It is Lindsay Goodman’s first time in a Greyhound bus station. The essential are inscribed in black ink on a compact disc in her backpack. “Watch out for stalkers, smokers, crying babies, coughers …” a friend has written, “and don’t use the bathroom!”
Goodman, a blonde and cheerful 19-year-old, has done her best to obey. But, she admits, “my friends told me not to talk to anyone.” And here she is chatting with dark-haired Amy Laboy, also 19, under a canopy of dusty plastic ficus trees. “I was just looking for a friendly face,” Goodman explains.
The girls compare notes on birthdays, boyfriends and bus travel. Laboy warns against the perils of Greyhound romance. On her last trip, “this one guy started rubbing on my head,” she says with amused distaste. “He said, ‘Come sit next to me.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think so.’”
Goodman listens, intrigued and a little appalled. Her jeans-clad leg taps nervously as her eyes dart over to the gate. “It’s real easy to miss your bus,” counsels Laboy, “especially if you’re talking to somebody.”
When a garbled voice on the intercom announces the bus’s departure for Blacksburg, the girls stand up and sling backpacks over their shoulders. “It’s gonna be a long night,” Goodman sighs.
All the nights are long in the Greyhound station. Road-weary travelers pass the time blasting machine guns at video games, reading or staring at the tiny TVs attached to the chairs. A quarter buys 15 minutes of flickering black and white.
The days are endless too, the same rituals enacted over and over. Janitors drift through the station, pursuing errant ticket stubs and crumpled candy wrappers. Cigarette smoke wafts in every time the front doors swing open.
Taxicabs idle outside, creep forward and then whisk people away. Drivers push open the glass doors lining the gallery and yell out their destinations. Passengers file onto the shuddering, exhaust-reeking buses and leave Richmond behind. Perhaps forever, perhaps for just one day.
The doors are never locked. The station is never silent. The stories never cease.
“Nothin’ but a bunch of funny people coming together, here,” says one grizzled cabdriver. “I don’t know why people go to the movies while they can come here and see all they want.” He shakes his head and walks stiffly away.
“Me, I had a lot of bouts with the truth, and what reality is,” says Marshall “Hollywood” Hicks. His strong hands are deeply creased, as battered as a prizefighter’s. He gazes at them as he speaks and blows smoke from a Kool cigarette.
He comes to the Greyhound station not to travel, but to observe. He is a student of humanity. It started back in the 1970s, Hicks says, when he first tried his hand at photography. The day he developed his first film-captured image, a sudden insight hit him like a bolt of electricity.
“I didn’t realize that for the rest of my life, I would be able to separate reality and illusion,” Hicks says. He began reading voraciously about perception — about the rods and cones of the retina, the history of photography, the nature of hallucination. “Man, it was a mind-blower. From that point on I stopped talking to people, because I realized that there were only two positions after that. You’re positioned in the light, or you’re positioned in the dark.”
Hicks questioned where he was standing. His father punched a timecard all his life, he says, and never was a happy man. Hicks asked himself: “Am I gonna scream and beg and pray to the god of capitalism to set me free?” No, he decided. “I wanted to be a gangster, because those were the only people who didn’t work their lives away and get nothing.”
After a three-year prison sentence at age 18 for cashing bad checks, he served in the military for a while and hustled on the streets. Married a beautiful woman and had two brilliant daughters, then decided it would be OK to leave and “go into the world and find out what that’s all about, because God’s already taken care of them with these gifts.”
So Hicks wandered. (He and his wife are still friends, he says.) “I’ve been in every Greyhound station from New York to Los Angeles — and back,” he says.
He won’t say how old he is now. (“I always lie about my age. I got a horrendously big digit.”) For the moment, Hicks has stopped drifting. He does odd jobs and detail work on automobiles at Kar World, just south of the station on Boulevard. “Detail. Detail. I learned how to do that here,” he says.
Although he’s given up photography, he still goes to the Greyhound station to practice observing. “You learn who you are, by dealing with the images and the illusions,” he says. It’s a never-ending learning process, watching the wanderers.
“If you’re a person of perception, you can go to the next phase. If you’re a person who looks …” Hicks walks away, bent over in laughter.
THE FEW, THE PROUD
Eighteen-year-old Pvt. David Copf savors his Greyhound-grilled hamburger like it’s filet mignon. He chows down with relish, careful not to stain his crisp green uniform.
Near him stands Pvt. Mark Cressin, 20, whose belt is cinched tightly around his narrow waist. The two snap to attention when a stranger greets them; hands clasped behind them, shoulders back. Their Rifle Marksman medals gleam. The burger steams, abandoned, in its plastic case.
Both are one week out of boot camp in North Carolina, they report. They first went home — Copf to Atlantic City, Cressin to Charlottesville — and are now heading to Jacksonville, N.C., for SOI and MCT, respectively. That’s School of Infantry and Marine Combat Training, to you.
Home was good, but a week wasn’t long enough toreadjust, they agree. At boot camp, there’s no sleeping in. No TV. You start to miss eating breakfast alone.
But oh, the sweet moment when, after three months, you finally get out. The Marines look at each other and smiles slide across their faces. “First thing I did was get a Pepsi and a Snickers bar,” Cressin says. “The first thing I did was my parents took me out to a restaurant,” says Copf.
For a lot of guys, Cressin explains, reuniting with your parents is the really emotional part. The young leathernecks will even cry, sometimes. But what can you do? “Suck it up. Always on the move. That’s a Marine for you,” he says with satisfaction.
Another Marine sprawls in his chair a few feet away, though Cressin and Copf don’t see him. Shawn Tart, 31, is on the move as well, to Marine Corps Base, Quantico. Not by bus, though — he’s waiting for a friend to pick him up at the Greyhound station, which is an official point of contact for Marines, he explains.
His rank and assignment he can’t disclose. For now, Tart wears a bright athletic jacket and pants, and keeps his white hat zipped up in his duffel bag. “I kinda dress inappropriately,” he says with a grin, eyeing the two young recruits in their impeccable uniforms.
He was just as curt and clipped, once, when he enlisted in 1994. Soon after, Tart was sent to Kosovo, one of the first to serve as peacekeepers in a desolate, blasted land. Things were dirty sometimes, things were bad, he says. But his team completed its mission and didn’t lose a man.
Tart served seven more years. His first wife found another man while he was overseas, he relates with a little grimace, but it’s just as well. Six months ago he returned to his hometown of Raleigh, N.C., and his best friend, Brandy.
On Sept. 11, Tart relates, he “cried like a baby” and Brandy comforted him. Then in October came the call back to service, via Fed-Ex. She wasn’t happy, but promised she’d support him. “Whatever you want to do to pursue your career, I’ve got your back,” she told him.
On Christmas Eve, she proposed. “I was like, ‘Wow. This is solid.’” Tart says. “I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll marry you.’ That was sweet. That was sexy as hell.”
They were married on Feb. 2, 2002. (“Twos across the board,” he says. They were aiming to have a 2 p.m. ceremony, too, but missed it by two hours.) Tart’s heading north now. Brandy waits in Raleigh. It doesn’t matter where he ends up, he says. “She’s got my back.”
CARRY ME HOME
She stands outside the station, breathing in clouds of smoke from nervous travelers. Lucille Price watches the taxis inch forward in line with something like longing. She drove cab No. 6 until a few weeks ago, when another driver hit her and smashed it up. The car’s in the shop now. Price’s neck is in a brace.
Temporarily taxiless, she hangs out at the bus station with help-wanted ads rolled up under her arm. She’s been a beautician, a truck-stop waitress, a dishwasher, even a model in her youth, she says. It’s easy to imagine. Though 67 now and swathed in sweatshirts, her face is smooth, her hazel-brown eyes shining clear. She doesn’t speak much of her youth. “Life ain’t so sweet when you’re young. Got to get a little older.”
Price likes hanging out near the station. She knows the other drivers, the janitor, the regulars. They all discuss the folks who cross the boundary of bizarre. “There’s a lot of stuff around here that’ll make you crack up,” she says.
She remembers the time the homeless man took a bath in the men’s room toilet. Hard to believe, she knows, but the janitor saw it firsthand — clothes piled on the floor in the stall, splashing sounds from within.
There was the man who ordered her to drive around in circles, then refused to get out. “So the police came,” she recites with relish. “And the police had to invite him out.”
And then there was the real big lady who told Price she was going the wrong way, and then threatened to leap from the taxi. “She opened the door, had both feets out the door on 95, center lane, in the rush hour,” Price says. “She said she’s going to jump.” Fine, Price replied, but I’m not going to stop.
“We all get some weird trips out here,” Price reflects. But she wouldn’t take any other job, she says. “I help so many people here. I carry so many people home.”
BETTER EVERY DAY
Myrtle Miller is looking for someone to carry her home. For now, she’s hoping God — and Greyhound — will oblige. “I ain’t too high up to ask,” she says. “Ask people to help. God said ask and you shall be given. Honey, I’m going to ask for just what I need. A ticket to Carolina.”
She came to Richmond a week ago, she says, from her home in High Point, N.C. Just for a short visit, she says, but somehow Miller found herself at the Dooley-Madison Home on Franklin Street. There breakfast meant one limp pancake with a little dab of syrup, she says with contempt, and they gave you water for coffee.
“And it was elderly people. Honest to goodness,” she says, incredulous.
Miller got out of there pretty quick, she says. (A staffer at Dooley-Madison says she doesn’t recall a Myrtle Miller ever staying there.) Now she’s stuck at the station. “Well, I’m trying to get back home,” she explains. “I had my money taken.” She doesn’t know when, doesn’t know who did it, she says. Just sits on a hard wire chair, enveloped in a furry brown coat, rifling through envelopes in her pocketbook and searching.
“I had three thousand, four hundred and some,” she says, mystified. “I’m without money. I think I’ve got $1. And I’m hungry. And I’m a minister.”
Miller carries in her wire cart a battered burgundy Bible (Giant Print, Words of Christ in Red), a tambourine, and a framed diploma dated June 13, 1962, that proclaims her a bishop in the Pentecostal Christ Temple Rescue Mission Inc., in Brooklyn. “Ordained. I sure am,” she says. She’s spent 50 years preaching and traveling. Got married once, to “a scoundrel of a man,” she says. She divorced him and never wanted anyone else.
She praises God in a loud voice, mighty for such a frail-looking woman. “I love him better every day,” she sings in a fine clear alto, slapping the tambourine rhythmically. “Yeah, I love him better every day.”
Ask her age and she’ll tell you “sweet 16.” Ask her birthday, and she’ll tell you Nov. 18, 1910. That would mean 91 years have passed since Myrtle Miller was born in Mt. Gilead, N.C. It’s been a long, hard road, but she’s still going. “I’ve stood up this long,” she says. “When I need help, he helps me.”
“I asked for help,” the young mother says. Her voice is strained, refusing the release of tears. Her infant son has already given in, and sits screaming in his stroller.
“I asked them, ‘Oh, can you please help me?’” she says. She could not manage so much luggage, with the baby in her arms. The station man assured her everything was fine, she says, but he carried her things to the wrong place. It was supposed to be Gate 8, not Gate 14. The clock hands have long since passed 3:15 p.m. The sky is darkening over this unfamiliar city. The suitcases barricade her corner of the station like fortress walls.
“All I want to do is go back to Florida,” she says. She is only 18, has never been to Richmond, never taken a Greyhound bus before. Fort Lauderdale is her home. She was going to visit her mother in Fredericksburg, but she doesn’t feel like fighting anymore. “How am I supposed to take a baby, a car seat and all these bags?”
She swoops up the crying boy, named Christian Moreno, with a deft and practiced movement. His sobs subside. “He’s only eight months, so he’s been cranky all the way,” she explains. “Plus, he’s teething.” The boy with blue-gray eyes looks at her mutely.
It is more than she can handle. Forget Fredericksburg, forget her 19th birthday party. She dials her sister on a pay phone, pleads in rapid-fire Spanish for her or someone, anyone, to fly to Richmond and drive her home. “I’m just going to go to the hotel now,” she decides. It is final. “I’m not taking the bus.”
Otis Wood takes the Greyhound bus twice a day, back and forth between Richmond and Charlottesville. Why? “I work.”
Two shifts at two Food Lions, every single weekday. Bagging groceries, cleaning up, pushing carts off the lot. “It’s too many people that don’t work,” he observes.
His day starts at the store in Ashland, at 5:30 a.m. He works until 10:30 and heads to the bus station. “Then I go to another one, about 7 to 3 the same day,” he says. Wait. He means 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.? Wood nods. That’s his shift at the Food Lion in Charlottesville. Then back to Ashland for another morning shift.
“I sleep two, three hours,” he explains. He hibernates on weekends at his wife’s house. They met in seventh grade in Charlottesville, back in 1966. Dated 12 years. Married in 1978. “We see each other on weekends.”
He is a sparely built man of 49, whose luminous blue eyes swim behind thick glasses. After five years on this schedule, Wood’s worn out “a little bit,” he admits. But, he says, “I like it. I don’t want to quit. I have good bosses.”
His secret? “A whole lot of coffee.” Nothing fancy, no espressos, just the regular brew. Loves those insulated thermoses, he mentions. “Put coffee in at 7 o’clock in the morning and it’s still hot at 11 at night.”
And his annual two weeks vacation is always welcome. Wood guesses he’ll go back home to Tennessee this year. To unwind, he’ll watch movies — “anything with country music in it,” he says. Clint Eastwood is just fine. He adds, “I enjoy talking to people. That’s relaxing, I guess.”
But in the Greyhound station, Wood sits alone.
“I feel like hitchhiking,” says the tiny woman with white hair who has missed her bus to Charlottesville. “That’s what we used to do.” Of course, that was along bright country roads in Maryland, not the dark margins of the Boulevard.
She remembers the days when her mother would put on her hat and gloves, carry her dress shoes in her handbag and start walking from the farm toward town. Not many cars passed back then. The ones that stopped, she screened carefully: “If they looked honest, she’d say, ‘Thank you very much.’ If they didn’t look honest, she’d say, ‘No, thank you, I’m walking for the exercise.’”
The white-haired woman laughs. The memories are so clear, yet she is firmly fixed in this time and place. “I’m an old lady myself,” she says. “I’m on my way back home.” She’s returning from a weekend with her 20-year-old grandson in Woodbridge. He has Down syndrome but is a wonderful young man, she says proudly — an accomplished musician and gymnast.
She herself is an accomplished bus-rider, having done it for 34 years now. “Well, I fly for emergencies only,” she explains.
Her eyes are the translucent green-brown of a sun-warmed river. She wears dime-store glasses only when reading, she says — her vision is as sharp as when she was a young girl on Stone Mountain, Ga., in the 1920s. She remembers skipping up the rocky paths to the lookout, where you could slide a nickel into the tourist binoculars and watch sculptor Gutzon Borglum carving a 70-foot Robert E. Lee into the mountainside. Not many remember that project now. Borglum got fed up and smashed Lee’s hat, she cheerily relates, and went on to carve Mt. Rushmore instead.
She’s never lived in Richmond, but knows the city well. Her aunt’s cousin, Mamie Lightfoot Garland, established a library for underprivileged children here nearly a century ago, she says. Another aunt was one of the nation’s first female doctors. The descendant of these formidable women sits composed in the Greyhound station, relating their histories. “My whole family — we’re delightfully nutty people.”
She won’t give her full name, just the first: Janette. As a child, they called her Garland. Graciously, she declines to give her age. It is impossible to guess, as her bright eyes belie the lines in her face.
There’s a trick to staying young, she reveals. “Things without remedy must be without regard,” she says slowly, and repeats it for the listener’s sake. It means, do not dwell on things you cannot change. Like a missed bus.
She settles into her chair and sinks into a book, smiling. S