Agony in the Air

I figure the topic of Michael Moore’s next mock-u-mentary will be called “Agony in the Air: Please Remain Seated!”  I don’t know how though he will be able to make himself out a representative of the little guy.  I mean the guy weighs 300 pounds; surely he flies first class.  If he doesn’t, he is a masochist.  But when normal every day newspapers and magazines start referring to air travel as an “excruciating ordeal” or “like Chinese water torture” you figure the topic is ripe for the plucking. 

When I didn’t have any money—which was mostly before 1980—I would occasionally take the Greyhound Bus to get somewhere.  I usually regretted it, but the buses always left on time and the seats were a lot more comfortable than airplane seats.  I would take the bus from college to the downtown LA Greyhound station; back in the 60’s that was one ugly station in a mean part of town.  Bums—I guess they would now be called street persons—were lined up all along the wall of the station; and when they saw me coming they all started moving at once like sharks smelling blood.

They knew a mark when they saw one.  And it’s true I guess.  I figure a person willing to walk up to a complete stranger and ask for money and take the risk of being berated or lectured at for doing so must be a person in need.  You might argue, well, they are all drunks or hopheads and don’t feel a thing.  Maybe.  Anyway, when I gave them money, I didn’t care what they did with it.  If booze was what they needed, so be it.  I figure they came honestly by their poverty.  After all, there’s no money in it.  Poverty, I mean.

Later on they built a brand new bus station and drove all the street people away.  They even installed pay crappers, not for the money so much, but as a way of keeping street people from going into one of the stalls and sleeping the day away on the pot there where it was warm.  Once I was there trying to get to see Carol when she was going to college in Riverside.  I forget what was going on.  Maybe it was the air controllers strike, but a film crew took pictures of people standing in line at the Greyhound depot.  That night I got a call from a friend back East saying he had seen me on national TV waiting in line for a bus at the Greyhound bus depot.  Later on, I saw the clip and sure enough there I was with my splendid head of auburn hair and beard of course—on national TV waiting for the Greyhound Bus.

Those days you could smoke in the back of the bus so that’s where I would head, and more than once on diverse trips around the state I ended up sitting next to some wizened guy with a brown paper bag with a bottle of wine or hard stuff in it.  And sure enough we would get to talking and the guy would want to know if I wanted a hit of his stuff, and I would say no, but he would keep at it—like, are you sure, now.  Cause there’s plenty where that came from—and so on and so forth, till continuing to refuse seem downright not polite.  So there I would be with the brown paper bag in my hand trying to figure out if the guy would be terribly offended if I wiped off the bottle where his mouth had been.  Usually I figured what the hell, since whatever was in that bottle could probably kill anything.

Usually after one drink the guy would leave you alone.  It wasn’t about sharing booze.  It was more just a social thing, like tipping your hat to say hello.  One tip was enough.

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