Deal or no deal. Chapter 8 Book of the Lion

It’s not that I was threatened by the people on the Greyhound bus, it was more feeling vulnerable with $2000 and $100 of class A drugs in my handbag. THAT makes you vulnerable, especially when the Lion was high on what’s ever the discharge meds were. Prescribed class A drugs are usually better quality than street drugs and of course you get more for your money. This made my handbag bulge rather suspiciously and if I had seen it I would have searched me and the bag. The Lion’s grey pallor also did nothing to detract from our possible criminal status and only served to reinforce the appearance of drug dealers on the run.

I didn’t want to draw attention to us unnecessarily, for all of the above reasons. So I leaned against the window, trying to be anonymous and prayed we made it to Chattanooga unscathed. No one gave the Lion this memo however and so the journey began. On the seat directly opposite us was a young American boy, he wore a navy blue matching basketball vest and shorts, with a while number 5 blazoned across his chest. His hair was neatly shaved and he had a diamond earring in his right ear. He also wore brand new white shin length cotton socks and brand new white sneakers and looked askance at this rather odd couple opposite him. Across his lap he had the most enormous boom box that he hugged with the defiant pride that befits a teenager having spent his entire pocket money on a radical purchase. He was a good looking black boy, with a broad smile oozing charm and fun. “Where y’all from?” He asked to no-one in particular and I stared right ahead. The Lion however said “We’re from Scotland”.

I turned to look at him in disgust, this was not the plan, but the young boy was hooked, firstly he did not understand the accent and so he grew more intrigued by this older couple sitting opposite. We piqued something in him, obviously and so he asked ” where’s that?” he had of course, as we were to learn like many Americans never travelled out with his own country. The Lion tried to explain the geography, but when your whole world is in one place, it is difficult to transfer the idyllic scenery and awful weather in a meaningful way. Every time the Lion spoke the boy hit the boom box in guffaws of laughter. He was clearly amused by the ‘fairy story’ and daft accent he thought the Lion was telling. So a little upset by this the Lion added he had been in hospital in Atlanta and regaled the story of the past few days. This was also interesting to me, given he had been comatose for the whole time and I thought he’d little recollection of any of it.

Before he could continue the young boy, now inching closer to our side of the seat to get an intimate look at this funny accented couple, declared he had just been released from Atlanta Jail. I drew my bag closer to my chest and thumped the Lion in the ribs at the same time, the lad continued that this incarceration was for stealing a car and crashing it following a police car chase. This was a fairly loud conversation and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we were only 10 miles into it. Although everyone would probably have heard this, no-one else looked around. This was clearly not the Edinburgh bus, where the whole bus would have turned to look at who had the audacity and shame to declare they had been recently incarcerated and the actual confidence to openly state this. That is what I love about America, there was his history right there in our face and he had no iota of concern. This says so much positively about social status in America, and I love that equalising confidence at least as it appeared in that moment, however back to our story.

Three seats down, there was a grey curly haired person, wearing a denim jacket facing forward and preventing me from determining their gender. This story had clearly travelled to their ears, he ( because we learned it was a man) placed his arm along the metal railing at the back of the seat and as he turned around we could see diamond earrings in both ears, ( clearly some badge of unity) before saying he too had been in Atlanta Jail and how bad the treatment had been there. ( Had they heard of the Bar-L) The young man reaffirmed this hardship and asked the older man what he’d been in for “dealing narcotics” came his reply and I almost fainted. The handbag was now completely immersed in my stomach as I pulled it tighter and tried to conceal the ‘narcotics’ within.

The conversation switched from all matters relating to Scottish geography to the more familiar territory in Atlanta Jail. The conversation was interesting but it began to develop into background noise as I plotted how we might get off this bus with our drugs and cash intact. The only other passengers were men sporadically spaced out on the remainder of the bus, the large guy occupying the whole seat in front of us was Mexican and a truck driver studying his map planning his next route north. He advised us he’d never heard of Scotland either hence his story was also available to the Lion who was now high on life as well as drugs and chattering unabridged to all in sundry. I remained silent and prayed we arrived soon.

It was now about half an hour into our journey, and the bus was slowly and rather laboriously climbing a rare incline on the interstate. It began to lurch, and stutter, perhaps appalled at the conversation. I looked to the Lion, who knows a thing or two about large vehicles, and he was momentarily distracted from the Jail chat to advise me something was not good with the bus. This funny chugging continued for about another mile or so, when Slim Whitman announced from the cockpit, “Atlanta we have a problem” as the bus limped over to the hard shoulder. We were going nowhere fast. You could not make it up. We sat there lost for words, the panic gaining momentum in my physical response. The Lion was non-plussed but the whole bus was now up off their seats and general mayhem was about to break out. Slim Whitman crunched and pulled at the clutch, the brakes then the steering wheel before he cut the engine and arose from his floating seat. I craned my neck to see what he was attempting next and hoped to god he could fix it.

He opened the door disappearing out alongside the bus while he made a few cursory checks and then got back on board. I realised I wasn’t breathing and took in a sudden gulp of air as Slim announced we had ran out of fuel and he needed to switch tanks. That technical information was lost on me but comforted the Lion as the vehicle sat for a few more moments, made a couple of further lurching noises and then started to roar into life. Within about ten minutes we were on the road again and the bus fell quiet, losing the impetus of great stories as each of us just waited and hoped we would get to our destination………………………………………………………..

Part one of our journey by Greyhound Bus. Chapter 7 Book of the Lion

Greyhound Bus travel was on my bucket list, and since we were now in America, and stranded in Atlanta after the Lion had morphed into a Hyena, it looked like this was going to be a reality. Although well covered by travel insurance, I considered that was purely for his intensive care in Atlanta University Hospital. I drew the line at taking an expensive taxi just to catch up with our pre-booked tour that had left without us and was now some 120 miles away. $350 seemed ridiculously expensive for a taxi and since bus travel presented a cheaper and available option, that was what we opted for.

We had elected to carry cash on this holiday, we were not big on credit card use and since we had no idea when we might get to a bank that had seemed a sensible option. But when we left the hospital, with the Lion in Hyena mode, I felt vulnerable. I clutched my handbag close to my heart, while struggling to manage two wardrobes masquerading as cases and the bewildered, pain-ridden and disorientated Lion. We took a taxi to the bus station and should have become concerned when the taxi driver asked with incredulity “are you taking the bus???”

The bus station was awash with travellers; families and individuals, all ages, ethnicity, shapes and sizes. My senses went into overdrive as I scanned the vast area in an attempt to orientate myself with these unfamiliar surroundings. I spotted a bank of seats where I could safely lodge the Lion while I sought to purchase our tickets and work out which bus we needed to take to Chattanooga. He looked so small I thought as I trundled toward the desk with the two overly large cases. I waited in the queue for about 10 minutes before being called forward by a smartly dressed but intimidating Atlanta woman, scowling at my bags. I asked for two tickets to Chattanooga and she looked as if an alien had just asked her for directions to NASA. She stared at me for what seemed minutes and I panicked that she had mistaken me for a fugitive on the FBI most wanted list, who happened to be my doppelgänger.

It was the bags and the accent that usurped her. After she gathered herself together, she advised that I had to have the bags weighed first and assess whether they had met the criteria for transfer to the bus. A bus I had no ticket for yet, I have to add. The Lady pointed to another desk and asked me to lodge the bags there before returning to her desk to purchase the ticket. I glanced across at another lengthy queue, gave her my finest forced smile and trundled the large cases over to the weigh station. I could feel the tears threatening to spill, but I drew in my breath, glanced at the Lion who was half asleep and hoped no one tried to steal my handbag. After a fashion, 15 minutes to be exact, the baggage handler took my cases only to advise me, unsurprisingly, they were overweight. In order for her to accept them I had to decant items into hand luggage and represent them. In response to my information that I had no hand luggage, she pointed me in the direction of the first desk where I might buy additional bags. Sufficient to say that queue had also filled up again.

I trucked back to the first desk where smarting with frustration at another 10 minute wait, I bought the bag before returning to the weigh in desk decanting knickers and other oversized items into the hand bag. After a further but shorter wait, my lighter cases were finally accepted. I was provided with the required luggage tickets to present for my onward journey and returned to the ticket desk where I finally purchased the bus tickets and some 45 minutes later, returned to the Lion. He was struggling to stay awake and I noticed he had been joined by a young black American boy, who was taking up two seats with his expansive backside and a large red velvet pillow that was totally incongruous with his physique.

Despite my initial reservations and ill placed fears, he smiled at me and asked if the New Orleans bus had left yet. He too a bit vulnerable and uncertain. No sooner had I responded and alerted him to my alien status, I turned to start fussing over the Lion. But was prevented by an announcement “They are getting in Line at Door number 9” which came lilting lyrically over the loudspeaker. This colloquialism brought a smile; a uniquely American phrase, that reminds you that travelling is real, different and so interesting. For a nano second I was lulled into tourist mode, only to crash to reality when the Lion was unable to stand up and walk to the Line. Johnny Cash he was not.

With the help of the rather large American boy, the Lion was frogmarched (getting to be a habit) to the Line and I escorted him to the coach stairs where we had to identify our luggage, match the ticket numbers and acknowledge the HEAVY banner that had been strapped across the buckles.

My first impressions of the greyhound bus was that it was grey. Inside the chairs were plastic and mostly burst with foam spewing out, it was cold and unwelcoming,hardly the bucket list ride I had hoped for. The coach was clean enough, but it was clear that it was pre-loved. I guided the Lion to the mid section and again left him to the aisle seat. Most people were travelling solo and had taken single occupancy of the seat, sitting in the middle to ensure no strangers dared to share it. Some required the whole two seats just to accommodate their bulk. I felt so slim, there were some benefits from this experience at least.

The Driver emerged and walked the length of the bus, I thought he looked like Slim Whitman, with a pencil moustache, slick backed hair, and warm brown eyes. He wore a smart, creased shirt and was impeccably presented with a slim black tie held neatly with a gold pin, belted slacks pressed with knife-edged seams and shoes that shone and sparkled as he navigated the narrow passage of the bus. He quickly checked the toilets at the rear before clearing his throat and loudly declaring in a southern drawl. “This is the finest greyhound bus in the fleet, we will be travelling to Ohio and on my bus I will not tolerate no alcohol, no knives and no narcotics” I tried not to process that information and watched him closely as he thrust himself forward dominating the other passengers, establishing himself as the alpha male, marking his territory and making sure that everyone understood who was in charge. We sat in awe of this entire experience, terrified but somehow strangely safe, as the bus slowly edged its way out of the station……