I rode Greyhound Friday to visit Om-Taromeet down in bone-dry S. Florida. I've ridden 14 hours on a bus before, but never in this country. The price was right and I was curious. I think the buses are nicer overseas. Sure, I've ridden my share of souq buses and those have their own beauty. And, the ridership does not seem to be as broad based. Greyhound doesn't have to have a higher quality bus, just as your average city bus doesn't have to run on time, because important campaign donors aren't riding either of them. I know I'm not paying for any $5,000 a plate meals. I don't have a car and I don't want one and I spend a lot of time talking about the politics of mass transit with other riders while we wait for mysteriously delayed buses and trains.
My seat-mate, traveling back to our shared hometown with her two kids, agreed with me. She's a recent Florida refugee, fleeing low wages, ridiculous cost of living, a "teach to the test" school system, and few prospects for improvement. She was taking her pre-teens to their grandmother's before starting a new job. Fourteen hours gives you a chance to get to know somebody. How many times have you traded phone numbers with somebody at the end of a domestic flight?
Her son, who asked that I call him "Bubba", won my heart. He's in 4th grade and either wants to be a scientist or a football player. He's a bit heavy set and quick quick with a smile, with a wide moon face. I was reading a collection of essays on Sufism and he was watching me.
"Do you have another book?" he asked.
"Um, yeah," I replied, thinking there's no way a 4th grader would be into reading about "a Sufi path of transformation". "You might not like it. It's not light reading."
"That's ok, I'll read anything," he insisted.
So, I dug the book out of the bag under my seat and handed it over before returning to my reading. Twenty pages in, under the chapter subheading The Annihilation of the Ego, Bubba tapped me on the shoulder.
"This is a really cool book."
He eventually put the book down and challenged me to his own version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Granted he's only in 4th grade, but some of his answers were a little suspect.
"Where is the largest forest in the world?"
"Um, the Amazon, so Brazil," I guessed.
"Noooo," said Bubba, rolling his eyes.
"Uh, ok, where is it?"
I love that kid.
I also made friends with an older man from Chihuahua who was returning to the horse farms of central Florida. He was incredibly patient as I tried to dislodge the gears of my Spanish brain, though he was a bit confused with the odd Arabic word that forced its way into our conversations. He showed me a tiny photo of he and his wife, who lives back in Mexico, dangling from his key chain in red plastic heart.
I had to sprint off the bus in Orlando to use the "facilities" and a gaunt woman was slowly opening the door. She spun around when she heard me coming up behind her and smiled sweetly. "Thank, God! I thought there were no other white people on our bus," she said, sounding truly relieved, as she let me pass her on my way through the door. What could I say to that?
Despite the friends I'd made, I was glad to see Om-Taromeet and her adorable, yet neurotic pound dog when they picked me up.
I'll be there for just over a week, so don't expect too much productivity while I try, try, try to get in a dive or two while I am here. I've been out of the water too long and my gills are about dried out!