny dark alligator skin boots. Before he begins speaking, Trinda whispers to me with a giggle, “He’s going to tear up. He’s very emotional.” Sure enough, his voice cracks as he thanks the lecturer and warns against the dangers of the Fed. “He’s such a softy” she says but he looks like a toughie to me.
He adores his little blonde haired sweetheart of a granddaughter. It’s not just grandfatherly pride either. She’s wonderful. Shy of me at first, it only took me a few hours to worm my way into her good graces by kicking her repeatedly under the table and then pretending to not know who did it. As always with little ones, I operate with two motives: to make them tougher and to convince them that magic still exists in the world. I love being with children because imagination and magic still dominate.
We spent Saturday at a wonderful playarea filled with bouncing castles, bouncing basketball courts and a bouncy obstacle course where Hannah consistently beat me by a nose. I get my revenge at the bouncy slide because I give her a push down but then grab her arm before she gets out of reach. Then I drag her back to the top while she squeals with delight and mock anger. I get my second warning from the staff about playing safely. Fucking lawyers killing all the fun. We had to sign waivers to even get in the place.
We take her to the mall to get her ears pierced. As the moment of truth approaches, she get solemn and doesn’t need the antics of Uncle Lex to distract her. She takes the piercing with hardly a wince and smiles when she sees her newly pierced ears in the mirror. We stop at a Chinese restaurant to celebrate and we complete her day of decorations by using my pen to draw a tiny curled mustache on her face. It takes some convincing but I finally get her to say, “Uh huh huh, I am so French” in a terrible accent. Victory.
On the ride home, she gets a little tired and grumpy from her big day. “What’s your favorite animal?” I ask her.
“No!” she yells petulantly.
“What kind of animal is that?”
“Does it fly?”
“Does it have scales?”
“Does it have a green dress, blonde hair and a flower necklace?”
With a reluctant smile she whines, “mmm, yes.”
Her mother says with a giggle, “No? That is a good name for you.”
It’s time for me to hit the road even though I enjoyed my warm peaceful time with Trinda, Hannah, the wonderful dog who likes to play on trampolines and the cat who’s annoyed at the dog’s constant enthusiastic overtures of affection. I share a last meal of Mediterranean food with Trinda and Mikey, a big happy Mexican friend of ours with a shining smile. Now he’s married with cute kids, a perfectly proud papa. He takes me to the bus depot as he tells me about the passion that now drives him, the nugget of gold that drives me to talk to everyone.
He started school studying art but he saw sign language and it immediately entranced him with its beauty. Now he studies to be an official translator and already taught his two year old over 200 signs. According to him, the deaf community can be hard to enter for outsiders because it’s been ignored and betrayed so many times before. Alexander Graham Bell is the Hitler of the deaf community. He feared a deaf race as “a great calamity to the world” and viewed deafness as something to be eradicated. He used positions of power to force the castration of many deaf people. It took Mikey some time to break in but he feels they’re starting to accept him because he comes only to help. Mikey exemplifies the passion I love to find. With a parting hug, he puts me on the bus to Colorado.