THE BUS TRIP
It was the Seventies and the children and I
Had spent the summer at my parents’ home,
And spent an inordinate amount of time
In used bookstores downtown, buying books;
Cookbooks, mysteries, novels, and
Which I had packed into boxes
Until we had five heavy boxes of books
To somehow take home with us;
I thought of the Greyhound Bus
Because they didn’t limit
The weight of baggage
(At least not back then)
And so I bought 5 one-way bus tickets
And my family saw us off at the bus terminal
In downtown Cincinnati,
Where we boarded with
Pillows, blankies, and comfy objects,
And each boy had a little carry-on suitcase
Filled with coloring books and crayons
And little cars,
While I had a tote bag filled
With snacks and crackers and fruit
And a thermos of coffee
And a couple of paperback books to read.
We commandeered the back of the bus
Closest to the lavatory
Since Chris always had to go,
And that way wouldn’t be stepping all over
Other passengers’ feet.
The other travelers, then, were a motley group
Of raggedy men and women,
Some smelling unwashed,
A few servicemen and
A lot of colored folk,
Heading somewhere west.
But as the bus drove towards California
People got on and others got off
At the many bus stations along the way,
And the type of passenger changed
From raggedy and disreputable looking
To old white-haired or bald men with canes
Prim silver-haired ladies with
Hair tightly permed, and
Carrying purses and
However, in St Louis the bus driver announced
This was as far as this bus was going
And we would have to walk to a different bus station
Three blocks away.
It was 2 AM in the morning
And the children and I trudged with our
Little suitcases and pillows to the other bus depot
In a dreary forsaken part of the downtown area.
We were too ignorant to be afraid.
Onward we traveled.
In Oklahoma we got off the bus and spent a day
Visiting my Tulsa penpal; it was
A brief respite from what had become
An Endless Journey.
Like Dorothy I thought
We would never find Oz.
The landscape changed
And there were frequent lightning and thunder storms
All of us and kept us
Staring out the windows
Awake and fearful
Through the nights.
Every so often everyone had to get off the bus
So it could be cleaned
Or it would stop somewhere
At a diner so that
Passengers could go order something to eat.
In Texas a little boy about the same age as
My son Michael
Got on the bus with a fishing rod
And surveyed the bus,
Then quickly attached himself to
The lady with the four little boys
In the back of the bus.
Now I had five
But the tow headed boy with the fishing rod
Quickly made himself useful
And helped with the two youngest boys.
As the bus descended from Barstow into Riverside
The white haired men and little old ladies
One by one used the lavatory to freshen up
And one by one congratulated me on the fine behavior
Of my five little boys.
I didn’t try to correct them or say that only four were mine
When he actually looked enough like my sons to
Be one of them.
In Riverside the boy with the fishing pole got off the bus
To meet and greet his parents.
He had been visiting grandparents in Texas.
We waved goodbye.
In downtown Los Angeles, my husband was waiting
To greet us
And expressed much dismay
Over the five boxes of books,
Which had reached California ahead of us
But were waiting in the Greyhound storage room.
A redcap toted the boxes to our station wagon
“What you got in here, lady? Fort Knox?”
“Something like that” I replied.
When I told my sister about our adventures
”You should write something and call it
“Us on a Bus”.
I swore I’d never do that again
But like childbirth, you forget the pain, and only
Remember the good parts
So we did make another trip from Ohio to California
On a bus a year or two later
But thought I was being smart
By buying the tickets from the Trailways Bus Company.
But it turned out
They only went as far as St Louis
And we had to switch back to Greyhound,
In that city but I don’t remember
If it was 2 AM in the morning.
I do recall
We detoured and spent a week in Tulsa
With my penpal Penny and her family
And had a wonderful time.
The next time we traveled to Ohio
I saved up change in a coffee can for a year
To buy airplane tickets
And we flew.
–Sandra Lee Smith
ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 1 2009