Tuscaloosa, AL / Gillian Conoley

Ok, I know I’m back-tracking, but why must things on the bus be linear? It’s good work being on the Poetry Bus, but it’s exhausting work, too. Sleeping on the bus really means not sleeping.

So forgive me, blog readers wherever you are, but here’s a report from yesterday, right before I got on the poetry bus. Tomorrow we’ll pick up on New Orleans, with more in-depth reportage of Katrina devastation.

Meanwhile, back in the time tunnel—

It’s 3 pm and I just got to Tuscaloosa. Got into Birmingham around 10 and slept well and got up just in time to catch the only bus to Tuscaloosa—a Greyhound. Birmingham bus station was slimy scene—like being in a Denis Johnson novel. I walked in and everyone in the place stared—then got my ticket and went to vending machines as had not had anything to eat or drink, was in rush to get to bus station. Then immediately accosted by a guy with a long story about his seven-year-old son who had thrown up on the last bus and he called his wife and she said get him something to eat, he’s diabetic, and could I spare a few dollars, so I gave him the two dollars in my hand and then he said well we could share the sandwich if you want, but it costs $5 so I gave him $5. And of course there’s no son, no wife, just a crazy guy who then came back to me 10 minutes later saying I don’t mean to startle you but this bus station cafe is really expensive and I told him I didn’t have any more money.

Everyone in the station extremely bedraggled looking and worn out and poor. Then got on the bus (1 hour ride) and the driver says “Good afternoon everyone, I’m Derek your driver. There is no drinking of alcohol or smoking allowed on this bus or in the bathrooms. If you get caught drinking your trip will end. You may talk on your cell phone but keep the conversation between you and the person you are talking to. Don’t go blowing your mouth off. If your cell phone goes chirp chirp and is irritating the person sitting next to you or irritating me the driver, your trip will end. I will not wait to tell you a second time to stop the chirp chirp . . .” This monologue went on for quite a while and was dead serious.

Tuscaloosa is a bit of hell hole—a cross between downtown Taylor, Texas with buildings shut down and a little Round Rock-ish, too—but it is a college town so I found an Internet cafe. I am the only person in it, sitting on a black couch. I plan to stay here for the next 3-4 hours and get school work done. It’s cool—air-conditioned. Dropped my bag off at the Bama theatre where it will be safe until the reading, where they could point me in the direction of the Internet cafe though no one could remember the name of it.

Originally Published: October 10th, 2006