Aside from a rather comical episode of sleep/smartphone induced disorientation leading me to spend 5-10 minutes believing I’d slept thru Phoenix and was arriving in Albuquerque without my backpack, the Greyhound from L.A. to Phoenix was uneventful. I arrived just as the sun rose and spent the next several hours at the terminal waiting for Jefe to get out of work and pick me up.
Bus stations are never “ordinary”. The collection of humanity gathering at Greyhound always make for superb people watching, and Phoenix is no exception. Along with the typical strutting examples of facial tattoos and recently parolees, I did meet one interesting, familiar character.
Jordan was a purposely tattered kid in his early to mid-20’s who, despite his best efforts, still looked as though he came from good stock . I noticed him sitting in the chair next to his smallish, well-worn (probably secondhand) backpack reading an equally tattered book while wearing glasses that demanded an obvious and, yes, lazy Chris McCandless comparison. He also had a mushroom tattoo on his right ankle. A likely hippie with a shroom tat? My travel buddy from Central America & Colombia in 2015 had just set off on a “fungi” bus (read: hippie bus) to Guatemala so I naturally wondered if he was part of their group.
He wasn’t. Jordan was on the very first day of a destination-free exploration of his own, waiting for a bus to Flagstaff, and a bit nervous. From there he had no idea where he was going. When he learned my abridged hitchhiking, train hopping, Central/South America history, I immediately became a much appreciated spring of information and encouragement. He asked all kinds of understandable, and familiar, anxiety-based questions trying to glean as much information…and comfort…as possible. I told him what I wish I’d realized in 2008: stay sharp. But relax. Have fun. Believe that you’ll figure it out along the way. Because you will. And don’t try to over-plan and prepare for every molehill-perceived-as-mountain eventuality here at the Greyhound terminal. Because you can’t. That’s the “what if” fear that paralyzed me for parts of four years. The day I finally left, it took maybe an hour to realize I’d literally wasted years wallowing in contrived, needless anxiety. Erik’s “stories”.
Besides that, what I’d failed to understand beforehand, and shared with Jordan, is that the unpredictable nature of what’s about to be his day-to-day existence, and working through it while learning his own personal method, might prove to be the best part and provide the warmest memories. I didn’t see any of that in the moment, either, almost nine years ago. Looking back it’s crystal clear! I miss those adrenaline-filled days fed by survival instinct. Since then, especially this year in Nevada, I’ve often felt that I’m now just executing a semi-polished method. I think sometimes it’s better to be a little unprepared and chaotic than sterilized and clinical. The added edge, while frequently frustrating, adds something extra keeping the mind, spirit, and eyes sharp.
I then suggested he look for, then gorge on, the first day he wakes up in one spot then beds down in a place that, only hours before, would have literally been impossible to script; utterly inconceivable! Laying out in a field, the mountains, even the desert that night under the stars retracing the day as authentic fatigue sets in? You can’t fucking replicate that. I always point to waking up next to the Columbia River and falling asleep on Andre’s two story houseboat in Portland in 2009. And the events connecting the two, in retrospect, seem perfectly synchronized.
That’s the stuff, Ringo! You just can’t artificially produce it. Because it’s something primal. It’s organic. It’s living.
I gave Jordan a card and wished him well feeling not an insignificant amount of excitement for, and jealousy of, him. I knew where he was. I missed that. When his bus began boarding, he walked over and gave me a crystal as thanks for the “advice” and encouragement. A crystal. Apply your own meaning if you like. What it meant to him is what matters.
The rest of the morning was spent on the phone debating the wisdom of a Mexico return, updating the journal, chatting with my Peru hostel mate, Kevon, who’d just set off on a hitchhiking trip of his own, and watching wildlife. As the morning went on, I appreciated Jordan more and more. The buffoons wandering around the terminal were more than just a little annoying. Especially one specimen in particular. He had the aforementioned face-tattoo, wore a huge (fake) gold chain that perfectly accessorize the dirty white wife beater, and talked about his recent incarceration…and his “fuckin’ lawyer”... way too loudly, and often, to ignore. Yes, he was a composite redneck metaphor, and entirely too stupid to realize he was a babbling cliché.
Thankfully, Jefe got out of work a bit early!