Subterranean Tales: On To the Next One

by admin on May 1, 2011


On To the Next One

The stations are always the same…

I’m in yet another bus station waiting for the next bus taking me out of town. Surprise, surprise. My bus is delayed; something I have grown accustomed to from this line. No new news there. I groan in disappointment after watching the schedule board roll back the all too familiar ‘DELAYED’ signs, and grab the nearest bench I can find within the station, dragging along my luggage by the handle, its wheels squeaking and wobbling as it continues along beside me on worn linoleum. I’ve travelled with the same black Samsonite bag for as long as I can remember and unless the bottom falls out of it in the immediate future, I don’t plan on replacing it any time soon. Don’t fix what isn’t broke is what my daddy used to say. Goddamn right. Besides, I could never understand fully why people have the desire to spend hard-earned money on a bag which ultimately is going to be thrown in and scraped and scratched with all the other shit bags in the cargo area of any transport, but who am I to judge? All that really concerned me was getting off my feet and taking my hour delay to catch up on some much needed rest, and the red wire meshed bench positioned between Gates #4 and #5 on the second floor of Penn Station had my name written all over it. I bee-lined to it in fear of someone else having the same idea, my poor bag wheezing and struggling to keep up.

Some people would call relief a hot shower, washing away the dirt, grime and tension after a hard day’s work. Others might consider it to come in the form of financial stability, their portfolios and 401 K’s healthy and prosperous. My version: a wire grid–laced bench, complete with an arm rest on each side. My Samsonite goes to the right side of me, my ass goes in the seat and immediately the stench hits me. In my haste to take a load off, I failed to notice the homeless gentleman residing less than four inches away from me. He has taken full advantage of the stations accommodations by precariously stretching himself along the two other remaining spots of the bench and was knocked out, oblivious to the conversations of passerby’s and the annoying overhead voice of the announcer informing passengers of yet another delay, albeit on another line. I couldn’t make out his face because of all the layers of clothes he had on (between an old Army fatigue jacket and an all black hoodie, I assumed he was nice and toasty), but I could tell that he bore an overgrown beard dirtied from what appeared to be a few days or weeks of  not washing. One of his elevated feet had lost its shoe, it lay on the linoleum beneath him on its side, a faded Nike swoosh peeling off its once white side. Immediately I ascertained the source of the stench: it was from his shoes and his dirt-caked, calloused feet. A faint smell of urine and feces melded in creating a stench that almost made me lose my cream cheese bagel from earlier, but I managed to tolerate the sudden attack on my nasal passage, sitting back fully and staring out into the station, now becoming packed with the hustle and bustle of arriving and departing passengers.

Man, this place is busy! Organized chaos. Everyone in such a hurry to wait. Incredible. Why was everything so frantic in here, as if once people entered the station it was a race to see how fast one can run with baggage in tow. It is particularly amusing to see the business women running to their designated gate, donning business attire, hair up in a bun or neatly pulled back away from their faces, their hills clicking and further scuffing the tile beneath them. The occasional misstep of one would break the repetitious clacking of the heels, interjecting a drawn out scraping, ruining the rhythmic almost hypnotic sound produced earlier. After regaining their balance (a bit red-faced from their public display of non-coordination), they continue on their way, a bit slower in their stride, a bit more cautious. Hilarious.

The multitude of families in the station was staggering. They moved like a pride, with the mother corralling the children while the male stood almost directly behind them, surveying the landscape, making sure all was safe for his clan as they trekked through the hostile terrain of the stations massive halls. I would frequently witness whole families holding hands, swinging them back in forth as if they were having the time of their lives, causing the oncoming sea of people to part providing safe passage for them, recognizing them as a whole unit that needed the space. These families appeared to be the happiest despite the crowds and the waiting in the ever -increasing lines at the gates. I guess delays don’t affect families the way it does single travelers.

Ever since 9/11, the security at the station has increased tenfold, with a military presence as well as a police force readily on hand. With a showing of force through automatic machine guns and fatiques, the military scopes out the station with eyes trained for battle, jotting down mental notes of all those who appear to be shady or carrying ticking bags. Never have I felt so uneasy. I’m not used to walking by people heavily/over armed and it scares me to no end. Deterrent, yes. Frightening, hell yes. Maybe it’s me but their eyes always seem to follow my every movement. Could be because I am staring at them. Either way, they freak me out. Better safe than sorry, I guess.

“Hey buddy, you got the time?”

My soap-challenged friend has awakened during my daydreaming and I quickly realize that his breath is on the same level as his body odor. I gesture using my head towards the red neon clock directly in front of him, being sure to not breathe in. “Thanks buddy.” and after a yawn and a stretch of his arms, he is on his way but not before letting loose a horrific fart and belch. He waves back at me. I smile and release the breath I’ve been holding in just as the announcer notifies the station of my bus arrival. With a sigh of relief, I quickly stand up and reach for my bag’s handle, pulling it to my side and proceed to the gate, waiting behind the others headed to the same destination, leaving the station and its myriad of characters that I’m sure I’ll encounter again in the not too distant future.

All aboard…

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