Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Welcome to Frisco

I didn’t waste any time getting out of that apartment, or out of Seattle for that matter. I headed straight for the bus station (with a short stop at the ATM. I didn’t think it would hurt me any to let them know I was in Seattle and I wanted to have as much cash on hand as I could. I’m sure, Soo, that you didn’t begrudge me those 300 dollars). The next bus south didn’t leave for a few hours, so I just killed time nervously pacing the neighborhood around the bus station (not knowing I would come to know these regions well across the country. With few regional variations these places are remarkably similar in residents, businesses and their pervasive defeated mood is offset only slightly by the hope inherent in travel).
It would be very hard for me to describe my mood then. Now, as I sit here in relative comfort (I won’t yet say where), I am still overcome with grief, the pain of separation from wife and child does not go away. And, add to that pain the realization that this division was all my fault, that it was the result of my stupid readiness to believe a pack of lies. Well, I think you can envision a distraught, nervous, agitated man treading the streets around the Seattle bus station. I was certain the cops would roll up at any minute to drag me away, and frankly, at that point, I wouldn’t have cared. I was beyond caring. The plan to get on a bus and go to San Francisco was hardly a plan at all. It was simply the first thing I could think of. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there, but then I had no idea what I had been doing so it made about as much sense as anything else.
One thing the bus ride did give me was time to ponder. And rest. 24 hours on a bus offers very little in the way of entertainment. I had no reading material, not that I would have been able to keep my mind on it; and I certainly didn’t want to engage any of my fellow passengers in conversation. One dark road. After Seattle and Portland, that’s about all Interstate 5 is, one long dark road. I stared blankly into the night until my eyes would not stay open. My body gave out. Considering the strain I’d put myself under for the past weeks and those crazy last hours, it was no wonder. I slept hard and wasn’t roused until the squawk of a police radio sounded in my ear. Unsure whether this was my paranoid dream or unfortunate reality I quickly shook myself awake to see California Highway Patrol cars, lights blazing pulled in front of the bus. Two officers were walking up and down the bus aisle, looking at faces. I turned out the window and watched two other officers searching through the luggage compartment, one held a German shepherd on a leash.
“Drugs,” said a voice in my ear. The man sitting behind me, while not what I’d consider a reliable source was at least telling me something I wanted to hear. They weren’t searching for a faux terrorist on the run. It was only the war on drugs these cops were fighting. “They do this every time,” he went on, “People are bringing drugs in from Canada.”
“What, pot?” I asked him.
“No, no,” he laughed, “there’s more pot around here than you can shake a stick at. They actually take the pot to Canada and trade it for prescription drugs.”
“Yeah, these guys are doing the work of the pharmaceutical companies.”
I must have looked very skeptical because he went on to explain how his friend’s brother-in-law was a ChiP officer and they’ve been working with the Mounties to stop this ring. People can smoke pot in Canada but it’s expensive, there’s tons of weed here but it’s mostly illegal. Canada has socialized medicine so there’s a slew of prescription drugs they can get cheap and sell to Americans who usually have to pay through the nose. The whole operation sounded far too complex to actually work, but he told me how his friend and this brother-in-law were sitting around having a couple of beers and the cop told him the whole story. The guy (and the entire Yreka CHP station for that matter) was none too happy to be enlisted in this sort of work. Pulling over buses and rummaging through luggage in the middle of the night is not a lot of fun. The officers had been complaining, but the word they got back came directly from a representative in Congress, just shut up and do this. My neighbor on the bus was convinced the Rep was on the take from US pharmaceutical companies, that he was on the committee doing this and that about health care and big pharma was a big contributor to his campaign and blah blah blah. People on a bus will talk your ear off if you let them. I tried to change the subject. His mom lives in Seattle, but she’s been sick. He takes the bus from Red Bluff up to see her a couple of times a month. Talk of a mother’s cancer was even less welcome, but easier to respond to. A few ‘I’m so sorry to hear that’ and eventually he stopped talking.
After that I couldn’t fall back to sleep. The eastern sky was slowly going from black to gray to blue and I just watched. We switched buses in Sacramento, I picked an old coat out of the lost and found. By early evening I was back in San Francisco. The streets around the Greyhound terminal in San Francisco are filthier than those in Seattle (and Sacramento, and Tucson, and St. Louis, and Memphis, and just about everywhere else), the stench of urine, the quietly menacing street population, and the big trash serving as shelters all contribute to a general medieval quality, as if I’d walked onto the set of Excalibur. Street urchins clamoring in the darkness, peaking from behind torn blankets to eye the newcomer.
There were dozens of people I could call in the city. None of them would understand. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. And there it was, the beginning of my first night on the streets. As I pulled the collar of my old found coat up around my ears and prepared to find a place for the night, a voice came from the darkness. Apparently someone had been watching my movements from the door of the Greyhound station. “Welcome to Frisco,” was all he said. Welcome to Frisco, indeed.

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